Hopeful signs on public education

As a former teacher, I follow education news with great interest. Recently, I’ve had reason to feel hope for the future of public education in this country.

The contradictions in ruling-class ideology are showing. While the Bush administration and corporate interests are using the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as a tool for the privatization of public education, state’s rights conservatives across the country are resisting the unprecedented federal intrusion into local education. According to the National Education Association, 17 state legislatures, many of them in “red” states, are currently considering bills and/or resolutions that challenge NCLB. New Mexico has already passed two, one requesting more accountability on funding from the U.S. Department of Education, and the other requesting full funding for NCLB.

A handful of school districts have chosen to opt out of NCLB and the federal funding attached to it. Others are shifting federal funds within their districts in order to avoid NCLB sanctions on specific schools that would destroy those schools. Many school districts are finding these options to be more cost effective, as federal funding has not matched the outlay required to comply with the law’s unreasonable and pedagogically unsound requirements.

Students, too, are resisting NCLB’s heavy focus on standardized testing in creative ways, from wearing anti-testing T-shirts on test days, to deliberately filling in wrong answers, to flat-out refusing to participate in testing. Many parents are keeping their children home on test days, or “opting out” of standardized tests where state law allows it. And both students and parents are forming grassroots organizations to fight for the elimination of standardized testing in their schools.

Not to be “left behind,” teachers’ unions are making strides of their own. The California Teachers Association, in partnership with the NEA, has begun organizing charter school teachers in California. And the American Federation of Teachers recently launched “First Class Teachers,” a new initiative designed to organize and mobilize early childhood teachers.

The new leadership of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) recently issued a statement outlining their battle plan. While critical of NCLB and similar current “reforms” in education, they recognize that a strong union begins with its members. Building coalitions with parents and other school workers is also high on their agenda. As UTLA is one of the largest teachers’ union locals in the country, it will be interesting to watch how they put these ideas into action.

Deb Wilmer is a secretary in Arizona.