The current climate in U.S. public schools is tense. And that’s putting it mildly. Changes in policies and practices over the last decade have created conditions under which teachers feel attacked and threatened, conditions that have shifted tremendous amounts of time, energy, and resources toward raising test scores. When I talk with teachers about this shift, their response is often one of hopelessness. They describe how frustrated they are, how impossible it is anymore to just teach, but the conversation often trails off after that, ending with a shrug and “What can you do?”
The good news is, you can do something. All over the U.S., teachers, students, and parents are organizing to fight the policies that are wreaking havoc on education. And slowly but surely, they are succeeding.
How are they doing it? And how can you get involved? How does an ordinary teacher — with no background in political action or revolutionary activity of any kind — become an activist?
To learn more, I turned to education activist and blogger Anthony Cody. A former science teacher with over 20 years of experience, Cody is a co-founder of the Network for Public Education, a group that advocates for policies that support strong public schools. He has spent the last seven years writing and engaging others in a dialogue about education policy and reform, first on his Education Week blog, and now on his own independent blog, Living in Dialogue. His 2014 book, The Educator And The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation, clearly and eloquently explains how the Gates Foundation has been a major influence on our current state of test-driven corporate reform. But Cody doesn’t just write about the Gates Foundation: In 2012, he engaged in a public dialogue with representatives of the Gates Foundation over five key questions on education reform. This conversation is discussed in the book, followed by specific recommendations for untangling the current mess we’re in.
Anthony agreed to help me answer the question “What can you do?” He talked with me about some ways teachers can become more active in changing education policy and making a difference in the quality of their schools. Here’s a brief summary of his suggestions:
1. Learn about the issues. The first and most crucial step toward getting active is learning about the issues themselves. Anthony provided me with a comprehensive list of sources for learning more — these are listed in the Education Activist’s Starter Kit below.
2. Find a network. You don’t have to start from scratch: All over the country, groups have already been hard at work advocating for change. Linking up with one will immediately give you a lot of options for getting active. A list of some good ones has been provided in the Education Activist’s Starter Kit below.
3. Gather support. Acting alone is risky, especially for teachers. So before taking any kind of public action, find others in your school or city to stand with you.
My full interview with Anthony is available in audio below, or you can read the full transcript by clicking “Get Transcript.”
The Education Activist’s Starter Kit
This collection of resources has been gathered to help anyone who’s ready to learn more about the issues and start taking action. Although many, many other good resources exist, these will give you a good start. Click here to download a PDF of this kit.
Badass Teachers Association
The BATs were “created to give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education.” The BATs give teachers a stronger voice by issuing statements and petitions against unethical policy, participating in demonstrations, and lending support to other pro-teacher movements.
FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing
FairTest promotes fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools and works to end the misuses and flaws of testing practices that impede those goals. Their site contains resources for taking action, connecting with other activists, learning about the issues, and following all relevant news from across the country.
The Network for Public Education
An advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system. The group endorses political candidates who support a strong public school system, shares reports on grassroots movements, and provides materials to help educators and activists bring about positive change.
Newark Students Union
The Newark Students Union is “an organization founded by and for Newark students with the goals of protecting student rights, ensuring we receive a quality education, and empowering the student voice in the political process.”
Save Our Schools
Save Our Schools is a grassroots movement dedicated to restoring educator, parent, student, and community influence over education policy and practice. The site offers a calendar of events, a library of resources, and plenty of ways to connect with other committed educators.
United Opt Out: The Movement to End Corporate Education Reform
Everything you need to learn about and participate in the movement to opt out of high-stakes testing. The site includes a vast collection of resources for teachers, activists, parents, and students, including talking points on the issues, opt-out guides by state, and samples of opt-out letters.
The Answer Sheet
Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss covers school reform, vouchers, and education policy.
Diane Ravitch’s Blog
A historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, Ravitch maintains a prolific blog that provides up-to-the-minute news about developments in educational reform.
The blog of freelance journalist and public education advocate Jennifer Berkshire, “chronicling the end of public education with a wry eye.”
I Am an Educator
History teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian’s website “dedicated defending the humanity of the educator and a vision of education that contributes to creating a socially just society.”
The José Vilson
New York math teacher and activist Vilson writes about race, education, and policy, and shares deeply personal accounts of his work at the intersection of all three.
Living in Dialogue
Writer, retired educator, and education activist Anthony Cody shares this space with other writers who discuss critical issues related to public education in the United States and the world.
Rethinking Schools Blog
Rethinking Schools is a non-profit, independent book and magazine publisher “advocating the reform of public schools, with an emphasis on urban schools and issues of equity and social justice.”
A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education
Mercedes K. Schneider
Whereas American public education is a democratic institution, its destruction is being choreographed by a few wealthy, well-positioned individuals and organizations. This book investigates and exposes the handful of people and institutions that are often working together to become the driving force behind destroying the community public school.
The Educator And The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation
From the Common Core to test-based teacher evaluation systems cropping up around the country, to the rapid expansion of semi-private charter schools, the Gates Foundation has had a huge, largely invisible influence on public education in 21st century America. Can a teacher challenge the wealthiest man in the world? Anthony Cody, who spent 24 years working in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, has done so here.
More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing
Jesse Hagopian, editor
A collection of essays, poems, speeches, and interviews—accounts of personal courage and trenchant insights—from frontline fighters who are defying the corporate education reformers, often at great personal and professional risk, and fueling a national movement to reclaim and transform public education.
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
An incisive, comprehensive look at today’s American school system that argues against those who claim it is broken and beyond repair; an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the privatization movement that is draining students and funding from our public schools.
The American Federation of Teachers
The National Education Association
Download a PDF of this Starter Kit:
Other Resources Mentioned in the Interview
Educators alarmed by some questions on N.Y. Common Core tests, Carol Burris and Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, April 19, 2015
New York Activists Organize a RoboCall for Opting Out, Deb Escobar, Lorri Gumanow, Lisa Kollmer, and Lily Alayne Owen, Living in Dialogue, April 11, 2015
Performance Assessment: The Alternative to High Stakes Testing
Website of the New York Performance Standards Consortium