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Monday, April 25, 2016

'We’re At War' Says Organizer Behind Education Protests Sweeping The Country | ThinkProgress

'We’re At War' Says Organizer Behind Education Protests Sweeping The Country | ThinkProgress:

‘We’re At War’ Says Organizer Behind Education Protests Sweeping The Country

Keron Blair will look you directly in the eye the whole time he’s talking to you, making sure you absorb every single word he’s saying. His personality seemed a bit reserved when he sat down with me at a Starbucks to discuss Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the coalition he is director of, which been responsible for organizing and supporting school protests across the country. But when you listen to his speeches, you hear a minister’s voice.
“Public education…could die on our watch,” Blair said at a recent event for the Milwaukee Teachers Association. “The reality is what drew me to this fight is the shared acknowledgement that we are in fact at war, and what I’ve learned about wartime is that you cannot operate with the same kind of rules. You’ve got to make some wartime adjustments.”
AROS’ ongoing protests have conveyed exactly that level of urgency.
The coalition’s campaign began with a “day of action” where cities across the U.S. protested cuts to public education, the closure of schools in low-income neighborhoods that are predominantly black and Hispanic, the expansion of charter schools, and the proliferation of standardized testing. An estimated 40,000 parents, teachers, and students from over 830 schools in more than 30 cities participated in the February 17 walk-ins. A spokesperson for AROS said the protests were biggest in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Chicago.

 AROS believes that schools are ultimately community institutions that help in the fight against poverty by providing support services. The coalition rejects top-down reform from “corporate executives, entrepreneurs or philanthropists,” and wants the voices of teachers, parents, and students to be prioritized in the decision-making process about important changes in education policy, whether local, state, or federal.

Drawing inspiration from other grassroots movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Blair easily weaves together various political and economic issues to ensure that AROS is engaged in a broader fight — one focused on narrowing the gap in economic inequality and focusing on the voices of teachers, students, and parents in black and Hispanic communities. Blair says he learned what not to do from Occupy Wall Street as well. He wants to make sure the message isn’t so broad that people don’t see a focused policy agenda.
“I came to AROS because I felt that the fight for education and public schools in this country would be one of the defining fights of the decade,” Blair said.
Blair’s background as an immigrant helped informed his views about the value of public schools. Blair and his mother emigrated from Jamaica to the United States, where he attended Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School in New York. At the time, the school was struggling, but it was important 'We’re At War' Says Organizer Behind Education Protests Sweeping The Country | ThinkProgress:

What’s the Matter With Corporate Education Reform?

What’s the Matter With Corporate Education Reform?:

What’s the Matter With Corporate Education Reform?

Why Students and Teachers Won When the Vergara Decision was Overturned

Last week I reviewed Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal: What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? in which he lambastes professional-class Democrats for thinking that there is “no social or political problem that cannot be solved with more education and job training.”  This makes perfect sense because, as a class, professionals are “defined by educational attainment, and every time they tell the country that what it needs is more schooling, they are saying: Inequality is not a failure of the system; it is a failure of you.”  
But, Frank contends, the only problem with education, for the professional crew, is that it is “not meritocratic enough.”  Thus, all that needs to be done is bust the teachers’ unions (whose sin is their outdated belief in solidarity), open charter schools, test our kids to death, and give tax breaks to “innovators.”
Nothing is more illustrative of this aspect of Frank’s critique than the way so many Democrats lined up to support the Vergara decision in 2014 even against the interests of a key Democratic constituency and key Democratic electeds.  
What was the Vergara Decision?
Nearly two years ago, a Los Angeles-area judge struck down the due process rights of California’s K-12 teachers in what many educators like myself found to be a distinctly bad ruling.  As Kelly Mayhew and I wrote at the time:
Last week’s decision in the Vergara v. the State of California lawsuit that undermined tenure and seniority rights was a profound slap in the face to teachers who have committed their careers to improving the lives of our children.  It was yet another significant victory for those who are seeking to impose corporate education reforms by pitting teachers against children in a cynical, destructive, and utterly counterproductive fashion.
As tenured professors in the community college system, union members, and parents of a child in California’s public school system, we have a unique perspective on this matter.  Although the “Vergara” decision has no effect on our jobs at San Diego City College, it does affect the professional lives of the educators who teach our son and it will do them, and him, more harm than good . . .
Pitting our child against his teachers, as the “Vergara” lawsuit seeks to do, is a fool’s errand. It destroys any sense of community in our schools and heaps scorn on the very people we all want to trust with our children’s futures.  The interests of teachers and students are not diametrically opposed, as so many in the corporate education reform industry would have us think, but rather inextricably linked.  When we disrespect teachers, we demean our education system and do nothing to help students.
San Diego is full of [good] schools . . . as is the rest of the state.  If you read much of the news media, however, you’ll believe differently given the endless drumbeat of education “reformers,” who often hide their true agenda of privatization and union busting behind a deeply dishonest rhetoric of “saving children” from “bad teachers.”
More specifically, with regard to the “Vergara” decision, David Welch, a conservative Silicon Valley millionaire and corporate education reformer who has been funding a group called “Students Matter,” won the opening salvo in a battle to deprive teachers of their constitutional due process and seniority rights.
The suit, which hid behind a group of poor and minority students, several of whom did not even attend schools where the teachers had tenure or due process rights, alleged that California’s teacher workplace rights infringe on the constitutional rights of students to an equal education–basically saying that hard-won job security, due process (i.e. that teachers cannot just be fired without a process), and seniority adversely impact low-income and minority students by keeping on “bad” teachers and too-often sticking inexperienced teachers in low-performing schools.
The problem with this argument and the “Vergara” decision (which will be appealed) is that it is based on What’s the Matter With Corporate Education Reform?: