Monday, March 3, 2014

Dispatches from the Front 2

Notes from Day 2 of the Network Of Public Education Conference

Day 2 of the Network for Public Education Conference in Austin, TX began with people lining up in the aisles of the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium to get Diane Ravitch to sign their copy of Reign of Error. Poor Anthony Cody struggled to get people into their seats to begin the first session. Teachers on a mission can be a non-compliant group. Finally the session, a panel discussion on the Common Core, began aboout 20 minutes late. It probably couldn't end soon enough for Randi Weingarten, the AFT President and Common Core supporter, who was given the lead position in the discussion and then had to sit uncomfortably as articulate and passionate opponents of the Core, Paul Horton, Geralyn McLaughlin, Mercedes Schneider and Jose Luis Vilson, took apart every positive point about the Core that Weingarten had presented.

Weingarten said the Common Core standards were not the problem, over-testing was the problem. The key points made by Common Core opponents included how the Common Core was a top down process that did not include teachers in the development in a meaningful way, that the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate for early childhood education, that the Common Core prescribes instruction that takes away teacher professional judgement and that the Common Core was a part of the effort to undermine teacher unions. To her credit, Weingarten received the criticism with equanimity and professionalism, but she couldn't convince this crowd.

Public education's Super Hero, Diane Ravitch, spoke next and offered red meat to the hungry wolves at the convention. Ravitch's theme was "Why We Will Win." She said that not one of the "reforms" advocated by the corporate privatizers was working. Not vouchers. Not merit pay. Not charter schools. Not value added teacher evaluation. Not improved student learning. She said that the reformers were losers. All of their ideas were failures. She called the charter school movement colonialism. She declared the US Department of Education an enemy to public education. At the end the crowd rose to applaud in appreciation of Diane's leadership and her indominable passion for public education done right.

Jonathan Pelto led a lunchtime session for education bloggers. Jon and other bloggers are working to develop a loosly joined organization that provides support in the form of research, webinars, editorial advice and wikis that will help bloggers get their messages out and grow their reading audiences. More than 100 bloggers and future bloggers attended the session.

Action planning sessions focused on the issue of organizing for further action. In the group I attended we discussed the need to recapture the narrative of public education that the corporate reform oligarchs have usurped. The difficulties of getting working teachers involved in the effort was another concern discussed. David Greene suggested that we all work in our individual states to join in the National Day of Action currently planned for New York and Milwaukee on May 17 - the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education.

As the conference closed, Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch announced that the Network for Public Education would be calling for a Congressional investigation into the overuse of standardized testing in the country. This blog will have more on the topic in the near future. For now you can read the press release here.

All in all, a great conference. I put faces to the names of people I have been corresponding with over the past year, gained greater insight into the issues in the battle for public education and was energized to continue the battle. The lingering concern is that we members of the Network are spending too much of our time preaching to our own passionate choir and not enough time persuading potential allies to join us. Growing the movement will depend on getting the message to politicians, parents, teachers, students and taxpayers.