Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige Reflects on the 2016 Network for Public Education Conference

The 2016 Network for Public Education Conference, held April 15-17 in Raleigh, NC, is truly an experience—something hard to describe.  For a few days in April, education and social justice activists from around the country come together in a burst of energy and synergy to share lives and ideas and to build an education movement for equity and justice for all children.

I was glad that Denisha Jones, DEY National Advisory Board member, and I attended because our session was the only one focused exclusively on young children.  Our panel was called T-E-S-T and Not PLAY is a Four-Letter Word:  Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform.  Susan Ochshorn, early childhood author and journalNPE 2016 3ist, moderated, and we were joined by Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher and early childhood leader in the Chicago Teachers Union. We covered many issues in a short time including the decrease in play and active learning in classrooms for young children, the disproportionate effects of corporate education reform on black and brown children and those in low-income communities, and the need to strengthen our advocacy for young children.  Lots of folks attended the session and I was really glad we were there to connect early childhood issues to the larger landscape of education reform that were the focus of the conference.

Many people came up to me over the course of the three days in Raleigh to tell me how they follow DEY, appreciate us, and benefit from using our materials.  It was really heNPE 2016 2artening to realize that we are voicing important ideas and issues that might otherwise not be accessible to teachers and parents.  People are using the papers we’ve put out in a variety of ways as well as our fact sheets, and many say they read our website regularly.

At the conference, we learned about many new documentary films being made about the current state of education in our country.  All of these films and how to order them are listed on the NPE website.   In a separate session we saw a “fine cut” preview of the almost finished documentary Backpack Full of Cash.  This film is being made by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow who made the PBS series called SCHOOL which received so much acclaim.   Their new film unwraps the movement to privatize our nation’s schools, telling a straightforward and understandable narrative through the eyes of the communities affected.   The film should be out in the coming year and I think its time is right.

On Saturday, we listened to a riveting keynote speech from Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, about the history of racism in our schools and the continuing reality of systemic racism that permeates our society today.  Rev. Barber is a gifted orator who can move his listeners to new levels of awareness by his artistic crafting of words and powerful delivery.Themes of charter schools, over-testing, privatization, racial justice, poverty, global education, democracy, and public education ran through the speeches and sessions of the conference, helping all of us to heighten our understanding and also our resolve to continue our work.  I felt re-energized about our work at Defending the Early Years, proud of what we do, sure that we should keep on.

Maybe next year YOU will want to attend the Network for Public Education conference—you won’t be disappointed!

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Top tips for activists

Today’s guest blogger is Karel Kilimnik. Karel is a recently retired early childhood teacher in Philadelphia, PA. Karel has spent her life working with young children and their families in some capacity. She earned her early childhood degree at Temple University and began working at the School District of Philadelphia where she found a home learning and teaching for over 20 years. Karel was active in the union and had a firm commitment to infusing everything with a sense of social justice and peace. When she retired a mere four years ago Karel became a full time education activist working to save public education. Karel says: “Every day I woke up to find something else evil being announced as private interests seek to take over public education from closing 32 schools to outsourcing almost 2,000 Head Start placements, to laying off all school counselors. I co-founded an activist organization, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) with another retired teacher. We have been relentless in following the money in Philadelphia. Decisions are getting made behind closed doors with little pretense of involving the public. These decision makers are the only ones with any money to spend as the governor of Pennsylvania has stripped $1 billion dollars from the state K-12 education budget during his first years in office (as he somehow found $400 million to put into building a new prison right outside of Philadelphia).  Corporate interests masking themselves as philanthropic entities are helping themselves to our public schools and seeking to destroy public education. We must organize ourselves to fight back.”

At our session for early childhood activists at NAEYC’s Annual Conference in November, Karel shared her top tips for activists. We asked Karel for permission to share her tips here:

Tips for Activists

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

  1. Find like-minded people
  2. Food always helps people connect so bring in muffins or cookies.  Have tea & coffee readily available
  3. Do something fun together. Go see a movie or to a concert or an art exhibit.
  4. Put one foot in front of the other – take small steps and always, always celebrate your wins no matter how small they may seem.
  5. Do your research so that you are prepared.
  6. Support each other. Kindness begets more of the same.
  7. Be persistent. Do not give up. Oftentimes your opponents will respect you for your integrity and persistence even if you are always opposing them. Do not mistake attempts to subvert you for respect – a fine line to walk.
  8. Be positive. Look at what is possible. For this you need to know what you believe in.
  9. Talk with people. Collect business cards. Talk with the reporters who cover education.  They may come to see you as a reliable source of information.
  10. Change the conversation. For example, instead of their talk about high performing schools, change it to, “Every school a great school.” Instead of choice always meaning a charter school, change it to choice meaning good neighborhood schools. Act like a toddler and repeat this over and over and over again.

