2012 was a year in which supporters of public education–parents, educators and concerned citizens–won some huge victories against the privatization movement.
Let’s begin with the elections of 2012.
Reform idol Tony Bennett was booted out by the voters of Indiana, who elected veteran educator Glenda Ritz as State Superintendent of Education.
Idaho was a great victory for supporters of public education. Idaho voters decisively repealed the Luna laws, which would have committed the state to spend $180 million for laptops while imposing merit pay, crushing the unions and tying every educators’ evaluation to test scores.
Voters in Florida rejected an effort to amend the state constitution to permit vouchers.
Voters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, voted against the mayor’s effort to take control of their public schools by eliminating the elected board of education.
Voters in Santa Clara County, California, re-elected Anna Song, whose opponent outspent her by about 25-1. She was targeted for defeat by the California charter school lobby after she opposed a bid by Rocketship to open 20 new charters. Rocketship will get the charters but Anna Song proved that big money was not enough to beat a supporter of public education.
The big push for “parent trigger” laws ran into two stumbling blocks:
In Florida, Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee put on a full-court press to persuade the state legislature to pass a law allowing parents to vote to hand their public school over to a charter operator. But they overlooked the parents of Florida! Every Florida parent group turned out in Tallahassee to oppose the “Parent Empowerment” bill. In reformese, when they talk “parent empowerment,” that means parents are about to lose their voice and their local neighborhood school. Florida PTAs, Fund Florida Now, Testing Is Not Teaching, 50th No More, and every other grassroots group spoke out against the “parent trigger.” A bloc of Republican state senators turned against the bill, and the bill died in the state senate on a tie vote of 20-20. It will be back this year, but so will Florida’s parents.
The billionaire libertarian Philip Anschutz, in league with billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, released a film called “Won’t Back Down,” that was intended to teach the American public that the only way to save their children was to hand their public school over to a charter operator. The film was heavily promoted at NBC’s “Education Nation,” on the Ellen show, and at a “Teachers Rock” concert sponsored by CBS. Michelle Rhee sponsored free showings at both national political conventions, so that every Democrat and Republican could have a chance to see how important it is to turn public schools over to private management, whether for-profit or non-profit. But then Parents Across America sprung into action. They put out a fact sheet about who and what was behind the movie. A few of them actually demonstrated at the Democratic National Convention. When the film was released in late September, it was pegged as anti-teacher and anti-public education and anti-union. It got terrible reviews. It didn’t sell many tickets. It flopped. Within a month after its grand premiere, it had disappeared. The free market is not kind to idlers, even when the guy who produced the movie is one of the biggest theater owners in the nation.
The movement against high-stakes testing roared into high gear:
More than 80% of the local school boards in Texas passed resolutions opposing high-stakes testing. Prominent Texans like state board member Tom Ratliff spoke out against the misuse of tests.
Superintendent Joshua Starr of Montgomery County, Maryland, called for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing. He said that the schools were inundated with too many changes at the same time.
Superintendent Heath Morrison of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, said that the national obsession with high-stakes testing had to stop. He said, “we can teach to the top, but we can’t test to the top.” Last spring, Morrison was chosen as Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.
Superintendent John Kuhn of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas continues to be an eloquent spokesman for children.
The voucher program in Louisiana became an international embarrassment and its funding was declared unconstitutional:
Earlier this year, Governor Bobby Jindal pushed through sweeping voucher legislation for Louisiana that would give vouchers for more than half the children in the state to attend private and religious schools with money taken from the public school budget. Because several of the voucher schools are religious schools that teach creationism, the Louisiana plan was mocked by media around the world, who laughed at the idea that children would be taught that men and dinosaurs co-existed and that the Loch Ness monster is real, and other nonsense. Just weeks ago, a Louisiana judge struck down the funding of the vouchers, because the state constitution says the money is dedicated to elementary and secondary public schools. The language is clear. The state may not raid the public school’s minimum foundation budget to pay for vouchers.
Oh, and the anti-voucher vote in Florida continued a longstanding tradition: No state has ever voted to approve vouchers.
Local school boards continue to support their public schools with vigilance:
In addition to the many local school boards in Texas and elsewhere that have passed high-stakes testing resolutions, school boards have fought off other intrusions.
In North Carolina, the school boards won a battle to keep the for-profit virtual charter corporation K12 Inc. out of their state.
The Austin Independent School Board, after an election that brought in new members representing the community, severed its contract with the IDEA charter chain.
In Nashville, the Metro Nashville school board turned down Great Hearts Academy four times because Great Hearts wanted to locate their charter in a mainly white neighborhood and had inadequate plans for diversity. The board stood firm despite the fulminations of the governor, the legislature, and the state commissioner of education, who are so determined to open the way for Great Hearts that 1) Commissioner Kevin Huffman withheld $3.4 million of public funds from the children of Nashville to punish the school board for its refusal to follow his orders; and 2) the legislature plans to authorize a state commission to override the local school boards’ wishes. This accords with ALEC legislation.
Bad news for ALEC:
For years, ALEC has been under the radar. The shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida made the public aware of ALEC’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation, invoked by the man who killed the teen. Then the media starting paying attention to ALEC and discovered its agenda of privatization (see ALEC Exposed) and learned about the model laws written by ALEC for charter schools, vouchers, online charter schools, union-busting, uncertified teachers, and an array of other corporate-friendly legislation.
The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike and said, “Enough is enough!”
Teachers have watched in dismay as state after state has whittled away or hacked away their right to bargain collectively, their tenure rights, their academic freedom, and their pensions. They have seen state after state pass legislation requiring merit pay (even though it has never worked anywhere) and tying their evaluations and their careers to student test scores (even though research says that value-added assessment is inaccurate and unstable and punishes teachers who teach children with high needs).
Teachers and principals alike have watched in dismay as rightwing legislatures and governors have slashed spending for public schools while paying more for testing.
Educators have been appalled by cuts in basic services to students.
And the CTU said, “No more.”
CTU was not allowed to strike about anything that mattered, but they made clear in their words and deeds that they were striking for their students. They were striking to protest the lack of teachers of the arts, of librarians and social workers, and of basic resources for students. They were protesting overcrowded classes. They were protesting school closings.
CTU had the support of parents of Chicago’s students. They had the support of police and firefighters.
The national media never understood what was at stake, but almost every educator in America did.
And to educators, CTU were heroes. Every educator wished they too had one of those cool red CTU tee-shirts.
2012 was the beginning.
Teachers, principals, superintendents, local and state school boards are speaking up.
Parents and students are speaking up.
The friends of public education dominate social media.
We dominate Twitter and Facebook because we have millions of supporters.
The corporate reformers have millions to buy TV ads and to buy media outlets.
But they don’t own us.
And they are failing. Everything they advocate is failing.
That is why we are winning.
2012 is the beginning.
We will take back public education for the public, not for profit, not for private interests.
For the public.