On December 9, 2013, parents, students, teachers, school staff and community members nationwide came together to reclaim the promise of public education. In an extraordinary display of solidarity and strength, they took part in coordinated public actions across the country, marking the beginning of a national movement that will unite and galvanize communities around a shared vision of equity in education and opportunity for every student. Below are some of the events that took place around the nation.
More than 300 students, parents, educators and community activists held a rally at the Capitol Federal Building, demanding education equity and comprehensive immigration reform. Speakers included representatives from local community groups, the Texas State Teachers Association, the National Education Association and Education Austin.
100 people representing the Boise Education Association, the Idaho Education Association, Parents and Teachers Together, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, school board members, school administrators, labor leaders and students rallied at the Capitol in temperatures hovering around 10 degrees. Parents, teachers, labor union members and legislators spoke about the need for the state to return funding to schools after dramatic cuts to the education budget in recent years.
The Alliance for Educational Justice, the Boston Parents Union, the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project, the Boston Student Advisory Council, the Boston Teachers Union, and many more community and labor organizations brought out more than 250 students, parents, educators and community members for a community town hall forum. Local city council members and the superintendent participated in the forum, which was held at a local public high school. Students facilitated small break-out groups that discussed their vision for Boston Public Schools and its relation to the “Principles that Unite Us.” The next day, community organizers presented the ideas generated during the town hall at a meeting with Boston’s Mayor-elect Marty Walsh.
Brevard County, Fla.
More than 150 representatives from the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, the National Organization for Women, St. James AME Church, Mt. Moriah AME Church, the Black Women’s Roundtable and the Brevard Federation of Teachers gathered in three different locations for panel discussions. The panels addressed the district’s lack of respect for teachers, lack of funding for staff and school programs, lack of transparency by the school board, and the need to make elected school board members more responsive to community concerns. Community members called for better conditions for teachers and students, and a shared vision based on “The Principles that Unite Us.”
Parents, students, and community members joined the Connecticut Education Association and the Bridgeport Education Association to hold a meeting with the local school board to build collaboration between the school board and the community.
Broward County, Fla.
A contingent that included the Broward County School Board, the Broward County Council of PTAs, the Broward Teachers Union, the AFT, the National Education Association, First Book and Share My Lesson were among the many parents, students, educators, administrators, elected officials and community leaders who gathered in a local elementary school cafeteria and provided students with brand new books as part of an ongoing Broward Teachers Union initiative to improve literacy in the district.
The National Education Association and labor communities hosted a screening of the documentary “Inequality for All.” The screening was part of an ongoing campaign to address the negative effects poverty has on students.
A broad range of organizations—Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Pilsen Alliance, Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Teachers Union, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Jobs with Justice, Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, Teachers for Social Justice, Southside Together Organized for Power, Stand Up Chicago, Parents 4 Teachers, Northside Action for Justice, ONE Northside, the Grassroots Collaborative, Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Bridgeport Alliance—led 400 students, parents, educators and community members as they delivered lumps of coal to “bad alderman” and words of praise to supporters. The sang modified Christmas carols infused with powerful demands for the passage of a tax incremental financing (TIF) surplus ordinance to fund schools, a moratorium on charter expansion and a higher minimum wage. They also delivered holiday cards at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, where they unveiled a huge banner displaying their demands, and at the governor’s office.
Community and union partners including Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati, the Faith Community Alliance, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, the Solidarity School and AFL-CIO Cincinnati Labor Council brought out 250 people to a school board meeting. The partnership’s effort was the driving force behind the board of education passing a formal resolution to adopt “The Principles That Unite Us.”
The United Pastors in Mission, the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association, the Cleveland Teachers Union, Common Good Ohio, SEIU Local 1199 and Policy Matters Ohio joined together at a press conference and a 150-person public meeting. They released a white paper and recommended two local hospitals to participate in the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program to help restore funding for the public education system.
Columbus and Western Ohio
In Columbus, the Ohio Education Association, SEIU Local 1, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, Ohio Student Association and Jobs with Justice were among the students, parents, educators, and labor and community members who braved the bitter cold to rally outside of the Statehouse to put a spotlight on the negative effects of Gov. John Kasich’s education policies. Protestors held up signs that read “Whose Schools? Our Schools!”, and they distributed fliers to pedestrians urging them to call Gov. Kasich and demand he prioritize children and education. In Western Ohio, St. Mary’s Education Association drew more than 300 students, parents, educators, and labor and community members to a rally held with their allies in Columbus.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Corpus Christi AFT, CITGO, First Book, the Corpus Christi Independent School District, Nueces County Community Action Agency and Nueces County Head Start, brought together more than 150 people for a press conference and free book giveaway for students. This was followed by a roundtable discussion of next steps with 20 influential leaders in the community, including city council members, school district personnel, business and community leaders, parents, teachers and school staff. The Day of Action served as the beginning of a campaign to ensure access to early childhood education for all children in Corpus Christi.
