Out of frustration, they’ll marchAnthony Cody organized disaffected teachers
Like no other, Diane Ravitch – author, polemicist, historian, Twittermeister – has galvanized classroom teachers to oppose the Obama administration’s vision of ed reform. And if she’s the James Madison or Thomas Jefferson of the rebellion, Anthony Cody is the movement’s Sam Adams.
With bulldog tenacity, the 24-year Oakland Unified science teacher and teacher coach has challenged teachers to speak out and take action – and put his organizing talents behind his words. Later this month, his two-year campaign will culminate in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action on Saturday, July 30 in Washington, D.C., with a rally at the Ellipse followed by a march to the White House.
“We have really tried over the last two years to engage the administration in dialogue .. ,” Cody told me. “So, yeah, we do feel like we need to protest at this point, because, you know, we really expected much better from this administration, and we still do.”
In a recent video interview (here for the transcipt), Cody laid out his grievances – chiefly Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s embrace of the chief tenets of No Child Left Behind – and his goals for the march. He hopes that at least a few thousand teachers and sympathizers (he’s low-balling the number) will brave the potentially swampy Washington weather to attend. He and other volunteer organizers have lined up Ravitch, author Jonathan Kozol (Death at an Early Age), actor Matt Damon, and activist Deborah Meier (co-blogger with Ravitch in Bridging Differences) as speakers. Bookending the rally will be a conference on July 28 and 29 and a congress on July 31 to plan future actions.
The protesters will make four demands: equitable funding for all public school communities; curriculum developed for and by local school communities; teacher and community leadership in forming public education policies; and an end to high-stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluation. It’s clearly the last point that has fired up teachers and motivated them to travel to Washington. Cody argues, as do others, that fear of having their schools labeled as failures under NCLB has created an obsession with standardized tests, particularly in low-income schools where the curriculum has been narrowed to exclude subjects other than those that are tested, primarily math and English language arts. Low-income students, he says, “are losing the rich education that they really need. They’re losing the chance to be challenged, to think critically, and we’re developing a split education system” in which wealthy schools escape NCLB sanctions and can do the deeper learning denied poor schools.
Teachers who are feeling under siege are furious over the requirement in Race to the Top that states include student scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers. Duncan and Obama have made more conciliatory statements this year, talking about the need for a richer curriculums and multiple measures to evaluate teachers. But Cody says he hasn’t seen their more nuanced positions reflected in policies.
“I see them making rhetorical nods to how much they honor teachers; but you do not honor us by tying our pay to test scores, by tying our teacher evaluations to test scores,” he said.
In an explanation “A One-sided Dialogue” on his popular blog “Living in Dialogue,” Cody lays out his disappointment and grievances. Eighteen months ago, he started a Facebook group Teachers’ Letters to Obama, in which he encouraged teachers to vent their frustrations in writing, for personal delivery to the White House. More than 100 did.
Then he and others pushed for a conference call with Duncan for them to explain their problems with NCLB. It did happen, after months of planning with a dozen teacher representatives from across the nation. But the call left Cody and others dissatisfied, with most of the half hour, Cody said, spent listening to Duncan instead of the other way around. The idea of a march took off.
Over the past two years of back and forth, Cody and I have sometimes agreed to disagree, but I admire his energy and savvy in creating his grassroots effort. He said he created Letters to Obama for less than $500. The Save Our Schools March has a $150,000 budget, with more than half raised from donations of $25 to $100. Both national teachers unions have kicked in $25,000 each. On Thursday, Ravitch will participate in a fundraising webinar with a goal of raising $5,000.
“For the last decade, ‘education reform’ has been defined as No Child Left Behind, and the current administration picked that up, and is continuing to run with it,” Cody said. “We are determined to show a different face for education reform.”