What should educators demand?

24 Sep

There has been talk among the Badass Teachers Association about  organizing a mass action in Washington D.C.  Mark Naison, one of the founders of BAT, asked for suggestions on what we would demand if we were to mobilize like this.  I’m writing this post to share my suggestions.

Mark proposed the following:

1. End Race to the Top and eliminate all financial incentives to states and localities to use student test scores to rate teachers, close allegedly “failing” schools, and prefer charter schools over public schools.

2. End Federal support of the Common Core standards, and leave the decision of whether to use them to states and localities without pressure from the US Dept of Education.

3. Use federal funds currently directed towards testing and data collection to lower class size and fund libraries, school counselors and the arts

4. Remove the current Secretary of Education and replace him with a lifetime educator who has at least 10 years classroom experience

5. Call a White House Conference on Education where 50 percent of the participants are teachers, and the rest administrators, parents and students.


End the School to Prison Pipeline. Image from Liberation News.

I like some of these, especially 1-4.   However, I think they are  still within the framework of defending public education from corporate education reformers.  While this is important, I don’t think it’s enough.  I think we also need to organize to transform public education ourselves.    With that in mind, I’d like to propose we also make demands like this on the federal government:

  •  Let’s demand that congress peg prison funding to eduction funding, so that every time they increase funds for prisons they must increase funds for education, and every time they cut funds for education, they must also cut funds for prisons.  Let’s follow up to make sure this is not co-opted by making sure our schools themselves do not function as prison pipelines, which means positive behavior interventions instead of surveillance, cops, isolation rooms, etc.
  • Let’s demand that federal regulations  require all employers to give family members of school aged children paid time off to support their kids’ education. This could look like volunteering in the classroom, becoming active in setting school policies, and especially intervening when kids are in crisis, as an alternative to suspensions and expulsions.
  • Let’s demand that Congress  repeal any legal limitations that prevent collective action on the job or that limit collective action to issues of wages of benefits alone. In particular, remove any limitations of labor law that would prevent teachers, parents, and students from controlling hiring and firing of teachers, curriculum development and adoption, and school policies. Repeal the Taft Hartley Act and other anti-labor laws.

These  demands might help us cultivate a unified teacher-parent-student movement; they might help us prevent  a situation where teachers are  treated as simply another special interest group in competition with other groups.  Let’s make it clear: we are badass workers, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

Mexican teachers occupy the Zocalo, the central square in Mexico City.  Image from

Mexican teachers occupy the Zocalo, the central square in Mexico City. Image from Fox News Latino.

To even come close to winning demands like this, we’d need to engage in a mass struggle that breaks from scripted, predictable forms of protest and pushes the limits, just like the Mexican teachers are doing.   As Jim Horn asks,

How much abuse, derogation, impugning, hostility, and professional savaging will it take for American teachers to respond like those in Mexico, where teachers have been engaged in civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale during the past week.

What do you think of the demand I suggested?  What would you be wiling to fight for?  What kind of strategies and tactics do you think we’d need to engage in to creatively transform learning and teaching?


9 Responses to “What should educators demand?”

  1. freeuniverseity September 24, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Reblogged this on Free UniversE-ity and commented:
    The immediate abolition of the enclosure of knowledge by education?

  2. Jim Horn September 24, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    The linchpin for all of your good ideas is the one stated here: End high stakes testing. Until this is done, the control mechanism remains in place, for curriculum, teaching, evaluation, social sorting, and segregation. When standardized testing began a hundred years ago, it was to achieve all these ends. It is still used for all these purposes, and we have allowed it to be done most recently under the banner offering high quality equal education. I hope you will get and share our new book, The Mismeasure of Education, and then act on it. We are winning, but we need a fully committed and entirely informed push from here forward. It’s time.

    • mamos206 September 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

      I agree. Thanks, I’m looking forward to reading it. This blog started when a small group of parents, teachers, and students started collaborating during the MAP test boycott here in Seattle. In particular, we wanted to emphasize the role of testing in class and race stratification- not just the MAP test, but also the AP test and others.