130 members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association held a virtual discussion with Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond. The participants discussed high-stakes testing, teacher licensure programs and the need to revise teacher evaluations.
Des Moines, Iowa
Educators, public school employees and civil rights organizations led by the Iowa State Education Association, the Des Moines Education Association, Progress Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens and Des Moines Public Schools Success Worked held a press conference to culminate a multiweek drive to collect coats, scarves, gloves and other items for needy families in the district. At the press conference, speakers demanded the state provide adequate funding for the public education system, starting with restoring the $15 million cut from Area Education Agencies (regional educational service entities) for special education and $210.8 million to community colleges to help keep college affordable for all students.
A new coalition that includes the NAACP, AFT Michigan, AFL-CIO Metro Detroit, the Inkster Ministerial Alliance, the ACLU, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Paraprofessionals Federation, the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and Youth Voice mobilized 75 people for a press conference that focused on education as a civil rights issue in Detroit. Specific issues raised included the need to modify student discipline policies; ensure adequate school facilities and supplies; and restore parent, student, teacher and community voices in public education.
Parents, students, educators and community members kicked off a statewide social media campaign to demand that legislators increase the school year to 180 days.
Hillsborough County, Fla.
The Alliance for Public Schools joined with the Hillsborough County School District and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association to present a Choice Expo with the theme “Choose Public.” Representatives from every magnet and public choice program in the school district were present to inform parents about the amazing programs available within the public system. More than 3,000 parents attended the event, which also included general sessions about navigating the public choice system, the STEM curriculum and the Common Core standards. In addition, the Alliance for Public Schools partnered with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association to produce a free parent guide in both Spanish and English. The guide provides parents with important questions to ask as they seek the appropriate school for their child, highlights the strengths of public schools, and draws attention to the shortcomings of corporate charter/voucher programs.
The Texas Organizing Project, SEIU, Community Voices for Education and the Houston Federation of Teachers led a coalition of parents, students, educators, community organizers and teachers in picketing outside the school administration building. In the rain and cold, 125 people turned out and were galvanized by dynamic teacher and student speakers who called for an end to unfair teacher evaluations and high-stakes testing. During the protest, the Houston Independent School District School Board was holding an agenda review meeting inside.
Educators, students and community members gathered in front of the Capitol wearing red, calling for the state to increase its investment in all areas of public education and to give communities a voice in local decisions.
Kansas City, Mo.
In Kansas City, 150 parents, students, educators, community members, religious leaders, school board members and legislators turned out for a rally organized by the Gamaliel Foundation’s MORE2, Jobs with Justice, and the Kansas City Federation of Teachers. Rally attendees called on legislators and the governor to investigate state Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s backroom collaboration with the CEE Trust. MORE2’s information request revealed that, together, Nicastro and the CEE Trust colluded to advance a corporate reform agenda for the Kansas City Public Schools. Some rally participants also called for Nicastro’s resignation. Numerous media outlets covered the event and captured the organizers as they sang Christmas carol parodies about Nicastro and the CEE Trust.
A coalition including the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Inner City Struggle, Community Coalition, AFT Local 1475, AFT Local 1521, Academic Professionals of California, Occupy Venice and Progressive Educators for Action gathered 100 people for a teach-in held in the lobby of the Westfield Groups U.S. headquarters. The teach-in informed people about how the shopping mall operator’s underpayment of more than $40 million a year in property taxes is devastating California’s public schools. Following the teach-in, organizers marched to Westfield Century Mall, where they distributed fliers to shoppers and chanted, “Hey Westfield, it’s time to pay your taxes!”
Power U Center, the Dream Defenders, the NAACP, LULAC and the United Teachers of Dade brought out students, civil rights leaders, community members and educators for a press conference with the theme “End the Cycle: Secure Our Future.” They called for the need to by end race-based achievement standards, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, put an end to the high-stakes testing environment, address economic disparity, increase parent and community engagement, and increase voter protection.
