Teaching Profession

Education Policy Critics Take Heated Message to White House Door

By Nirvi Shah — August 09, 2011 4 min read
People march to the White House during the "Save Our Schools" rally in Washington, D.C., on July 30. Marchers chanted and carried signs expressing their demands after hearing speeches nearby.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The rousing speeches that boosted teachers’ morale at a July 30 rally here and at others around the country showed many people’s disaffection with standards- and testing-based accountability, but the potential long-term effect of the activism is unclear.

“There are tremendously high spirits,” said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action, which sponsored the Washington rally and march near the White House as part of four days of issues-oriented events. “Everybody thought the march and conference that preceded it did exactly what they wanted. They delivered the right message.”

While the events got the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the White House, the loosely organized group has no specific policy proposals or immediate plans to weigh in on education legislation, including reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Instead, in the next several months, it will work to hone and expand its platform, raise money, pick leaders, and contemplate another rally.

Generating Momentum

The Save Our Schools group formed about a year ago, when a few teachers and teacher-educators envisioned a march on Washington to send a message about concerns over current education policy. Its work culminated in the rally near the White House, followed by the march. Speakers ranged from such prominent education figures as Linda Darling-Hammond, Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Pedro Noguera, and Diane Ravitch to actor Matt Damon. Student poverty was cited as public schools’ most pressing problem.

At the Rally

Save Our Schools created position papers outlining its views on high-stakes testing, equitable school funding, unions and collective bargaining, and changes to curriculum. After the march, organizers said a call for high-quality early education would be added to the platform.

However, organizers say formal policy prescriptions aren’t among their goals.

“What we’re talking about is creating the right conditions, not prescriptive policies,” said Sabrina Stevens Shupe, a former teacher in Denver who was one of the event’s leaders.

Organizers estimated the size of the crowd to be 5,000, but a rough count by Education Week put it closer to 3,000. Before the event, organizers said they expected 5,000 to 10,000 people. Critics of the organization and march said the teachers involved don’t want the American education system to progress. In criticism after the march, the Education Action Group, based in Muskegon, Mich., echoed sharp words from the Washington-based Center for Education Reform prior to the event. The Michigan group, which supports charter schools, viewed the attendance figures as a mark of apathy for the Save Our Schools agenda.

“There is no mass movement to maintain the status quo in our nation’s public schools,” the EAG said in a statement.

Financial Support

The Save Our Schools gathering also drew hundreds of teachers and parents to American University on July 28-29 for workshops and seminars on topics such as fostering activism and engaging parents.

Nsenki Kabassu, 7, attends the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action in Washington. His mother, Monica, is a teacher in Clinton, Md.

One day, organizers met briefly with Secretary Duncan and members of his staff. However, although they have denounced the No Child Left Behind Act and the Obama administration’s continued emphasis on high-stakes testing, organizers declined an invitation to meet with Roberto Rodriguez, a White House education adviser. They cited a busy schedule.

Plans for the Save Our Schools efforts predated a spate of actions by state legislatures to curb teachers’ collective bargaining rights and tenure, said Bess Altwerger, a teacher-educator and a member of the organizing committee. But such actions further galvanized the group.

Eventually, both national teachers’ unions threw their support behind Save Our Schools. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers donated about $25,000 each to the effort, although most of the rest of the donations came from one-time gifts provided through the Save Our Schools website, according to organizers.

Support totaled about $125,000, organizers said. Ms. Ravitch made a sizable donation, and Mr. Kozol and Ms. Meier pledged support to keep the efforts going.

Ms. Meier and Ms. Ravitch co-write an opinion blog for Education Week’s website, and other edweek.org opinion bloggers or former employees of the newspaper were among the organizers or endorsers of the event. The endorsers included Ronald A. Wolk, the paper’s founding editor and the chair emeritus of its nonprofit parent corporation, Editorial Projects in Education.

Elaine Mulligan, a former special education teacher now working on a federally funded technical-assistance project in special education, is unsure of the event’s long-term effect. Still, she attended and brought a friend.

“Maybe,” she said, my friend “will tell someone, and maybe they’ll tell someone. I hope that everybody does the same thing.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2011 edition of Education Week as Education Policy Critics Take Heated Message to White House Door

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion 18 Ways to Improve Teacher Observations
Holding pre- and post-conferences, showing more compassion and less judgment, and organizing peer observations are valuable.
19 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty