A Manifesto for a Revolution in Public Education

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A Manifesto for a Revolution in Public Education

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reClaiming the Conversation on Education started this petition to People interested in public education

Teachers, students, parents, and teacher educators!

For decades politicians, corporate titans, businesspeople, and some compliant educators have bombarded us with half-truths that our public schools are terrible, that our children underperform, and that our teachers, teacher unions, and teacher educators are ruining our economy and the minds of our kids.

These self-styled “reformers” have sensationalized selected scores on standardized tests to manufacture a narrative of catastrophe, and have used that narrative to distract us from the real crises of poverty, racism, and growing inequality facing our public schools.

For over a decade these “reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.

Under the avalanche of these “reforms,” any attention to creating citizens for a democracy has vanished. Gone is any focus on the emotional health of students or on their artistic, creative and physical development. Gone is a vibrant commitment to PUBLIC education and to equal educational opportunity.

For more than a decade we have heard our nation’s leaders, such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, repeat the mantra that all children deserve equal educational opportunities.  And for more than a decade we have watched as children who attend public schools receive a subsistence level education full of test preparation, and militaristic discipline, while, hypocritically, the sons and daughters of these “reformers” and the children of the well-to-do and the well-connected receive opportunities that look nothing like the ones foisted on the rest of the nation’s students. As the children of many of these “reformers” feast at the banquet of educational opportunities afforded them, the rest of the nation’s youth and their teachers are left with the withering skeleton of public education and are expected to be quiet as the corporate jackals pick the last bit of profit from the bones.

ENOUGH! We will no longer stand idly by as public education is dismantled by hypocrites, plutocrats, merchandisers and collaborators.

We reject the entire education “reform” agenda, its self-serving narrative of crisis, its ruinous reduction of education to cramming for an exam, its vocabulary of the marketplace that renders our teachers and children as numbers on a bottom line, its flawed science of value-added metrics hawked by those who never stepped foot in a classroom, its propaganda that poverty, institutional racism, white supremacy, and family situations can be overcome by a lone teacher armed with the right “tool-kit,” and its concealment of the income gap by the so-called “achievement gap.” We denounce in particular the emphasis on performance standards, with its fanatical faith in tests and algorithms, its blindness to all the other aspects of education, and its pernicious focus on equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities.

We aspire to something nobler and more just.

Teachers, students, parents and teacher educators!

We aspire to EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY for all our children. We therefore insist on standards that govern equality of educational opportunity, standards that ensure the nation’s children can, if they wish, receive the same educational opportunities as do the children of our nation’s rich and powerful.  If we are still a democracy, if we still believe in the PUBLIC, if we still believe in equal opportunity, then it is time we demand the following:

Our demands

1.      We demand that every child have equal educational opportunities. By this we mean that every child in pre-K through 12th grade should be provided with the conditions that make possible real study and human growth, conditions made available at the nation’s independent schools to the children of so many education “reformers” and of the well-to-do and well-connected.

2.      We demand that all students have the small classrooms that Jeb Bush experienced at Phillips Andover where the average class size is thirteen students and the overall student teacher ratio is 5 to 1, that his son experienced at Gulliver Preparatory School whose average class size is also thirteen, and that ex NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughters experienced at Manhattan’s Spence School, where the average high school class size is 13 students, and the overall student teacher ratio is 7 to 1.

3.      We demand that all students have access to schools with well-stocked libraries, quiet places for contemplation, study abroad opportunities, programs in music and art, regular field trips, a range of sports, healthy food in the cafeteria, well-staffed college counseling departments, athletic and art facilities, and a wide selection of foreign languages, vocational opportunities, AP courses, and numerous extra-curricular activities. All of these are offered at independent schools, such as Sidwell Friends, attended by Barack Obama’s children, Deerfield Academy, attended by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daughters, Maumee Valley Country Day School in Ohio, where Michelle Rhee went, Manhattan’s Trinity School, attended by Rudolph Giuliani’s daughter, the Madeira School attended by Campbell Brown, and Phillips Exeter Academy, where Chester Finn was a student. In these schools children write all the time, because writing is easier to develop when teachers have between sixty and 70 students, as opposed to the 150 students most public school English teachers have. Such conditions have been available to the sons and daughters of education “reformers,” such as Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Rahm Emanuel, and all those hedge fund billionaires so heavily invested in charter schools.