Michigan (Missaukee, Port Huron, Traverse City and Wexford)
In Traverse City, educators from the Michigan Education Association delivered food and personal care items to the student-run food bank at Traverse City High School. A “Fill a Bus” event took place on Dec. 14 in Port Huron, and free books are being collected for residents in Wexford and Missaukee, all part of the ongoing campaign by educators to address poverty and homelessness among students in the district and to defend the public school system from corporate takeover. Approximately 35,000 people have shared a graphic about the corporate takeover of public education from the MEA’s Facebook page.
Members from the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Wisconsin Jobs Now, the ACLU, the NAACP, Pastors Unite, United Council of UW Students, Youth Empowered in the Struggle, Voces de la Frontera and other community organizations gathered in below-zero temperatures as part of an ongoing campaign to fight back against ineffective education reform. More than 50 participants signed a pledge showing their commitment to moving their campaign forward and sang customized Christmas carols about the negative effects of market-based education policies.
Education Minnesota, OutFront Minnesota, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and 90 other groups representing the Minnesota Safe Schools Coalition came together for a rally on school safety legislation to protect Minnesota students. Participants collected signatures from students supporting a safe schools anti-bullying bill in 2014 and held a press conference calling on public officials and organizations to rally behind the legislation.
About 300 people from New Jersey Communities United, Parents United for Local School Education, the Save Our Schools Coalition, the Newark NAACP, the Education Law Center, the Newark Teachers Union and the Newark Students Union marched to the Newark Public Schools office and City Hall. They drew attention to the failing policies of Superintendent Cami Anderson and the state officials who have control over the district. The organizers called for an end to school closings, a fair school funding formula, local control, and racial and class equity in the public school system.
New Mexico (statewide)
OLE , Albuquerque Interfaith, NEA New Mexico, the AFT, AFSCME and 15 congregations kicked off a weeklong bus tour with a press conference in Albuquerque, followed by multiple stops in schools across the state to gather support for their community-union vision for public education in New Mexico. Among their specific demands are increasing funding for public schools, wraparound services in our schools, reforming the state’s teacher evaluation program, and defending the need for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
New York City
The Alliance for Quality Education, the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Urban Youth Collaborative and the United Federation of Teachers gathered 500 students, parents and educators to celebrate the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term in office and his market-based approach to public education. Speakers voiced their commitment to work together to reclaim the promise of public education and to support a shared vision for moving their schools and their city forward. The event included performances from the P.S. 257 marching band and I.S. 285 steel band.
New York state (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Jamestown, Syracuse and Yonkers)
The Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, the New York State United Teachers and the Partnership for Smarter Schools held joint press conferences in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Jamestown, Syracuse and Yonkers where educators, parents, students and community members called for fair funding for public schools and colleges, a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of state standardized tests, and a focus on teaching and learning. Students, parents, NYSUT members and community supporters wore blue in solidarity, and coalition representatives met with individual members of the Board of Regents to deliver their message.
The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, Youth United for Change, Action United, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia Student Union, SEIU 32BJ and other groups led 300 parents, students, educators and community members at a rally outside Gov. Tom Corbett’s office. They demanded his support for a fair school funding formula. After the rally, the group marched through the streets to the office of Loop Capital, the corporation that is financing the sale of the Philadelphia Gas Works, which would lead to the privatization of another public service.
In coordination with the Day of Action in Philadelphia, the Great Public Schools Coalition, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, One Pittsburgh, Action United and the Pittsburgh Central Labor Council mobilized 120 students, parents, educators, community activists, labor leaders, religious leaders and school board members for a rally and march to demand a fair funding formula for public schools. The Westinghouse High School marching band led protestors through rush-hour traffic to Gov. Tom Corbett’s office, where they met up with a larger group of protestors. Speakers—including a teacher, a student, a clergy member, a parent, a local education activist and a local school board member—all passionately addressed the need for fair funding.
Newly Forged Community-Labor Alliance Helps Pittsburgh Change Course
A little more than a week after the largest nationally coordinated day of action in recent history, the education justice movement witnessed a sign that perhaps the tide is in fact turning around in the fight to protect and improve public education. The same Pittsburgh coalition of parents, educators, labor activists and community members that mobilized more than 130 education voters outside Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s office on Dec. 9 was victorious in reversing several key decisions the Pittsburgh Public Schools district had taken toward privatization.
