Earlier this month I wrote about an event that would address the shameful state of public education caused not by bad teachers and low expectations as often claimed, but by a decades long, relentless regime of standardized curricula and incessant testing in order to measure, rank, and sort children for a new world order amenable to manipulation by corporate interests.
The event was held as planned– TRANSFORMING & DEMOCRATIZING PUBLIC EDUCATION: An Activist Summit, at the Southside Cultural Center on Broad Street in Providence, sponsored by the Coalition to Defend Public Education (Providence) and the Southeast MA/RI Coalition to Save Our Schools.
This event was planned as a participatory conference. As each of the topics was presented, people discussed the issues in small groups, and then reported back to the larger group. Much of value was shared, and many ideas were proposed for next steps.
Each of the participants had their own expertise, experience, and passion to share. Dannie Ritchie, MD, Founder of Community Health Innovations of Rhode Island and a member of CDPE opened the day with a powerpoint overview of the harm to public education from the privatization agenda.
Here are some of the highlights:
Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), and a long-time advocate for valid alternatives to high stakes testing spoke of the long history of sorting children for the work force with the use of standardized tests. He also discussed positive examples of public schools that are truly successful without resorting to the use of standardized tests to measure achievement. He informed the group about schools in NYC and New York state that are performance based schools. (website: performanceassessment.org) The students in these schools, demographically similar to other public schools in their areas, do significantly better than the typical public schools. They build community, students have a real say in their education, and they depend on the professionalism of the teachers and engagement of the community.
Jose Soler, director, UMass Dartmouth Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center and a member of the SE MA/RI Coalition to Save our Schools, said the corporate reform/privatization agenda is also an attack on public sector unions, which is an attack on African Americans, other people of color, and all women. This includes the attacks on public education where teachers of color have been hit the hardest by school closings in urban areas, such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans (AFT local majority Black teachers).
My daughter Hannah Resseger, site coordinator at the Mount Hope Learning Center in Providence, along with Allyiah Benford, a member of the After School staff there, presented a short documentary they had made interviewing elementary and high school students about their experiences taking the PARCC (or Refusing). Most of the students had negative reactions to the length and boring/”stupid” nature of the tests.
Barbara Walton-Faria, a teacher in Newport, a former RI Teacher of the Year, and chair of the RI Teacher Advisory Council, discussed the charge of RITAC: to report to the RI Board of Education, informing them how their policies are affecting students and teachers. Despite the fact that this group was created by the RI General Assembly and was required to report to the Board quarterly, the former chair of the BoE, Eva Mancuso, was dismissive of the Council after their first presentation, which had provided evidence against the use of high stakes testing. Barbara is hopeful that the group will have a better relationship with the new chair of the BoE and the new Commissioner of Education.
Jean Patricia Lehane, a parent from Portsmouth, RI and administrator of the Stop Common Core in RI facebook page spoke of the effective efforts of parents in many RI communities to inform others of the harm of the Common Core standards, curricula, and PARCC testing, and the power that parents have to Opt Out their children.
I spoke on the failings of the Common Core Standards themselves, and PARCC testing, explaining that they claim to foster critical thinking, but that the type of neuro-cognitive processing that is required for performing well on this type of assessment is a caricature of critical thinking, and ignores the valuable human proficiencies of perceptiveness in human interaction, aesthetic sensibility, empathy, and authentic voice.
Hillary Davis, Policy Associate at the RI ACLU discussed the bills on school suspensions that are currently in the General Assembly. She explained that suspensions have dire consequences for the students themselves and the community at large. She encouraged people to write and call their representatives and senators to support these bills: H 5383 in the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee and S 299 in the Senate Education Committee.
Ruth Rodriguez, a United Opt Out National Leader, Save Our Schools leader, and member of the SE MA/RI Coalition to Save Our Schools talked about the attitude toward schools and teachers in the Hispanic community. These parents hold the schools in very high esteem, value the teacher’s pronouncements about their children, and have high hopes for their children. For these reasons, it has been relatively easy for the corporate reformers to exploit this community’s goals for their children by convincing them that charter schools are the best option, rather than neighborhood public schools.
Many more vital issues were discussed, and much energy was created to continue the struggle on behalf of a quality public education that meets the needs of all children and their communities.