Seventy-five public school activists from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois braved ice and cold to come together for a half-day regional action planning meeting in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this past Saturday, Feb 23.
This energetic and positive meeting was a great start to what we hope will be coordinated action across our four states and beyond to support and strengthen public schools against the current onslaught of corporate reform.
A state super with 1.6 million more votes than the governor!
Starting the afternoon out with the upbeat story of her election as Indiana’s top educator was our keynote speaker, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. Superintendent Ritz shared the strategies that resulted in her victory against corporate reformer Tony Bennett.
In fact, Superintendent Ritz earned 1.3 million votes MORE than the winner of the governor’s race!
How did she do it? She was really, really smart.
She used “nanotargeting,” social media (she has 1.6 million followers – not friends – on Facebook, and they are still engaged even after the election), word of mouth, asking supporters to write a request to all their friends (Christmas card lists, etc.) for their support and asking teachers to bring 20 friends to the polls, using very limited but strategic media ads.
And she ran a positive campaign focused on education.
Listening to Superintendent Ritz talk about her vision for education was just as inspiring as her election story. She noted that she is working in a bipartisan manner – useful since the Republicans have a super-majority in the state House and Senate, as well as a Republican governor. But she had cultivated relationships with many legislators in her prior roles as local union leader, board member of the National Board Certified Teacher program and other positions that brought her into discussions with elected officials. She developed a level of trust and respect which allows her to promote some of the changes she is looking for in state education policy.
Learning that NCLB waivers can be amended
She hopes to rescind the “A to F” state school grading structure enacted as part of Indiana’s NCLB waiver agreement. She learned through a conversation with US Department of Education Arne Duncan’s office that waivers can be amended.
She is planning a huge literacy initiative which will include libraries. tutors and non-profits helping students become people who read, not just people who can read. She would like to see a family component for reading; she expected the parents of her students to make sure they read for at least 20 minutes fie times per week outside of school. Parents had to log the time and sign the log. Even calls about discipline would begin with a reference to reading.
She is concerned that we are “boring kids to death with testing.” She asserted that the explosion of testing is due to the private vendors, not educational needs. Her “line in the sand” is third grade retention based their score on a state test, the so-called I-READ3 program. She wants to move accountability away from comparisons and toward looking at real student data. She believes that schools should be evaluated on school culture, not on test scores.
Issues and strategies
After that inspiring speech, we moved to the discussion portion of our event. In the first breakout session, we asked the people to form small groups at tables and introduce themselves. Then each person talked about what concerned them most about public education. We reported back in the large group, and the results were not surprising. Issues raised in the breakouts ranged from the negatives of inequality of funding and resources, privatization including charter school expansion and vouchers, too much testing, and corporate and big money influence over school reform, to the positives of high quality education, parent-teacher cooperation, and developmentally appropriate instruction.
Before the second break out session, we watched a brief Power Point presentation that the NEIFPE group uses to make presentations on the state of public education to business groups and others not directly in the education trenches. This Power Point is excellent, is available on their web site, and could be modified and used by other groups to raise awareness in your own communities.
In the second breakout session, we asked the groups to discuss ideas for strategies to address the major shared issues. Here are some of the results:
- Invite a legislator to your classroom; they will learn about the intensity of the school day and come away with a new respect for the teacher and the schools.
- Volunteer programs for local businesses can have the same effect.
- Build relationships with legislators – have a civil conversation, listen to their side of the discussion, ask questions, see where you can agree.
- Share personal stories, but also have the facts.
- Hold a community forum either on issues or a candidates’ forum.
- Use free media like cable access.
- Educate all stakeholders about quality education using tools like NEIFPE Power Point, PURE fact sheets, PAA position papers.
- For organizing tips, read “Playbook for Progressives” by Eric Mann, Get Up, Stand Up” by Bruce Levine, and “Calling all Radicals” by Gabriel Thompson; also suggested “Don’t Think of an Elephant” by George Lakoff, on messaging.
- Find money for social media experts; drill down data.
- Create an online information center for state-by-state facts, data.
We agreed to come together in about 6 months – in the same place, if possible – and meanwhile we will discuss over e-mail, work on a platform (NEIFPE and PAA have ones to look at ) being clear about what we are FOR as well as against.