Impressions from the Save our Schools Rally

Teachers at the Save Our Schools Rally in July.

By Jonathan King

Citizens for Public Schools Board Member Jonathan King was among the CPS members who joined the throngs in Washington, D.C. for the Save Our Schools (SOS) Conference and Rally, July 28-30. As we prepare for the CPS Fall Conference–our chance to build on the momentum of last July’s exciting SOS call to action–Jonathan shares his impressions from the Washington, D.C., event. He begins with a description of the conference that preceded the rally.

As I walked  into the opening evening lecture hall, the atmosphere was electric. The hall was packed with parents, teachers and students who had come from cities and states across the nation. Diane Ravitch was brilliant as usual in summarizing bipartisan efforts to privatize and undermine our public schools. But the biggest impact on me was hearing teachers and parents from New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California and other states describe their responses to the assaults on their schools. I hadn’t fully realized how closely the struggles that we have fought in CPS mirrored those in other cities and states – against excessive standardized testing, closing public schools so charter schools could move into their buildings, excluding parents and teachers from educational policy decisions, assessing teaching by student test scores.

The next day I attended a packed workshop led by Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane Levin. They teach at Lesley University here in Cambridge, but were talking about an issue new to me, the trickling down of standardization and privatization into early childhood education. Their stories of standardized testing for kindergartners, public ranking of kids’ scores, suppression of play and authentic learning were all chilling. However, I was heartened by their call for early childhood educators to get organized to resist. The afternoon workshop describing intense and ongoing battles in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee was eye opening (with urban education expert Michelle Fine of City University of New York, Bob Peterson from Rethinking Schools and the Milwaukee Teachers Union, and longtime educator and Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp). Many of the efforts to undercut schools serving low-income children that we have seen in Boston are much further advanced and more blatant in these school systems.

I loved the rally and march with teachers from all over the country proudly wearing their t-shirts and brandishing signs: “Teachers make other professions possible,” Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a treasure,” “Stand with Wisconsin,” “Education is more than test scores.” Having Matt Damon speak to the group, describing his formative experiences at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, was deeply gratifying. His subsequent appearances on TV news and comment programs reached large audiences. Some participants were disappointed that there were thousands, not hundreds of thousands, on this hot, midsummer day. But I was reminded of how many millions of Americans depend on our public schools. As more and more come to understand that their schools are at risk, there will be increasing resistance to the efforts of the Billionaire Boys’ Clubs and their allies to take over schools. The organizers of the conference and rally made clear that this was a first step, and the SOS/Parents Across America network would be organizing in the coming year to become a force in defending public schools nationally. Those of us from CPS and other Massachusetts networks will participate enthusiastically in these efforts.

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