4.      We demand equal educational opportunities for teachers such that teachers have opportunities to create their own curriculum, as do the teachers at Manhattan’s Dalton School, attended by the sons of New York State Regent, Merryl Tisch, and at Seattle’s Lakeside School, attended by Bill Gates, and at Chicago’s Lab School attended by Arne Duncan, and at the Panahou School, Obama’s alma mater in Hawaii.  None of these schools adhere to the Common Core. At such schools, teachers have considerable freedom to choose curricular materials, to structure learning based on their particular students’ needs, to follow their own intellectual, and artistic passions, and to benefit from funding for seminars, learning fellowships and sabbaticals. At such schools teachers are evaluated, not by student test scores or value-added measures, but according to qualitative criteria developed by their colleagues, their professional organizations, and themselves.

5.      We demand that rather than performance standards that focus on test scores and assume punishment is the best way to change people, states adopt opportunity-to-study standards, with metrics and consequences.  Such opportunity-to-study standards assess the conditions that make study possible. We emphasize study rather than learning, only because the concept of learning has been so corrupted as to mean nothing more than “performance” on high stakes tests. The conditions that promote and offer opportunities for study include the curriculum, the extra-curriculum, the available resources, the setting, and the infra-structure. Such conditions and opportunities can be assessed by opportunity-to-study standards.

6.      We demand a halt to charter schools, which present the veneer of small independent schools, but in fact offer a mediocre test prep program, military discipline, and few, if any, of the numerous opportunities for study available to the children of the wealthy backers of those charter schools.  If charters, such as the KIPP schools and Success Academy, are so great, how come “reformers,” politicians, and corporate backers don’t enroll their own children in them?

7.      We demand that at the community, district, state and national levels, education summits be held to delineate in detail such opportunity-to-study standards, determine the cost, and establish time lines for these standards to be implemented. Furthermore, we demand that primarily educators, parents and students be included in these summits and that media and computer moguls, hedge fund managers, CEOs, and others who know little about teaching or curriculum be barred from participating.

These are the demands we make. Only when we achieve true equality of educational opportunity, only when those who spout this term are held to it, only then will we begin to see real educational change in this country. Only then will we have done a true service to our young and to the nation’s future.


reClaiming the Conversation on Education Steering Committee:

Arnie Dodge, Chair/Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, LIU-Post*

Lisa N. Edstrom, Parent and Educator

Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor, State University of New York at New Paltz*

David A. Gorlewski, Chairperson, Educational Administration, State University of New York at New Paltz*

Andrew T. Kemp, Ed.D.

Steve London, University Wide Officer, PSC/CUNY*

Barbara Madeloni, MTA President*

Janet L. Miller, Professor

Wayne A. Reed, Assistant Professor of Education, Brooklyn College, CUNY*

Paula M. Salvio, Professor of Education

Jessica Siegel, Assistant Professor of Education, Journalism and English, Brooklyn College, CUNY*

Ruth Powers Silverberg, Associate Professor of Education, College of Staten Island, CUNY*

Laura Stolbova, Educator.

Debbie Sonu, Teacher Educator.

Janine Sopp,  Parent, Change the Stakes and NYC Opt Out*

Daiyu Suzuki, Co-founder, Edu4.  Doctoral candidate, Teachers College at Columbia University

Peter M. Taubman, Professor of Secondary Education, Brooklyn College, CUNY*

Barbara Winslow, Professor Emerita, Brooklyn College; Founder and Director, Shirley Chisholm Project of Brooklyn Women's Activism*

* Note: Affiliation for identification purposes only. The views may not express those of the institution.


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