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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Video: NYC parent activists get a moment to challenge the corporate reform movement on Education Nation

Last week, NBC ran three days of programming called Education Nation, filmed at Rockefeller Plaza, which was primarily dominated by representatives from the corporate reform movement, who define accountability as more high-stakes testing and promote privatization through charter school expansion, both trends that in the view of many public school parents undermine our public schools and offer simplistic solutions to complex problems.

Many of the panelists and speakers were from organizations funded by the program's sponsors, which included the Gates and Broad Foundations, and echoed their pro-testing and pro-privatization views.  There was much talk about how we need "great principals" and "great teachers" and "great schools" with little realistic discussion of how we get there.  One panelist, Ralph Smith of the Annie Casey Foundation, offered a contrary thought:  that perhaps instead of relying on "greatness" we should build a system that enables ordinary people to be successful.

In general, there was little or no recognition of the frustration parents feel about the overwhelming obsession with standardized testing in our schools, the devastating impact of deep budget cuts and growing class sizes, and the way our voices have been increasingly shut out of the debate over education reform.   Even the panel on the role of parents included only one person who identified herself as a parent leader.  Rather than invite  any NYC parent to sit on the panel, Chancellor Walcott was included instead, despite the fact that the Bloomberg administration has consistently ignored parents and  treated our priorities with utter contempt.
This panel discussion, called Stepping Up: the Role of the Parent Advocate, focused  on the controversial proposal known as the “Parent Trigger", developed by the organization the Parent Revolution, which is headed by a Beverly Hills attorney named Ben Austin.  The Parent Revolution was started with funds from the Broad Foundation to encourage charter school expansion.  More information on this astroturf organization can be found on the Seattle 2010 blog, and on Diane Ravitch's blog Bridging Differences, where she calls the Parent Trigger "a stealth assault on public education."   ALEC, the secretive right-wing organization, has written a model Parent Trigger bill that has been introduced in state legislatures all over the nation, and reportedly, DFER and other pro-charter organizations are busy hiring staff to try to get a Parent Trigger bill passed here in NY state this session.  The Parent Trigger is particularly deceptive, because while it claims to empower parents, it is actually offering them only a limited number of damaging options, imposed from above. The Parents Across America position paper on the Parent Trigger is here.
At Education Nation, I challenged both Ben Austin and Dennis Walcott, pointing out that the Bloomberg administration as well as the US Department of Education have completely ignored our voices.  Most parents don’t want their schools closed or turned into charters, but yearn instead for their neighborhood public school to be strengthened with smaller classes and a well-rounded education, but this is not the choice they have been offered. 
Ben Austin responded with a sleazy attack that Parents Across America is entirely funded by the National Education Association, which is untrue.  (We received a $25,000 start up grant from the NEA, and have since raised money elsewhere, including a $5,000 gift from Diane Ravitch.)  I was followed shortly afterward by two other questioners, parent activists Mona Davids of the NYC Parents Union and Ocynthia Williams of the Coalition for Educational Justice.
But even during Ben Austin’s remarks the truth occasionally shone through.  He admitted that no parents want their schools closed, and that charter schools "are not remotely scaleable” – that is, they cannot be replicated on a large scale.  (Never mind that Walcott, who was sitting right next to him, appears to see both continued school closures and rapid charter expansion as the DOE’s top priority over the next two years.)
Other valuable moments on Education Nation were provided by Diane Ravitch during her debate with Geoffrey Canada.  Ravitch pointed out that Canada had fired his whole 6th grade class when they didn’t test well enough; countered by Canada’s misstatement that he had “closed” the school instead.  Also you should check out the student panel,  which, among many other issues, discussed how important class size is, in allowing  them to develop closer relationships with their teachers and enabling teachers to show how much they care.
Below is video of my remarks and Austin’s response; followed by the comments of Mona and Ocynthia.  The entire segment on the Power of a Parent Advocate is here.  And don't forget to check out the video of MisEducation Nation  that followed on Tuesday night.
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and Parents Across America on what most parents really want:

Mona Davids of NYC Parents Union on Ben Austin's divisive tactics and her version of the "Parent Trigger":

Ocynthia Williams of the Coalition for Educational Justice on the failure of Bloomberg administration and Chancellor Walcott to collaborate with parents:

1 comment:

parentingclubs said...

maybe i should try this one.