A Little Good News From Across the Nation

Members of the Staten Island PS 22 chorus sing the good news.

Though it seems to be harder and harder to keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs—witness the latest mass teacher firings in Providence, RI, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s brazen union-smashing efforts—there are promising signs out there. In what we hope will be a regular Backpack feature, here are a few good news briefs:

  • Progressive Parent Group Holds National Forum – Parents Across America had their first national forum in New York City with–who else–Diane Ravitch as their guest speaker. With the slogan “Put the parent voice back in public education,” this group promises to “advocate for proven, progressive measures such as reducing class size and increasing parent involvement, and oppose corporate-style efforts to privatize our schools.” Sounds a lot like CPS. Check out their web site to remind yourself that you are not alone in wanting real reform for schools, not more of the same test-and-punish and privatization of public education.
  • Black Educators, Civil Rights Groups File Complaint Against Biased School Plan – The good news here is that advocates are standing up for Boston public school families and against destructive school policies. In this case, plans to close or merge more than 20 Boston schools will disproportionately harm black and Latino students and their families, according to a complaint filed by The Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts (BEAM) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association. The U.S. Department of Education is looking into the charges that these groups are disproportionately affected by the school system’s efforts to save money. “Though the closings are presented to the community as a way to improve school quality, we see once again that families who already struggle to find educational opportunities for their children will bear the brunt of the disruptions and insecurity caused by this plan,” said Barbara Fields, CPS board member and member of BEAM. “The fact is that most students will not be reassigned to a higher performing school but to an equally struggling or lower performing school. The impact of this plan perpetuates the achievement /opportunity-to-learn gap that persists between Black and Latino students and their White and Asian peers. We question the wisdom of a plan that protects the education of some students while increasing the already existing disparities experienced by other students.”
  • Solidarity for Wisconsin Spreads – In addition to two Boston rallies (see “Standing Up for Wisconsin Teachers, Workers”), there have been spirited rallies for Wisconsin public employees across the nation, including Washington state, Ohio, Indiana, etc. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll confirmed Americans overwhelmingly oppose Gov. Walker’s effort to smash collective bargaining, with a nearly two-to-one majority – 60% percent to 33% — saying they oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions.
  • Not Just Waiting for Superman – Despite uber-powerful (Oprah, anyone?) backers and a big PR push, the documentary Waiting for Superman doesn’t seem to be gaining traction and failed to get an Oscar nod. Meanwhile, films with very different points of view are being screened around the nation, prompting important community discussions and showing that there are other ways to look at and approach school problems. Vicki Abeles’ film Race to Nowhere is being screened in communities from coast to coast, prompting post-film discussions like the one I witnessed at Brookline High School Feb. 16. Parents, students and teachers eloquently shared their concerns about the damaging stress placed on students and the test prep culture that drains meaning from learning. Robert Lamothe’s film TEACH tells the story of urban education from the perspective of teachers, parents and advocates who see the damaging effects of high-stakes testing and budget cuts. He has just returned from Wisconsin with exciting new footage of the demonstrations there. Visit his web site to learn about plans for screenings and to sign up for his news bulletin with updates about Wisconsin. And coming soon is August to June, a beautiful film about a California public school teacher who demonstrates what it means to put aside the test prep and teach and reach the whole child. Plans are in progress for screenings in the Boston metro area. Professor Louis Kruger’s film, Children Left Behind, chronicles the devastating impact of the high-stakes MCAS on a group of thoughtful and eloquent students. Visit his web site or contact us at CPS to arrange a screening.
  • History MCAS Ditched – A rare win for students and teachers came when we learned that there is no money in the state education budget to reinstate the planned history MCAS. The Pioneer Institute isn’t happy, but students across the Commonwealth can breathe a sigh of relief that there won’t be one more standardized testing hoop to jump through and one more multiple choice test to drive all the interesting stuff out of history.
  • PS 22 – Fifth graders from a “regular public school” (as their director described it several times in his Oscar red carpet interview) wowed the movie stars with their soulful rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” And what does the PS 22 chorus director, Gregg Breinberg, think of his public school teaching job? “Right now, I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I have no plans to go anywhere. Life is about working to your potential to make some kind of difference and trying to find happiness along the way. I quite honestly don’t know if any career could bring me to life more than my work with the PS22 Chorus.”

–Lisa Guisbond

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