Thanks to Karel for sharing her strategies! To learn more, check out Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools on Facebook. You can also view a powerful video. Activists and the Media Mobilizing Project TV in Philadelphia, PA have produced the video Our Schools Are Not For Sale. “This is the story of Philadelphia’s teachers, parents, students, and communities who are fighting for public schools that are well-resourced, high-quality and available to all. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs.”

Open Letter to NAEYC – A Call for Leadership in the Field

Two weeks ago, we posted our Open Letter to NAEYC – A Call for Leadership in the Field. Since then we have received many emails of support, such as:

The letter is articulate, and provides a strong presentation of the opinions of so many in the membership.  Thank you!

I am very concerned about the attention being put on academics for young children without a full understanding of their needs. Please add my name to the letter to NAEYC.

Hurray for DEY! Thank you for helping to unveil and name the gigantic elephant in our collective educational room on behalf of young children and all those who are determined to walk the talk of DAP. Someday, this beast will be tamed for good given the diligence of DEY and countless others who work tirelessly to create a better, more meaningful world for children and families.

I’ll be proud to sign the letter…

As of this morning, 39 early childhood professionals have joined us in signing the letter. Today we are mailing this updated letter to NAEYC. If you are hearing about the letter for the first time, and would like to sign, we can easily add you to the letter posted on our website. Simply send an email to geralynbywater@gmail.com and write “Open Letter” in the subject line. Let us know how you would like to be identified.

And, if you are a prek-3rd grade teacher, please to take a few minutes to respond to our current survey of teachers. We want to hear from you about how demands on you have change since you began teaching – and how your teaching and assessments have changed as well. Thank you!

Retired librarian takes action in Boston

The following letter ran in the December 12th edition of the Boston Globe. See below how grandmother, and retired librarian, Lani Gerson, responds to school funding cuts and her own grandchild’s experience in kindergarten. We share the letter in hopes that her words will inspire others write their own letters that will help shine a spotlight on the current misguided school “reforms.”

School funding priorities are misplaced
DECEMBER 12, 2012
MY HEART sank when I read “Patrick targets local aid to
help cover budget gap” (Metro, Dec. 5), reporting further
reductions in state funding of schools. My grandson had just
come home from kindergarten, sadly reporting that he
couldn’t take out a book during his class’s weekly library
visit. There wasn’t anyone to check out the books.
That’s because, as a result of budget cuts, his school no
longer has a library teacher. She has been replaced with
volunteers. If no volunteer shows up, no books are checked
out.

At a time when children are not supposed to be left behind,
when schools are being badgered to race to the top, when
students are constantly “assessed” and tested (at no small
expense), funding for schools is continually cut.
How are children supposed to get invested in learning to
read when they can’t even check out a book from their
school library?

And then, if my grandson fails to pass reading tests, his
teachers will be punished, not the political officials and
supposed education experts who are taking schools down
this dangerous route.

Lani Gerson
Watertown
The writer is a retired librarian in the Newton Public Schools.

Learning is more than a test score

In response to the ever-increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing and the negative impact this is having on authentic teaching and learning, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has launched a new campaign, “Learning is More Than a Test Score”. This campaign combines collaborative planning opportunities, ideas for activism and a website for sharing research, testimonials and news.

From the website:

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, we’ve seen a growing fixation on high-stakes testing as a central piece of the effort to improve schools. Unfortunately, the result has been exactly the opposite. The low-level, high-stakes tests that now hang over our teachers and students—and their extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy—have seriously damaged our public education system.

Appropriate assessments are an integral part of a high-quality education system. But an accountability system obsessed with measuring, which punishes teachers and schools, comes at a huge cost. Vital parts of the curriculum—arts, music and physical education, to name a few—are being shortchanged or abandoned because they are not subject to testing. Teachers have been forced to spend too much time on test preparation and data collection, at the expense of more engaging instruction. As a result, our students aren’t getting the opportunities they need to learn how to think critically and creatively, which is essential to a 21st-century education.

One action step is to sign AFT’s public petition which begins, “I believe the growing fixation on high-stakes testing is damaging our public education system. It’s time to make sure that teaching and learning—not testing—drive classroom instruction so that we can give all children the rich, meaningful public education they deserve…”

Here at DEY, we urge you to sign the petition and spread the word to colleagues, parents and community members.