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How Ordinary Teachers Become Activists


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Listen to my interview with Anthony Cody (transcript):


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?

Anthony Cody, education activist and blogger at Living in Dialogue

Anthony Cody

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.

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 Banner 2
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.”



chronicle of echoes

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
Anthony Cody
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

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
Diane Ravitch
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.

Teachers’ Unions


The American Federation of Teachers



The National Education Association


Download a PDF of this Starter Kit:



Other Resources Mentioned in the Interview

Citizens United

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

Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education

Performance Assessment: The Alternative to High Stakes Testing
Website of the New York Performance Standards Consortium

Teachers of Conscience


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  1. Rhonda Howard says:

    I’m so glad I found you Jennifer. I wish you were my neighbor because we would be great friends. Your work is very inspirational, especially needed at a time when teachers are being vilified. Your videos and blog posts are very helpful. I’m just finding time to read your new technology e-handbook; I am slowly checking out the digital resources. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Rhonda! I’m so glad you’re here. Let me know if you ever have a question or suggestion. Hope you’re heading into a great week!

  2. I’m so glad I came across this article and the education activist’s starter kit! I have been wanting so badly to get involved, but just didn’t know how…other than talking to friends, family, and anyone who will listen about the problems with current ed policy. Getting the word out to non-educators was important to me, but now I can do a little more to make a bigger difference.

  3. Karla says:

    Thank you for a list of thorough resources that I also read. I hope this inspires some educators to speak up and join movements to defend public education. An easy one is to get involved with their union chapter. I am a leader locally and regionally of the California Teachers Association. All my grassroots training and learning facts about issues was provided by CTA. On another note. My principal sent to all staff your blog post on yelling at kids. We have a week to read & comment. I’m glad to see admin following you. Thanks. K

  4. What’s extremely frustrating is that I live in a right to work state, so I can’t strike. We obviously have no union in our state, so I will have to find other ways to rise up than protest/walk out. I am making sure that my students know how to use their voices, though.

  5. Jason Boyle says:

    I have been asked not to return to my position next year because I have openly called out the superintendent and the school board for destructive policies and nonacademic behavior. If we cannot hold administration accountable we cannot thrive as a school here. I am sick of teacher being blamed because we are not given a voice to defend ourselves.

    Here is the article I published in the paper here and there is another one I am trying to get published now.

    I am so busy trying to find a new job and trying to do this job well. I apologize this is rushed. I hope we find a way and I hope I am helping.

    • Jason,

      I’m really sorry to hear this. Teachers can certainly find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to using their voices in fear of repercussions. However, as people speak up on behalf of what’s best for kids and education, which seems to be happening more often, the more others may listen. Thanks for sharing — wishing you the best!

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