Tonight 400 members of the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, Communities for Education Reform and allies of these organizations joined AFT’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Conference in Los Angeles where the sponsors released a new set of principles on which they have agreed. When AFT and NEA along with allied organizations agree on joint principles, it is an indication of deep concern and broad consensus. There are well over 3 million public school teachers in the United States, the vast majority of whom belong to one of the unions.
Event keynoter, the Rev. William Barber, the prophetic leader of North Carolina’s NAACP, declared: “When we stand together, our diversity is our strength that can help this nation move closer to what our founding documents say on paper.” Noting that today’s political battle is one of “extremism vs. those who believe in the Constitution,” Barber challenged Friday night’s crowd: “We are in a soul-changing moment as a nation.” “There’s been too much progress in America for us to go back now!”
For 20 weeks, Rev. Barber has been leading “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina. Marchers have been protesting North Carolina legislative actions this year that have eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; cut Medicaid coverage for 500,000; ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; and slashed taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent.
Endorsed by AFT, NEA and allies, The Principles That Unite Us, is a statement of seven primary values that address what is happening due to federal incentives for states to impose punitive school reform in the context of austerity budgeting across many states: closing schools, rating teachers according to students’ test scores, and privatizing schools—all policies that target the poorest communities.
- Public schools are public institutions, while, “The corporate model of school reform seeks to turn public schools over to private managers and encourages competition…”
- Voices of teachers administrators, school staff, students, parents and community members matter.
- Schools are community institutions that should help coordinate services for students and families to address poverty and other challenges children bring with them to school.
- Assessments are critical to help teachers guide lesson planning, but are “misused when teachers are fired, schools are closed and students are penalized based on a single set of scores.”
- “Teaching is a career, not a temporary stop on the way to one.”
- Schools should be welcoming and inclusive. Schools must not push out vulnerable students or treat parents as intruders.
- Schools must be fully funded. “We have not come far enough. Today our schools remain segregated and unequal. When we short-change some students, we short-change our nation as a whole”
And from the introduction that frames the principles: “We believe that the only way to give every child the opportunity to pursue a rich and productive life both individually and as a member of society is through a system of publicly funded, equitable and democratically controlled public schools… Our interest is in public schools that serve all children. We need schools that are rooted in communities, that provide a rich and equitable academic experience and model democratic practices. We want schools where those closest to the classroom share in decision-and policy-making at all levels. We need schools where students feel safe, nurtured and empowered to become productive adults—that provide an alternative to the prison pipeline that too many of our children are caught in. We believe that the only way to achieve these schools is by strengthening the institution of pubic education.”