Solidarity to save our schools

May 27, 2014

New York City high school teacher John Yanno reports on a rally that brought together a range of groups and individuals advocating for education justice in our schools.

"FROM BUFFALO to Long Island, people are standing up," thundered one many speakers who addressed a rally of several hundred teachers, parents, students and their supporters, gathered on May 17 in the shadow of New York's City Hall at the Rally to Save Public Education.

The rally featured a diverse array of speakers who denounced charter schools, high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations that use student test scores, and the influx of private money and influence into public education. Many speakers cited a recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which concluded that 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, New York City schools have become the most segregated in the nation.

The biggest cheers though were reserved for Dao Tran, a New York City public school parent, and Rosie Frascella, a Brooklyn high school teacher, for their roles in leading test boycotts at their respective schools.

The crowd was small but spirited, and brought with it a wide range of concerns. Members of the Movement of Rank and File Educators urged union teachers to vote "no" on a proposed contract that accepts some of the main tenets of the corporate reform movement, like charter schools and merit pay.

Testing boycott leader Dao Tran (left) with Green Party lieutenant governor candidate Brian Jones
Testing boycott leader Dao Tran (left) with Green Party lieutenant governor candidate Brian Jones (Bianca Tanis)

Others, like Julie Fraad, a retired teacher and assistant principal from Brooklyn, voiced concerns about charter schools sapping funds from public schools. She believes Mayor Bill de Blasio is an "advocate for public education," but that charter school proponents have more political and monetary clout than the new mayor.

The gubernatorial election was also on people's minds. Speakers criticized New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his support for charter schools and a property tax cap that will deny money to cash-starved school districts. Brian Jones, a New York City educator and the Green Party's candidate for lieutenant governor, reminded the crowd that it was grassroots organizing that led to the Brown court decision, and it will be grassroots organizing that will finally stop corporate education reform.

The rally culminated in a march to Tweed, the New York City Department of Education headquarters, as demonstrators chanted, "1-2-3-4, our kids are more than test scores, 5-6-7-8, send the [Common] Core back to [Bill] Gates!" A few students lingered on after the march and formed a chant circle calling for "less deportation/more education."

Kristen Taylor, a Brooklyn primary school teacher who stayed behind with the students, noticed that the march to Tweed "seemed to energize especially the young people, who were really enjoying the feelings of solidarity and closeness to their teachers and each other."

The real success of the rally and march was that they brought out such a mix of education advocacy groups, representing parents, students and teachers. It will take solidarity among all the true stakeholders of public education to beat back the corporate education "deformers"--and win an education system that puts student creativity and learning at the center.

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