      • Lynn September 24, 2013 at 11:20 pm #


        AP classes are college-level courses taken during high school . Exams are given in May, and high scores earn college credit at many universities.

        What does this have to do with class and race stratification?

      • mamos206 September 25, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

        I’m a high school teacher, and I took 5 AP classes my own senior year of high school, so I’m quite familiar with the process. I was one of the only working class youth in those AP classes. If you look at Garfield High, there is a racial disparity in terms of who is in the AP classes and who isn’t, which is why we published this during the testing boycott: https://creativitynotcontrol.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/the-map-test-and-the-ap-test-and-white-supremacy/

        I don’t have hard numbers on hand right now but I imagine if we did some research we’d find that there are similar racial disparities in AP programs across the Seattle region.

        Finally, as I pointed out in that piece, there is no AP Black History, Indigenous history, etc.

  3. Lynn September 26, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    Why aren’t Black students at Garfield enrolling in AP classes? Do you think the counselling staff is not encouraging them to do so? Are their parents not encouraging them to take the most rigorous courses offered?

    I’m trying to understand what you want the public schools to do. Only teach easier classes for which there is no opportunity to earn college credits? Low-income college bound students get the most benefit from rhe opportunity to get college credits in high school.

    How would that help anyone?

    Do you also want to get rid of end of course exams required for graduation?


    • mamos206 September 29, 2013 at 7:06 am #

      Yes, I want to get rid of end of course exams required for graduation. I am against all forms of high stakes standardized testing. I am for more accurate and holistic forms of formative and summative assessment, including portfolio assessments and performance assessments. I think exams are more appropriately used as formative diagnostic tools, not high stakes rites of passage.

      I am not sure why Black students at Garfield are not enrolling in AP classes at the same rate as white students. It could be that faculty and counselors are not encouraging them to enroll. It could be that they have not had the same opportunity and support to prepare for these classes because of institutional racism in curriculum, instruction, discipline, and support services throughout their school careers. It could be that the classes are not culturally relevant and welcoming. Or, it could be that with rising tuition rates in colleges, working class Black students don’t see college as a reasonable option.

      You ask whether I want the schools to only teach easier classes for which there is no opportunity to earn college credits. I am not for easier classes, I am simply against academic tracking. I am for differentiated classes in which teachers provide more challenging work for students who are ready to move on to that work, and provide extra support for those who need it. This would require drastically reducing class sizes because this level of differentiation would not be practical in current classroom configurations. I think that what I’m advocating is very similar to what is done in Finland, where I heard academic tracking is illegal. I want to look more into that and will hopefully post on it later.

      AP courses are only a good financial option for working class families now because college tuition is so high. I was one of those working class kids when I was 18, and I took 5 AP classes my senior year, got a 4.0 GPA, got into an Ivy League school, hardly slept, and almost collapsed from exhaustion and stress. I was trying to get as many college classes done in high school so that my family would not have to pay for them. I saw this as my ticket out of the working class. Youth should not be put under that kind of pressure simply because our parents can’t afford high college tuition. College should be free for everyone, like it has been historically in other countries. That way we can focus more on learning and less on staying up all night doing homework to prepare for a standardized test.

      • Lynn October 8, 2013 at 5:20 am #

        Hmmm. My child takes those classes not for college credit but because they’re the only challenging classes offered – classes in which she learns new material. Do you think smaller classes would make differentiating discussion possible? Given the school district’s budget (and physical capacity) issues – how would you make those small classes possible? Year-round schooling? Cutting extracurricular activities and elective classes?

        Should those challenging classes not be available to my child because other students do not take them?

      • mamos206 October 9, 2013 at 3:34 am #

        I was in the same situation as your child and I hated it, I couldn’t wait to leave high school. I think we need to fight for more funding to address capacity issues and to create small class sizes.

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