I’m heading to Austin, Texas, this weekend, and not for the weather, although the warmer temps will certainly be welcome. Instead, I will be there for the first-ever Network for Public Education conference.
The Network for Public Education is an education advocacy group founded by such noted education activists as Anthony Cody, Julian Vasquez Helig, and Diane Ravitch. This group, organized a year or so ago in order to offer a collective voice against corporate education reform movements, lists a “Positive Agenda” on its website. This agenda asserts what the NPE is for, not just what they are against.
I decided to attend the conference with some fellow Minnesota teachers and education activists, out of a deep desire to connect with others and broaden my understanding of what both reform-minded organizations, such as Teach for America, and groups affiliated with the NPE are calling the “civil rights issue of our time”: the fight for more justice, progress, and equity in public education.
While no one person or group gets to decide what, exactly, is today’s most important civil rights issue, a few recent events seem to indicate that a true groundswell of populist power, in the realm of public education, is rising up to openly question, and actively resist, corporate education reform policies, which are often said to underpin the financial and political success of groups like TFA.
These recent events, such as the suspension of five Newark, NJ principals by their Chris Christie-appointed, TFA-alumna superintendent, Cami Anderson, or the refusal by many teachers at Chicago’s Saucedo Elementary School to give a standardized test to their students, are intriguing pushes forward, in my opinion.
For far too long, in an era of endless stories about how our public schools are failing, there has been little discussion, debate, or difference of opinion allowed into the world of education policy, both in creation and implementation. Have we all really agreed that school choice, standardization (of both curriculum and assessments), and the end goal of “college and career readiness” should define our public education systems, from Maine to California?
The Network for Public Education says no, we have not all agreed on these policies. And this up-coming conference, which will bring together educators, writers, parents, and activists from around the country, seems like a necessary step towards reaffirming our right, as citizens, to help shape the policies and practices that define our public institutions.
If you can’t be at the conference, don’t worry: it will be livestreamed. I am also planning on live tweeting from the conference @sarahrlahm.