Grassroots Education Network- May 2022 Newsletter – Conference Round-Up.
The NPE/NPE Action Conference, held from April 30th to May 1st, was attended by over 300 passionate defenders of public education. There were over 145 presenters and 49 panels. Due to the pandemic, NPE/NPE Action had to postpone the conference three times. Still, the result was a grand celebration of all the work done nationally to save our public schools, for education equity, and education justice.
This newsletter is replacing our monthly Grassroots Network Education Newsletter. Our regular newsletter will resume in June.
Saturday – April 30th
Dr. Diane Ravitch and Nikhil Goyal started the conference with the opening Keynote. The main message from Nikhil was that “we are bound by a common goal: winning justice and dignity for all of our children.”
Diane, as always, mesmerized the crowd with her address. This year, her overarching message was, “We defend what belongs to the public. We believe in the public good. We oppose privatization, and we support our teachers.” Diane also noted that “[culture wars] are about distracting you from the gerrymandering congressional districts and dismantling public schools.” As part of the opening Keynote, we were welcomed to the city by Councilperson Kendra Brooks. Councilperson Brooks shared that “This fight for public education is a national fight, and we can’t give up. All this work you do means something… to everyone around the country… your fight and passion puts you in a position to make real change.” It was an honor for conference attendees to have Councilperson Brooks welcome us to Philadelphia. You can see the opening Keynote here.
At lunch, we were honored to have a powerful panel hosted by Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, Dr. Adell Cothorne, UTLA President Cecily A. Myart-Cruz, and the 2019 NC Social Studies Teacher of the Year Rodney Pierce. Their lunch panel, Dismantling Systemic Racism in Schools, was loaded with powerful messages and advice. It is a must-see, and you can view that video here.
Dr. Noliwe Rooks delivered a powerful message to the conference on Saturday night. The message she left us with was the education of Black children has always been unequal, an experiment, and a moneymaker. You can see Dr. Rooks keynote here.
Sunday – May 1st
Little Steven addressed the conference at the Sunday morning Brunch. His message was both motivating and informative. Little Steven created the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which created Teach Rock. Teach Rock is a standards-aligned arts integration curriculum that uses popular music and cultural history to help teachers engage students. You can find it here. Little Steven and Diane engaged in a robust conversation about education. Little Steven’s love for public schools was evident in his discussion with Diane. You can view that conversation here.
Who better to end the conference than Jitu Brown. Powerful national ground organizer and motivator, Jitu’s closing keynote left us energized, thinking, and enlightened. You can view his closing keynote here.
The Phyllis Bush Grassroots Advocate Award winners were Stand for Schools and Pastors for Children Network. You can view that awards ceremony here after the lunch panel.
The winner of the Diane Ravitch David Award was Dr. Anika Whitfield. The David Award goes to an organizer who has brought down a giant! Dr. Whitfield, an organizer with Grassroots Arkansas, successfully fought back against the Walton Foundation in Little Rock. You can see her acceptance speech here.
The NPE Grassroots Education Network members were a powerful part of the conference this year. Here are some of the presentations given by members of the network. San Antonio, Texas, was represented by Sarah Sorensen, Queta Rodriguez, Stephanie Torres, and Shelley Potter. They gave an excellent presentation on how the San Antonio ISD tries to fight off City Fund. In particular, they laid out how philanthropic dollars, state policy, and privatization advocates have aligned to create a portfolio district in San Antonio Independent School District. They discussed the experiences of students, families, and teachers as control of their school system was shifted away from the community, and they shared the strategies their community is using to fight back. USOS was represented by Bess Altwerger, Jesse Turner, and Rosalie Friend. They discussed reclaiming the truth in teaching. The Pastors for Children organizations wooed their crowd with how to Mobilize Faith Leaders for public education advocacy. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson (Pastors for Texas Children), The Rev. Suzanne Parker Miller (Pastors for NC Children), Charles Luke, (Pastors for Texas Children), and Reverend Dr. William Terry Ladd III (Pastors for Tennessee Children) were incredible. The Pastors for Children Network were one of the winners of the Phyllis Bush Grassroots Award this year. Class Size Matters did a fantastic presentation on how to fight for smaller classes. They highlighted how parent and teacher activism in the wake of the pandemic did just that. The panel had Leonie Haimson (Class Size Matters), Lisa Haver (Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools), and Leah VanDassor (president of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) in Minnesota) presenting. For more information on Class Size you can go here.
