Activists Rally Nationwide to Save Public Schools

Monday, December 9 was a national day of action to "reclaim the promise of public education."

Grabbing the energy of the Chicago teacher's strike, and the movement it spawned to resist school closures earlier this year, a coalition of labor, community, and civil-rights groups organized rallies across the country.

In more than 30 cities, teachers, parents, students, and community members turned out to support their public schools.

The photos and videos from rallies in Columbus, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Austin and San Jose, among other cities, are absolutely incredible to see.

The point of these actions was to bring attention to the threat of school privatization, as well as the toxic narrative that public education has "failed." Participants called for full funding for their local public schools, and a shift in focus to high-quality education instead of a corporate-driven test-and-punish model, as well as attacking poverty (not teachers) as the real, underlying problem for students who are struggling in our increasingly unequal society.

"We are standing up for America's students rather than market-driven reforms which don't address inequity," the Day of Action website declares. The rallies, it says, were designed to oppose a range of related ills "from high stakes testing, crowded classrooms, school closures, and the corporate grab draining school budgets."

"The people who know our students best--parents, educators, community members, and students themselves--are fighting for public schools ALL children deserve."

The teachers unions, NEA and AFT, helped organize the rallies along with a coalition of more than 100 community, religious, and civil rights organizations that have a stake in public education.

In October, these groups developed a set of "Principles that Unite Us" (PDF), including:

• Public schools are public institutions

"The corporate model of school reform seeks to turn public schools over to private managers and encourages competition--as opposed to collaboration--between schools and teachers. . . . Our most vulnerable children become collateral damage in these reforms. We will not accept that."

• Strong public schools create strong communities

"While education alone cannot eradicate poverty, schools can help to coordinate the supports and services their students and families need to thrive. . . . such as basic healthcare and dental care, mentoring programs, [and] English language classes . . ."

• Assessments should be used to improve instruction

"We support accountability. But standardized assessments are misused when teachers are fired, schools are closed and students are penalized based on a single set of scores. Excessive high-stakes testing takes away valuable instructional time and narrows the curriculum."

And finally:

• Quality teaching must be delivered by committed, respected, and supported educators.

"Today's corporate reformers have launched a war on teachers. We believe that teachers should be honored. Teaching is a career, not a temporary stop on the way to one. . . . Highly qualified teachers and school staff are our schools' greatest asset."

Here at the Progressive, through our Public School Shakedown website, we have been working to expose the threat of school privatization and a corporate-driven "reform" model that drains resources from public schools.

On the national Day of Action, we announced a major new initiative on the Shakedown site: the Teach For America Truth Squad.

Exposing Teach For America is an important piece of the school-reform puzzle.

As Beth Sondel, an expert on Teach For America (TFA), as well as a TFA alumna and one of the founders of the Resist Teach For America Facebook Page explains in a lead piece: TFA "has done an unparalleled job of recruiting young adults, developing their passions for ending educational inequity, and training them to believe that market-based polices and pedagogies that increase standardized test scores are in the service of social justice."

But behind that idealistic veneer, Teach For America is doing real damage.

"TFA is no longer filling a teaching void, but instead replacing more experienced, veteran teachers in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City . . . Washington, D.C., and now Philadelphia," Sondel writes.

"In addition, while TFA claims to be an apolitical organization, it is becoming increasingly clear that the organization's 'movement to end educational inequity' is fundamentally a movement towards corporate sponsorship, deregulation, competition, and the dismantling of teachers unions."

Along with Sondel's excellent overview, Public School Shakedown is publishing writing from Teach For America participants and alumni, as well as parents, activists, and school staff across the country, on the organization's impact in their communities.

The Teach For America Truth Squad is the latest effort by Public School Shakedown to expose the threat of school privatization, nationwide, and connect pro-public-school activists who want to defend this cornerstone of our democracy.

For more information, check out Public School Shakedown.

Photo: Flickr user Travis, creative commons licensed.