Ravitch, Darling-Hammond, DamonSave Our Schools headliners please crowd
The heroes of teachers’ rebellion against No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and high-stakes standardized tests fired up the thousands of teachers at the Save Our Schools March in Washington on Saturday.
“We protest the imposition of business values in education. We protest the idea that principals and teachers will work harder if they’re offered bonuses and if they live in fear of being fired,” author and education historian Diane Ravitch told those assembled at the Ellipse preceding their march to the White House. “Carrots and sticks are for donkeys, not professionals.”
As many as 8,000 marchers – estimates varied – came from across the nation to voice their dissent against federal policies of the Bush and Obama administrations and to call for equitable funding of public education. Organized by Oakland Unified science teacher Anthony Cody, four days of events ended Sunday with a conference to determine the next steps in organizing. (Go here for a video of the three-hour march on Saturday.)
In addition to Ravitch, speakers included author Jonathan Kozol, New York educator Deborah Meier, noted author and Stanford University School of Education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, and actor Matt Damon, whose mother is an activist and childhood development professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
The remarks of Darling-Hammond, Ravitch, and Damon at the march follow.
“…We are here because we are committed to a strong public education system that works for all our children. We are here because we want to prepare children for the 21st century world they are entering, not for an endless series of multiple-choice tests that increasingly deflect us from our mission to teach them well. We are here to protest the policies that produce the increasingly segregated and underfunded schools so many of our children attend, and we are here to represent the parents, educators, and community members who fight for educational opportunity for them against the odds every day.
“We are here to say it is not acceptable for the wealthiest country in the world to be cutting millions of dollars from schools serving our neediest students; to be cutting teachers by the tens of thousands; to be eliminating art, music, PE, counselors, nurses, librarians, and libraries (where they weren’t already gone, as in California); to be increasing class sizes to 40 or 50 in Los Angeles and Detroit.
“It is not acceptable to have schools in our cities and poor rural districts staffed by a revolving door of beginning and often untrained teachers, many of whom see this as charity work they do on the way to a real job. And it is not acceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform is on bubbling in Scantron test booklets, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers, so that those at the bottom can be closed or fired – not so that we will invest the resources needed to actually provide good education in these schools.
It is not acceptable to have schools in our cities and poor rural districts staffed by a revolving door of beginning and often untrained teachers, many of whom see this as charity work they do on the way to a real job
“We are here to challenge the aggressive neglect of our children. With 1 out of 4 living in poverty – far more than in any other industrialized country (nearly double what it was 30 years ago); a more tattered safety net – more who are homeless, without health care, and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education, in which the top schools spend 10 times more than the lowest spending; we nonetheless have a defense budget larger than that of the next 20 countries combined and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country. We have produced a larger and more costly prison system than any country in the world (we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates), populated primarily by high school dropouts on whom we would not spend $10,000 a year when they were in school, but we will spend more than $40,000 a year when they are in prison – a prison system that is now directly devouring the money we should be spending on education. …
“And while many politicians talk of international test score comparisons, they rarely talk about what high-performing countries like Finland, Singapore, and Canada actually do: They ensure that all children have housing, health care, and food security. They fund their schools equitably. They invest in the highest-quality preparation, mentoring, and professional development for teachers and school leaders, completely at government expense. They organize their curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills. And they test students rarely (in Finland, not at all) – and almost never with multiple-choice tests.
“… None of these countries uses test scores to rank and sort teachers – indeed the Singaporean minister of education made a point of noting at the recent international summit on teaching that they believe such a practice would be counterproductive – and none of them rank and punish schools; indeed several countries forbid this practice. They invest in their people and build schools’ capacity to educate all their students.
… “Our leaders seek to solve the problem of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepening levels of poverty an “excuse,” rewarding schools that keep out and push out the highest-need students, and threatening those who work with new immigrant students still learning English and the growing number of those who are homeless, without health care, and without food.
“Are there lower scores in under-resourced schools with high-need students? Fire the teachers and the principals. Close the schools. Don’t look for supports for their families and communities, equitable funding for their schools, or investments in professional learning. Don’t worry about the fact that the next schools are – as researchers have documented – likely to do no better. If the banks are failing, we should fire the tellers. [And whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.]
