Reflecting on the Chicago 2015 Network for Public Education Conference and our Hero: Diane Ravitch

An invigorating and thoughtful weekend!

For me, meeting in-service and retired teachers, parents and activists from every nook and cranny across America makes me optimistic. From rural Tennessee, along the Mexico-Texas borders, across Florida, from Minneapolis, Michigan, to the urban centers, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, the amazing geographic diversity of public school activists. Special kudos to the parents, community activists, school board members and local legislators organizing around education issues and fighting the incredibly well-funded opponents of public education.

Too often we feel isolated; we fail to understand that we are an army spread across the nation.

Watch some of the incredible speakers here

The attendees are self-selected, while some lead local organizations many simply represent themselves.

Diane and the Network for Public Education, a rare nationwide education organization without funding from the “usual suspects,” the Gates, Broad and Walton crowd, provides a nationwide forum, Diane’s blog, the bloggers network and the annual national conference.

The highlights:

* Diane moderating a discussion with the two national teacher union leaders: NEA leader Lily Ekelsen and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

* Yong Zhao, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon,” a Chinese-born scholar’s brilliant critique of the Common Core and Testing.

* And the closing dialogue between Diane and Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis.

Some personal views:

I am a results-oriented unionist: set an agenda, design a strategy, work on multiple forums, seek alliances, work toward the endgame and the achievement of the core issues. For me, the frustration of public school activists has led to opposing and blaming more than building a strategy. The crankiness of a few attendees who choose to attack other attendees for their lack of purity is both disturbing and a reality. I fully understand political differences – unions have political caucuses and candidates vie for the votes of union members. A year ago the New York State United Teachers, for the first time, engaged in a major internal struggle resulting in the election of new leadership. Union members select their own leadership, the strength of a union is accepting the decision of the members and supporting the elected leadership. In Chicago and Los Angeles, Karen Lewis in Chicago and Alex Caputo-Pearl in Los Angeles challenged leadership, won their elections, and with the support of the entire member negotiated new contracts. (See new UTLA contract here)

The loudest applause of the weekend came when Diane asked Karen Lewis about the possibility of a national teacher strike. (Listen to Joe Glazer sing “The Power of the Union,” an old Wobblies song), Karen began by musing it would take five years to organize and she wouldn’t be the organizer and reminded the audience that in spite of the Chicago teacher strike fifty schools were closed.

A snarky Louisiana blogger attacked Randi Weingarten for a robo-call in September 2014 supporting the Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate. My view from New York State; when the State Democratic Party asks for a favor it’s a good idea to support the state organization that controls the flow of all legislation in New York State. Attacking each other weakens the movement.

The panels opposed a long, long list of initiatives: the Common Core, testing, Arne Duncan, the ills of poverty, discrimination, racism, sexism, and on and on. The Opt-Out movement is a prime example, I fully support the right of parents to Opt-Out, and view with fascination the explosion of the movement and the political ramifications, the goals of the Opt-Out parents are less clear: abolish all tests, or better, fairer tests, or dump the Common Core, or simply a general anger directed at the “authorities” that are driving education policy.

Unfortunately the (de)formers espouse policies, charter schools, abolishing tenure, Teach for America and the “good” guys oppose the (de)formers. At one workshop a community-led organization rolled through a 20-30 slide power point opposing a long list of bad policies and a single final slide calling for ending poverty and creating a living wage.

Calls for a national teacher strike are depressing, calls for working together with like-minded organizations to achieve a stated goal, whether community schools, or a teacher-led professional development initiative or moving from standardized testing to portfolios, all achieving goals, is preferable and the beginning of the long path to a student-centered school system.

UFT Prez Weingarten discussed the bi-partisan reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind); the AFT is supporting a bill that does not include grade span testing. Randi explained that for the civil rights organizations, traditional partners, eliminating annual testing was a non-starter and without the support of civil rights organizations that would not be a bill. In spite of Weingarten’s explanation the “purists” were critical. They’d rather have no bill, shortsighted and antithetical to the goal of erasing the power of Duncan.

In New York City Mayor Bloomberg did everything possible to bait the UFT to strike, The union worked closely with hundreds a organizations around the city, ran hundreds of community “actions,” well-placed TV campaigns, and eroded the Mayor’s popularity. By the time he left office the public clearly trusted teachers more than the Mayor.

A national teachers strike is emotionally exciting, as is screaming Mayan chants as you hold Arne Duncan’s still-beating heart in your hands … both unlikely. More gratifying is being invited to the signing ceremony in the White House that reauthorizes an ESEA that removes Duncan from the education mix.

The leader of the “fight-back” movement is Diane Ravitch, the unlikely leader, a historian, a scholar with the sharpest pen in the nation. She is our Joanne D’Arc, our Rosa Luxemburg.

The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands.
Rosa Luxemburg

And. of course.

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2 responses to “Reflecting on the Chicago 2015 Network for Public Education Conference and our Hero: Diane Ravitch

  1. Pingback: Peter Goodman: Another View of the NPE Conference in Chicago | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. Pingback: Ed News, Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Edition | tigersteach

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