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SOS Rally Yields Mixed Messages & Famous Faces
posted by: Alix | August 01, 2011, 03:45 PM   

This weekend union leaders and liberal advocacy groups from across the country rallied in Washington, D.C. for the "Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action." With a smaller crowd than predicted, at just 3,000 people, teachers and anti-reform advocates rallied to protest everything from No Child Left Behind, to standardized tests, and everything in between somehow labeled as education reform.

The people in attendance withstood the Washington heat and marched toward the White House as a symbol of their disapproval with President Obama's reform-minded education policies. While they didn't secure an audience with the President, it was ironic to see a group, who just three years ago enthusiastically supported his candidacy, now marching to protest his education agenda.

Notable speakers included union-friendly former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, and action star Matt Damon, whose mother is former educator. While the speakers were meant to unify the voices of the rally, the rhetoric was more broad-based and did not serve to create a clear message among stakeholders or outline alternative education policy goals.

"We need to give students a sense of hope," Ravitch argued. "We will always have your back," Damon further pledged. When asked for specific policy initiatives Ravitch simply said, "We need to stop high-stakes testing and we need more funding for early childhood education."

Other rank-and-file teachers in the audience saw it differently. "We're losing specialists in classes, we're being laid off -- the detriment is going to be tremendous," one Wisconsin teacher said. "We need collective bargaining back, we need to be able negotiate and we need funding so urban and suburban students have equal opportunity."

Another teacher from Delaware wanted to see education brought back to the 1960's. "I've been around long enough that I know what public education was like in the 60's and 70's," said the teacher. "We have no need for private and charter schools. We used to have qualified teachers who had support from the public education system and the emphasis was on team building."

As AAE Executive Director Gary Beckner noted, there is an undeniable anger and frustration amongst educators due to rapid, sometimes difficult changes. However, it is unclear if "Save Our Schools" is meant to represent the beginning of a movement or a onetime event meant to reminisce about the glory days in education when unions were king and there was no one challenging the system.

It seems that while the SOS rally did turn some heads, organizers were unsuccessful in organizing teacher voices and presenting a unified front. In the end, as one blogger puts it, "These divides are among the reasons why a failed vision of American public education is losing support, no matter how many of its defenders march on the White House."

What are your thoughts on the SOS rally?

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