“But public education has a secret weapon: the members of communities and the profession like yourselves who are committed first and foremost to our children and who have the courage to speak out against injustice… This takes considerable courage – of the kind that has caused each of you to be here today. Remember, as Robert F. Kennedy said:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.
“Thank you for each ripple of hope you create – for each and every time you do what is right for children. Thank you for your courage and your commitment. It is that courage and commitment that will, ultimately, bring our country to its senses and save our schools. Keep your hand on the plow …. Hold on!”
Her remarks, punctuated with applause and shouts, can be found here on YouTube.
“This is a historic day. I’m a historian; there has never been a spontaneous, grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and students all coming together to say ‘save our schools.’
“Today we’re together, all of us, parents, students, school leaders; promise yourself you will never forget this day. Today we join to protest the status quo, the status quo of high-stakes testing, the status quo of attacks on the teaching profession, the status quo of privatization. The status quo is wrong. Don’t let them say you’re defending the status quo; the status quo stinks!
“We’re here today to protest No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top, which are the same thing. Today we protest the mindless closing of public schools, their communities’ treasure. We protest punishing schools simply because they enroll large numbers of high-needs children. We protest the wholesale firing of principals and teachers under the euphemism of turning them around and transformation.
“We’re here to insist the public schools are a public trust; they’re not shoe stores. We insist when children have low test scores they need help, they need attention; they don’t need to have their school closed.
“We protest. We protest the billions and billions spent on tests, the billions spent on test prep, the billions spent on test security. And that’s not enough, more billions for test security. We protest the imposition of business values in education. We protest the idea that principals and teachers will work harder if they’re offered bonuses and if they live in fear of being fired. Carrots and sticks are for donkeys, not professionals.
“We protest the idea of turning education into a race. Education is a right, not a race. Races have one or two winners and everyone else loses. Our goal is to prepare all children to be winners in their own lives. No losers. We protest the federal government’s insistence on evaluating teachers by student test scores; it’s wrong.
“We protest the idea that state legislatures have the wisdom to know how to evaluate teachers; it’s unprofessional. We are here to stand up for basic American values. We speak for millions of parents, teachers, children, school leaders. We speak for the towns and the cities and the villages and the communities of America which depend on their local public schools. And their teachers will be there long after these terrible ideas have bitten the dust.
We protest the idea of turning education into a race. Education is a right, not a race. Races have one or two winners and everyone else loses. Our goal is to prepare all children to be winners in their own lives.
“Free public education, open to all, with no lottery, is a cornerstone of our democracy. The shame of our nation is that we lead the developed world in child poverty.
(Leads the crowd in chant of Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!)
“And if you look at the latest international test scores, our schools that are low-poverty schools are number one in the world! They’re ahead of Finland, they’re ahead of Korea. Number one, the schools that are less than 10 percent poor, and the schools that are 25 percent poverty are equal to the schools of Finland and Korea, the world leaders.
“Our problem is poverty, not our schools.
“The federal government should support equity for our neediest students. All students, regardless of their origin, their neighborhood, whoever they are, should receive a great education, the same kind of education that children get at Sidwell Friends just a few miles from here. An education that includes the arts and history and geography and civics and foreign languages and physical education and health and literature and languages. That’s what we want for all of our children.
“Education policy should be designed by educators, not by politicians!
“Every school in America should have the resources it needs to succeed for its children. We call on Congress to support programs that help children arrive in school ready to learn. Prenatal care for poor pregnant women. That alone would reduce the learning disabilities by a third, at least. High-quality early childhood education. Secretary Duncan, the achievement gap begins before children arrive in school for the first day.
“We march today to support the dignity of the education profession and the importance of families as educators. Let us go home to our communities, let us stand together with civic leaders, with local business leaders, with community leaders, with our parents, our teachers, our administrators, and everyone who cares about our children and our future.
“We are many, they are few!
“Great schools can never be built on a foundation of fear, punishment, and threats. Let us pledge instead today to build schools that reflect the best of our democratic heritage. Let us strive for excellence and insist on equity. Let us build schools that reflect our love of children, our love or learning, and our belief in the highest ideals of education.
“We shall persist and we shall prevail. Thank you so much.”
“I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.
“I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.
“And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.
You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you, and we will always have your back.
“I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were empowered to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill-and-kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.
“Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.
“I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.
“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.
“This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.
“So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything, please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you, and we will always have your back.”