On Dec. 18, the Pittsburgh school board—which includes new members supported by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, parents and community organizations—voted to reverse a contract with Teach for America. The previous board had approved a $750,000 contract to hire 30 new TFA teachers by a 6-3 vote; the new board, which was elected this past spring and sworn in in December, rescinded the contract by almost the identical vote. The school board took another positive action at the same meeting, voting to keep open a school that had been slated for closure. The previous board’s decision to contract with Teach for America came at the same time as the state’s governor and local school officials were pursuing a “reform” agenda of budget cuts, school closures, and excessive reliance on high-stakes testing and ill-conceived teacher accountability plans.
This significant shift did not occur randomly. These actions by the Pittsburgh school board show what happens when parents, educators, labor activists and the community work together to propose and organize for a vision for public schools and elect officials who represent their interests effectively.
The Great Public Schools Pittsburgh coalition had raised significant questions about the impact Teach for America would have on students, teachers and our schools. And the community spoke loud and clear about the damage caused by past school closures, with nearly 1,000 people responding to a survey conducted by volunteers who went door-to-door in neighborhoods all over the city this fall (see “What Pittsburghers Are Really Saying about School Closures”). Then, in November, more than 1,400 people signed a petition asking the board to wait a few weeks until the new members were seated to make decisions about contracts and school closures that would affect the district for years to come. It was the newly forged alliance between educators, parents, labor activists and community organizations that led to a different direction for public education in Pittsburgh.
The vote by the newly seated school board means there will not be any school closures in the 2014-15 academic year, though the district has already said it will soon be presenting a slate of five to ten additional schools for the board to consider closing. Surely Teach for America and those who have previously invested in privatizing public education in the city will be circling the wagons to influence future decisions in the district.
These two board decisions stand as real victories of the growing community-labor grass-roots education justice movement. In fact, TFA’s regional communications director told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this is the first time a school board has reversed a decision to bring Teach for America into a school district. And education historian Diane Ravitch noted that the Pittsburgh vote “was remarkable because it is one of the few times—maybe the first time—that a school board rejected a TFA contract and recognized how controversial it is to hire young inexperienced teachers for the neediest students.”
There’s hope for the future of Pittsburgh public education with students, parents, community members, board members and school staff working together.
The Maine School Boards Association, the Maine School Superintendents Association, the Maine Principals Association and the Maine Education Association, along with parents, students and community members, delivered food gathered from a food drive held by schools across the state. The drive was part of an ongoing campaign to change the current school funding formula, which unfairly offsets the state’s contribution to the neediest Title I schools.
Students, educators, religious leaders, community leaders and labor unions came together for a free community screening of the documentary “Inequality for All,” presented by the San Diego Education Association, with support from the San Diego Central Labor Council, the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, Alliance San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District. After the screening, the community held a conversation about the negative effects of market-based education reform and signed on to “The Principles that Unite Us.”
A cross section of community organizations and unions, including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Jobs with Justice, Senior and Disability Action, AFT 2121, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, United Educators of San Francisco and Eviction Free San Francisco, turned out for a candlelight vigil and rally held between the Twitter offices and Westfield Mall on Market Street. Approximately 250 students, parents, educators and community members spoke about ongoing efforts to keep City College of San Francisco open and the need to fully fund public education, hire more guidance counselors and nurses in the school district, reverse tax subsidies to corporations and stop evicting families from their homes.
Socorro AFT and tribal council leaders of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo brought together nearly 100 community members, parents, educators and school staff for a book giveaway at Campestre Elementary in the Socorro Independent School District. Collectively, the partners are committed to the importance of young readers becoming tomorrow’s leaders. They recognize that learning happens not only in the classroom and in school, but before and after school as well, and that children should have access to books in all parts of their lives—including their homes.
The Toledo Federation of Teachers hosted a community breakfast attended by more than 65 people, including parents, community, business, labor and school district leaders, Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and several state and local elected officials. The breakfast included presentations and discussion on the meaning and implication of international test scores, best practices in the world’s best-performing schools and what U.S. schools can learn from them, and “The Principles that Unite Us.”
More than 500 students, parents, educators, labor leaders, religious leaders, school board member, retirees and community members gathered for a mayoral forum where they introduced the “Principles that Unite Us” as a foundation for a shared vision for the future of their public schools. Led by Empower DC and the Washington Teachers Union, an impassioned crowd confronted current Mayor Vincent Gray and six other mayoral candidates, demanding that the next administration reject the market-based approach that Washington, D.C.’s current schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, has forced on communities.
West Virginia (statewide)
AFT-West Virginia organized a press conference that was attended by the speaker of the House of Delegates and the chair of the state Senate Education Committee. The focus was on smaller class sizes, ending the fixation on testing and encouraging the public to visit their schools.