(Chicago Teachers Local Union 1/Flickr/Creative Commons)
After years of being backed into a corner, on Monday public-school teachers stood up in defiance against what they see as their chief bully—budget-slashing school reforms that have made school more stressful and less fulfilling for both them and their students.
Under the banner of a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, educators, students and community groups coordinated demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings in dozens of cities. In the long run, the day of action kicked off a broader campaign by a coalition of unions and community groups to chart an alternative path to education reform.
According to a policy statement by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the leading union behind the campaign, and its partner groups, the goal is to foster “a community-union movement for educational equity and excellence.” While that agenda may sound neutral to the uninitiated, it speaks to growing resentment toward the prevailing reform rhetoric pushed by the White House and many politicians: corporate-oriented “standards” and “management,” leading to a test-heavy curriculum focused on math and reading at the expense of all else. First imposed under the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration, this hardline approach rests on the belief that a lack of academic rigor and “ineffective” educators are impeding U.S. students’ performance. The prescription has been an avalanche of high-stakes testing, public-school funding cuts and free-market privatization measures such as charter schools, often funded by corporate-oriented philanthropists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
Broadly, the coalition wants a shift to more autonomy for teachers and more funding for schools, along with less testing and a less top-down, corporate management style. AFT plans to invest more than $1 million to promote the campaign. It has partnered with the country’s other major education union, National Education Association, as well as the Service Employees International Union and grassroots civic advocacy groups like the Chicago-based Journey for Justice Alliance.
The union-led coalition hopes to school the pro-privatization crowd by refocusing the conversation on the root causes of low achievement, like underfunded schools, dull lessons and overcrowded classrooms.