The New York Allies for Public Education was represented by Jeanette Deutermann, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Dr. Mike Hynes, and Lisa Rudley. They discussed a way to re-imagine education and high-stakes testing in the post-pandemic world. The discussion addressed how we can change that at the federal, state, and local levels. Presenting in their hometown, Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, Lisa Haver, and Kenya Nation Holmes brought it home with their presentation that covered twenty years of corporate education reform in Philadelphia. Defending the Early Years and Black Lives Matter at School was represented by Adell Cothorne and Erika Chavarria. Their panel was a discussion on how to disrupt the cradle-to-prison pipeline and laid out for the audience how the cradle-to-prison pipeline happens and continues to happen today. The Wisconsin Public Education Network panel, #VotePublic: the Wisconsin Public Education Network’s Statewide Campaign to Hold Elected Officials Accountable, was led by Jenni Hofschulte, Sandy Whisler, Heather DuBois Boureane, and Wisconsin State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly. WPEN does fantastic work in Wisconsin, and it was so great they could highlight how they do that at NPE for a national audience. The Pastors for Tennessee Children discussed the fight against vouchers in Tennessee. Amy Frogge, Reverend Dr. William Terry Ladd III, and State Rep. Antonio Parkinson did a fantastic job laying out the landscape for what is happening in Tennessee. Blueprints in Successful Grassroots Parent Organizing was live-streamed here. Julie Borst from SOS N.J., Beth Lewis from Arizona SOS, and Kylene Dibble from Parents for Public Schools-Pitt County (NC) discussed how they successfully organized and mobilized powerful parent groups.
Ann Hunter-Pirtle, Daniel Russell, and Melina Cohen from Stand for Schools discussed how they kept privatization out of Nebraska. Their discussion is a national model for how to fight off privatization. Nebraska received the top spot in NPE’s new report on public schooling. You can find that report here. Stand for Schools was one of the Phyllis Bush Grassroots Award winners this year. Public Schools First, North Carolina discussed how public schools are a public good. They specifically outlined how they took action in North Carolina. Public Schools First North Carolina was represented by Yevonne Brannon, Tamika Walker Kelly, Jen Mangrum, and Christine Kushner. New and Emerging Threats to Student and Teacher Privacy was presented by Parents for Student Privacy co-founder Leonie Haimson and privacy expert Doug Levin. Leonie discussed some of the new ways in which teacher and student privacy is being violated, specifically applied to online learning launched during the pandemic. Organizing at the Speed of Light: Defeating Charter Expansion in Virginia saw members of Virginia BATs, Virginia Public Education Partners, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI), and Virginia Educators United discuss how they have been an integral part of protecting and promoting Virginia’s public schools even as privatization forces have attempted to use Virginia as a national prototype for dismantling public schools in 2021-2022. The panel was comprised of Cheryl Gibbs Binkley, Rachel Levy, Kathy Beery, Ashley Kenneth, and Dr. Ricardy Anderson.
The Hillsborough Public School Advocates delivered a powerful presentation on fighting education defunding and privatization in Florida. Paula Castano, Ellen Lyons, and Jessica DuBois have had successes by reviewing local school board budgets/agendas, tracking relevant legislation and the state budget, and, most importantly, actively engaging members in advocacy efforts. Jitu Brown and Ronsha Dickerson from The Journey for Justice Alliance discussed how to build a locally powered campaign for education equity. That panel was live-streamed, and you can watch it here. Charter Schools and Black Exploitation: Openings, Closings, and Community Abandonment explored the illusion of equity in the charter school movement and its relationship to the destruction of traditionally black communities. Dountonia S. Batts (Board member for NPE and Indiana Coalition for Public Education), Jitu Brown (National Director for the Journey for Justice Alliance), and Dr. Keith E. Benson (President of the Camden Education Association) delivered a powerful presentation to their audience. The Badass Teachers Association presented its continued groundbreaking work centered on teacher bullying. Teachers Attacked from Without and Within examined and discussed the Moral Disengagement involved in Mobbing and Mass Bullying of teachers by fellow teachers. Educators shared stories about pushback when advocating for developmentally appropriate practices for students. The potential of the caucus and other education organizing spaces was analyzed to give participants some potential ideas to address these and other issues. BATs were represented by their Quality of Life team members, Wilma de Soto and Maureen McGurk. Melissa Tomlinson, Executive Director of BATs, also sat on the panel.
Some of the notable quotes harvested from social media! You can go to #NPE2022Philly on Twitter to view tweets from the day.
“Teachers are ideas people. And ideas in the right minds are dangerous to those with power.” Dr. Keith Eric Benson, NPE Board Member, and Camden Teachers Association President
“We need to talk about what accountability looks like in OUR world. We need accountability, but it must look very different from ESSA.” Congressman Dr. Jamaal Bowman
“Legislative agendas have to be moral agendas.” Jerry Jordan, PFT President
“Vouchers are a rebate program for wealthy White families who want state funds to subsidize their desire to engage in racial isolation.” Dennis Willard, a former reporter for the Ohio Statehouse
“Kids take 300+ hours – more than 30 days – of standardized assessments between Pre-K and graduation.” Dr. Mike Hynes, Superintendent of Schools
“Privatizers want a parallel school system based on market principles. Markets exclude people.” Don Cohen, In the Public Interest
“Privatization always begins with disenfranchisement.” Lisa Haver, co-founder Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools
“The effort to privatize is fueled by a right-wing effort to elevate selfishness over the public good.” Maurice Cunningham, author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.
Thank you to organizations and individuals from the grassroots network who attended. You made the day powerful, informative, and the connections were meaningful.