Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Work of Change the Stakes: Some History and How Organizing Bears Fruit

YES, word is spreading in Bed Stuy!... The teacher said the parent had the Change the Stakes refusal form!... Teacher in Bed-Stuy
I left this as a comment on the Diane Ravitch bloggers network when the issue of Who is Our Audience came up.

Organizational building: Blogging is a tool, not an end.

After over 40 years of educational activism I've gone through many stages and have learned something (I hope) at each stage. Currently I believe we must gather people together and build local democratic institutions that can link up with other like-minded groups. How did I get to this point?

I started publishing a newsletter for teachers in the UFT in 1997 as a way to share ideas and nudge the union leadership into a more  (real) reformist role. That hard copy newsletter, which by 2002 I was publishing 16-page tabloid editions with 20,000 in circulation - eventually morphed into EdNotesOnline in 2006. That was more a choice based on the cost and work involved, not that I believed blogging was more effective as an organizing tool than the hard copy.

By 2001 it was clear that if anything the UFT leadership was moving in the opposite direction - less democracy, partnering with the ed deformers, etc. That moved me to an understanding that one person could get only so far and into building an organization that could impact on policy. In late 2003 a group of us founded the Independent Community of Educators (ICE), a caucus in the UFT that challenged the leadership. There were other such groups and we made some headway but not enough. By 2009 the attacks on teachers and public education with a spurt in the charter movement led ICE to form a committee to focus on some of these issues. That committee began to attract people in a way that ICE did not -- it spun off into the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) which challenged charter co-locations and supported schools that were being closed.
GEM evolved. Teachers felt that it was essential to challenge the union leadership based on the Chicago model, which gave us hope. Thus in 2012 we formed Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE). But since GEM also included parents who were involved mostly due to the testing issue, another GEM committee evolved into Change the Stakes (CTS) which has been leading the opt out movement here in NYC.

I point to this evolution because we need to get people together in the same room on  a regular basis locally. This takes a lot of time and effort.

One of the issues we faced in CTS was that opt-outers are mostly white middle class. We were told repeatedly that in the poorer communities people supported the test. Some of us said that their kids were also getting sick from the tests. Our people started going out to various communities to speak and while slow, results are beginning to show.
One of our teachers in Bed-Stuy  - one of these communities - just sent this email as an example that the work is bearing fruit.
"My principal is running scared.....she said that she wishes the opt-out information in the news had come out before as she is now having parents come to her about opting out.  She is afraid of going over the 95% because we are a priority school.....we are very underutilized.  I witnessed her telling a 5th grade parent wanting to opt-out that the scores would count for admission to middle school.  The parent was saying she had heard in her church group (YES, word is spreading in Bed Stuy!), that only the 4th grade could be used for middle school admission.  The principal said, that students were admitted based on the 4th grade, but schools checked the 5th grade scores to make the final decision.  The 5th grade student's teacher was standing near-by so I told the teacher to tell the parent the truth.  The teacher said the parent had the Change the Stakes refusal form! "

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