It’s that time of year for top-ten lists. Compiling this one made me tired just remembering everything our education justice movement did this year. We’ve had an incredible twelve months. Here’s what you accomplished in 2103:
10. Rallies and more rallies. Just after Governor Corbett announced his new budget in February making it clear that he would continue to lock in massive budget cuts to public schools, over 320 people rallied at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. With rousing performances and speakers, loud chanting, street theater and singing, the crowd sent a strong message to the many legislators in attendance that public education is a public good worth fighting for. [“What a Rally”] In May we loaded 100 parents, students, teachers, and community leaders on school buses for a tour of Pittsburgh neighborhoods impacted by the last four rounds of school closures. Students told us about the effects of displacement from multiple school relocations and their disrupted education. And we got pledges from elected officials as well as candidates for school board, city council, and mayor agreeing to our grassroots call to action. [“A Rolling Rally”]
We also rallied in Harrisburg, taking over 150 public school advocates to the capitol to join activists from Philadelphia on one of the hottest days of the summer. [“It Was a Moving Day”] We protested when Governor Corbett launched his re-election campaign in Pittsburgh – touting his education record, of all things. [“A Week of Action”] And 117 of us rallied in the cold a few weeks ago, joining education advocates in over 50 other cities for a national day of action, to tell Governor Corbett what his three years of budget cuts have done to our schools. [“Who’s Crazy?”] Rallies are crucial because they energize those already active in the movement, bring in new advocates, educate the public and the media, and demonstrate the will of the people. They are democracy in action.
9. Charter reform. We desperately need good charter school reform in Pennsylvania to promote fair funding, accountability, and transparency in all our public schools. But the current Senate Bill 1085 does more harm than good. [“Killer Weeds”] Our movement has helped to mobilize resistance to this poorly written bill and successfully pushed back a vote. We will have to re-visit SB1085 in the new year, but our vocal support for real charter reform is being heard. [“Stop This Bill”]
8. Election of new Pittsburgh mayor. Public schools in Pittsburgh got a big boost with the election of Bill Peduto, who takes office next week. Yinzercation officially endorsed Peduto back in the spring. [“Pittsburgh is Lucky”] We advised his campaign on education policy and helped to hatch the idea for an education chief position within the new administration. Many education justice advocates are also serving on the Mayor-elect’s transition team. These are all fantastic signs for collaboration, outside-of-the-box thinking, and new solutions in 2014.
7. Election of new school board members. We had unprecedented turnover on the Pittsburgh school board this year, with four of the nine members newly elected. Our movement promoted many events to help the community learn about the candidates including a Town Hall meeting and formal debate. We spent a lot of time meeting with candidates before and after the primary, talking about issues and education policy, and learning from each other. When so many other cities are drowning in outside money being dumped into local school board campaigns by the deep pockets of national corporate-style reformers, Pittsburgh’s 2013 election stands as a beacon of hope for democracy and education justice. [“School Boards Matter”]
6. Resisting school closures. We spent much of the year arguing that schools should only close if there are no students to go to them, not because of budget austerity. School closures harm students, families, and communities and education justice demands that we work together to find meaningful, sustainable solutions to financial challenges. We backed a City Council resolution calling for a moratorium on school closures: many of us testified in Council chambers that we still need a full community-impact study assessing the consequences of the last four rounds of school closures over the past ten years. [“A Moratorium Makes Sense”] The City Council resolution was an important win that helped jump-start the public conversation when the district proposed closing an elementary school a few weeks later. Although the outgoing school board voted to start a closure hearing for Woolslair K-5, the newly seated board members voted to halt the process. [“School Board Santa”] While we will continue to fight unnecessary school closures in 2014, and may eventually see additional schools close in Pittsburgh, these were significant wins this year.
5. Rejecting Teach for America. In a similar, and nationally unprecedented victory, the new school board voted to rescind a contract with Teach for America (TFA) that had been hastily approved by the outgoing board. [“School Board Santa”] We had raised significant, evidence-based questions about the impact TFA would have on students, teachers, and our schools. [“Six Questions for Teach for America”, “Too Few Answers”] And over 1,400 people signed a petition asking the board to wait three weeks until new members were seated, giving time to publicly answer these questions. While we share the district’s concerns about staffing, especially math and science positions in our high schools, students deserve fully qualified teachers in their classrooms every day who have made teaching their chosen profession. Education justice means working to make sure that every school is a nurturing, supportive environment for both students and teachers, so that staff are attracted and wish to stay in the building and students want to come to school and learn.
4. Students speak out. More and more students are speaking out about the devastation of state budget cuts; the serious consequences of school closures and high-stakes-testing; the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies, bullying, and school climate issues; and attempts to privatize their education. Students from Southwest PA are attending and performing at rallies, testifying at public hearings, speaking to the press, and making their voices heard. This year Pittsburgh students wrote a terrific Bill of Rights that the school board is set to adopt. And they recently invited students from Philadelphia to meet with them here in the Steel City to talk about organizing strategies. [“Calling All Students”] Here’s to 2014 being the Year of Student Advocacy.
3. Protests of high-stakes-testing go viral. We went viral twice this year, protesting the damage high-stakes-testing inflicts on our kids, teachers, and schools. In the spring we launched an Opt Out movement, encouraging parents to remove their children from the state-testing system. [“Op-Ed, Opt Out, Occupy”] Kathy Newman’s op-ed piece about the movement was just ranked the #3 most talked about story in Pittsburgh this year by the Post-Gazette. [Post-Gazette, 12-21-13] And the Washington Post published our piece, co-authored by a Pittsburgh public school teacher, exposing the serious flaws of another high-stakes-test that is particularly harming our most struggling students. [“Testing Madness”] Within hours, over 12,000 people “liked” that article and it reached #2 on the Post’s most-read list.
2. Diane Ravitch book premieres here. Renowned education historian Diane Ravitch gave the education justice grassroots movement the honor of hosting the national launch of her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. [“Diane Ravitch Launched, Yinzer Style”] We raised financial support from seven local universities and community partners; an astonishing crowd of over 1,000 people came to hear her speak; and the book debuted on the New York Times best-seller list. (If you haven’t already, put reading Reign of Error at the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions.)
1. Launch of Great Public Schools Pittsburgh. We can’t fight massive budget cuts, school closures, harmful state policy proposals, deep pools of out-of-state money, and the privatization of public education by ourselves. To win, we have to work together. That’s why the emergence of the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition stands as our movement’s single most important achievement of 2013. This is the group that sent volunteers into some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city that are rarely heard from, going door-to-door talking to almost 1,000 people to learn what our communities really want in their public schools. [“What Pittsburghers are Really Saying About School Closures”, “School Funding”, “Class Size”, “The Wrong Questions”] GPS Pittsburgh is truly a community-based collaboration of parents, students, teachers, religious leaders, local union members, and poverty activists. It’s grassroots, it’s messy, and it’s hard. We’ve had disagreements large and small, and spend an enormous amount of time in conversations and meetings. But we keep coming back to the table together, and reaching out to invite others and learn from them. Now that’s what an education justice movement looks like. Happy New Year!