REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.: SOSPosted: July 30, 2011
Two other important grassroots alliances, beside the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE), were formed this past academic year in response to the rapid dismantling of public education across the nation. Both were inspired by Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010), who has become a tireless advocate for “meaningful” public education reform. These two new alliances are Save Our Schools (SOS), with its focus on K-12 but inclusive of all public education rights, and Parents Across America (PAA) a new activist group of powerful parents against the standardized test regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The two-day conference at American University preceding the march on the White House in Washington D.C. today, has been packed with scores of panels and workshops focusing on successful action plans for change in public education. Along with the panels is the SOS film festival of new documentaries that debunk current myths about the “total” failure of public education (1). Author and educator Jonathan Kozol was keynote speaker on Thursday with education researcher Diane Ravitch following on Friday.
The strongest theme that has emerged from this event is the need for a new civil rights movement that focuses on equity in public education: equity in the real quality of a deep and comprehensive curriculum in every public school, and equity in access to quality public education for every youth. In his keynote address, Jonathan Kozol reminded the audience that teachers were “warriors for justice working on the front lines of the struggle for democracy.” The savage inequalities in public education that he wrote about decades ago are worse now, he said, as the charter and voucher movements have served to re-segregate the schools. No Child Left Behind has lead to a flight of “wonderful” principals and educators from the public school system, which has become punitive and oppressive as the administration of public schools has been taken over by a business model run by “dry dreary technocrats in worship of data,” who act as “drill sergeants of the state…discouraged from promoting curiosity and originality in their students.” Two-thirds of the school year has been consumed by a culture of exams. As the race gap grows wider, school systems are eliminating art, music, drama, science, social studies, geography and sports to focus on high-stakes testing out of fear of being shut down. And by the way, this testing industry has become a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, lead by Pearson. Kozol called for a new civil rights movement that must depend on the “energy, participation and persistence of our youth.” And for the rest of us, a “passionate impatience” for change.
(To be continued…)
(1) Two recommendations from the SOS Film Festival: “August to June” tracks the intellectual and emotional development of third and fourth graders in a remarkable school “The Open Classroom” in the Lagunitas School District in northern California, which focuses on deep learning for the “whole child.” The second is “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” which debunks the anti-public-school documentary “Waiting for Superman” that got so much press this past year. This documentary also illuminates the corruption behind the “co-location” charter movement that Mayor Bloomberg imposed upon the New York public school system after he abolished the local governance structure of the public schools and replaced it with a board of superintendents he could control through political appointments.