The NPE Conference in Austin was AWESOME!

I traveled to Austin this past weekend for the first-ever #NPEConference.  This organization was founded by Diane Ravitch, who is an education historian, educational policy analyst, was an Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush and is currently the nation’s number one advocate for public education.

The conference was awesome as Diane wasn’t the only education rock star in the house.  Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union spoke openly and honestly on a variety of subjects. One of the statements she made was that “we are in dangerous times when the Chicago Tribune tells teachers to “shut up and sit down, schools are not a democracy!”

John Kuhn, the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas also spoke.  He originally burst onto the national state a year ago at the national Save Our Schools rally in Washington, D.C.  John spoke with an energy and passion that only comes from experience.  He said that “anything that weakens the public schools in America weakens our Nation.”  He also said that “public education is our trust fund and our nest egg.”  Both of these speakers obviously spoke to the frustrations of the 400 conference attendees, but also gave hope that standing together, we can make a difference.

The only criticism I have of the conference is that too many interesting breakout sessions were scheduled at the same time. On Saturday, I attended sessions on “Educators Organizing Resistance”, “Framing Our Message”, and Education Blogger Network.  I was especially impressed with a young African American woman, Sabrian Joy Stevens, who is the Executive Director of Integrity in Education.  During one of the sessions, she said:  “people complain to the void as if there is a justice fairy.  We are the government and must take responsibility.”

On Sunday, we heard an expert panel discuss the Common Core Standards.  Panel members included Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers and Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist who holds a PH.D in applied statistics and research methods.    A very lively debate ensued on the part of all the panelists.  Randi Weingarten pulled no punches when she said:  “If we’re going to have a Pub Ed system, we need standards & sufficient support where every child can achieve.”  She also said:  “We HAVE to be about saving middle class & kid’s ability to achieve. That should be the REAL conversation.”  Probably the most poignant comment for me though was:  “We need to get cmty on our side to defeat big $.” Is #commoncore mostly distraction to take our eyes off prize?  I agree with Randi.  I think the corporate reformers are using #commoncore to divert us from the real problem; the liquidation of our democracy.

As a professional educator, Mercedes Schneider shared her frustration:  “Common Core completely ignores my independent professional judgement – that’s my main problem with it.”  Randi Weingarten finished off with:  “The conversation needs to be about public ed and the ladder of opportunity that fights poverty.”

IMG_3190It was obvious when Diane Ravitch entered the auditorium.  She was immediately mobbed by people who wanted to meet her and get her to sign their copy of her book, Reign of Error.  When Diane spoke, her main message was one of optimism.  She said “we are going to win because everything corporate reformers are doing is failing.  You can’t fail your way to success.”  She also said “when there’s a race, it goes to the swift and strong, not the weak and needy.  DOE is not supporting equity.”  At the end of her speech, Diane said “be not afraid, be strong.  Retired teachers must step up.  Get political, get involved.  Be there for the kids.”  ll the panel members.  Randi Weingarten said: “if we’re going to have a Public Education system, we need standards and sufficient support where every child can achieve.  She also said:  “We have to be about saving middle class and kid’s ability to achieve.  That should be the real conversation” and “the conversation needs to be about public education and the ladder of opportunity that fights poverty.  As a current educator, Mercedes Schneider said “Common Core completely ignores my independent professional judgement – that’s my main problem with it.”  Paul Horton, teacher of history at the University of Chicago Lab School, said “schools are the incubators of public discourse and democracy.”

The final session I attended was a meeting of the Education Bloggers’ Network.  Jonathan Pelto announced that the network currently consists of 123 bloggers, but they are looking to expand and were hoping to gain more folks contributing. There was a lot of energy in the room with all the bloggers who’ve been shedding light on the work that needs to be done to save public education.   I hope to be one of those contributing to the cause.

I am so glad I attended this conference!  I believe it was historic and represents a formalization of the movement to save locally controlled, community centered, public education.  In fact, after the conference the NPE called on Congress to hold hearings about the over-testing of our K-12 students.  I met numerous teachers, administrators, and advocates who only want the best for our students and our nation.  I am honored to be a small part of this movement and look forward to supporting it however I can.

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