Once upon a time we thought that bringing about change was a bottom up, grassroots activity, guided by the philosophy of Saul Alinsky. Mass demonstrations, protests, petitions, civil disobedience: actions that engaged stakeholders in a mass movement …
Somewhere along the line too many of us became too self-satisfied, we decided that “building from the bottom up” was too hard, or, too slow, or, too complex.
Self selected change agents now sit in gilded “think tanks,” funded by the left or the right, spinning away, with “ideas” and “policies” that are misguided, or, just plain wrong.
Michelle Rhee, recently selected Superintendent in Washington, DC, and, formerly director of the New Teacher Project, espoused the elimination of teacher seniority transfer rights. Her Report was “hot,” she testified against the union in New York City at a contract fact-finding, and, seniority transfer rights were replaced by an Open Market system … anyone can transfer anywhere. The result: teachers fleeing from low achieving to higher achieving schools … the rich get richer … to the detriment of the neediest kids.
Weighted School Funding, called Fair Student Funding by it’s advocates called for dollars to follow kids and for school budgets to be based on actual teacher salaries. The implementation of the plan was sidetracked by teacher union and community protests. The plan would have driven funds from “richer” schools to “poorer” schools … a Robin Hood approach to school funding. The theory: “richer” schools would be unable to hire senior teachers who would be driven, by the marketplace, to “poorer” schools.
Midwood High School, one of the highest achieving schools in the City would have lost twelve teaching positions! Creating higher class size, elimination of electives: a plan that would have sharply eroded the education of one class of students, supposedly, to the benefit of others: educational triage.
Schools have become the petri dish for social scientists … a laboratory to play with the lives of the children of families of color. There are no experiments in highly funded suburban schools, the bastions of the wealthier and the more powerful.
There are signs of change.
The Coalition for Educational Justice is one of a number of organizations formed in the spirit of Saul Alinsky. Parents and teachers using the grassroots tools of community organization, “taking on” the establishment.
With the help of other advocacy organizations a bottom up change is beginning to percolate …
Rather than the rich and influential funding “mad scientist” experiments on the powerless, perhaps they will begin to drive their resources to the folks who have a real stake in schools systems: parents and teachers.