Supporters of public education on March 7 launched a new organization that will build a grassroots movement to improve public schools and protect public education from business and political leaders who want to privatize it. The Network for Public Education will raise money and mobilize volunteers for local candidates who support public schools. The Network will also conduct and share research with public education advocates across the US.
“Today we are launching a new organization, the Network for Public Education,” said Diane Ravitch, a professor of education history at New York University and leading advocate for public education, who will lead the Network. “This group will serve to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and other citizens. We will share information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. We hope to inspire one another as we work together and learn together about how to resist the attacks on public education.”
The Network will also advocate for a broader public school curriculum that includes arts, sciences, foreign languages, and physical education, better public school financing, and appropriate use of standardize tests to help students and teachers, not punish them.
“We want to be a sane voice for educational policy,” said Ravitch to the New York Times. “Not talking about kids first or students first but actually supporting policies that will improve public education.”
Founders of the Network said that wealthy businessmen such as Bill Gates have been driving the national discourse on education policy. As a result, the solutions to our education problems have been narrowed to a set of false premises learned in business school–let the market work its magic and privatize whatever public services you can.
These same wealthy businessmen also have been financing campaigns of politicians who support market driven education policies such as using the results of standardized test scores as an excuse to close neighborhood schools and replacing them with privately operated charter schools.
“Our nation’s schools are at a crossroads,” reads a press statement by the Network. “Wealthy individuals are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into state and local school board races, often into places where they do not reside, to elect candidates intent on undermining and privatizing our public schools.”
One of the Network’s goal is to provide financing and volunteers for candidates who support public education.
“With all the billionaire cash trying to buy elections, we need to amass people power to ensure that individuals who care about preserving and strengthening our public schools are elected to positions of power,” said Leonie Haimson, a New York City parent advocate and head of Class Size Matters. “As the recent Los Angeles school board election shows, when we are organized we can overcome the forces of the privateers and the profiteers intent on pillaging and dismantling our public schools.”
Public school advocate Steve Zimmer, an opponent of charter schools and other market-driven education policies, recently won re-election to the Los Angeles Unified School District board despite heavy spending by outsiders such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, who contributed $1 million and $250,000 respectively to Zimmer’s vanquished opponent.
Phyllis Bush, a retired teacher from Indiana, who helped lead a successful effort in Indiana to elect a public school advocate to lead the state’s public education agency said that the success in her state is indicative of what a grassroots movement for education can do.
“Our group, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, and other grassroots groups helped to elect Glenda Ritz to become our Superintendent of Public Instruction, a huge victory against rampant and destructive education policies,” Bush said. “With the creation of the Network for Public Education, we will reach out to others across the nation to fulfill the promise of public education.”
By organizing a grassroots movement, the Network hopes to give a proper voice to those who support an alternative to market-driven education policy. “We believe in community-based reform, strengthening our schools instead of closing them, respecting our teachers and principals instead of berating them, educating our children instead of constantly testing them,” reads a Network statement. “Our public schools are an essential democratic institution. We look forward to working with friends and allies in every state and school district who want to preserve and improve public education for future generations.
“We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together, we will save our schools.”