Teachers and education activists from near and far descended on the Department of Education in Washington D.C. this weekend to announce their "war cry" against the corporate-based school reform movement and its stranglehold on public education.
Protesters at the second annual Occupy the Department of Education, which took place from April 4-7, are trying to draw attention to the rampant privatization of public education which has benefited greatly from President Obama's Race to the Top initiative, as well as the rash of public school closures—most notably in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.
As one educator, pre-kindergarten teacher Amy Rothschild, wrote:
“Reform” has become a kind of code word, referring to a specific agenda of high-stakes testing, weakened collective bargaining, and school closings that have generated massive instability for American children, particularly low-income people of color. [...]
Educators today are being punished for decades of growing income inequality, an eroding social welfare system, and an economy brought to its knees by lack of regulation—factors which make work in building supportive, democratic schools and classrooms that much more important.[...]
[We are] demonstrating in front of the Education Department because the people working inside have ignored their message.
Following a march to the White House on Saturday, protesters on Sunday rallied on the steps of the DOE. Attendees include notable education activists Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier of Central Park East schools, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Mother Jones quotes event organizer and Colorado teacher, Peggy Robertson, who says that President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative—which she calls “No Child Left Behind on steroids”—has “opened the door” to the privatization of public education.
This initiative, she says, requires states accept certain conditions to receive adequate education funding creating competition, rather than collaboration, among states. Their demands include the implementation of controversial Common Core standards as well as a the opening of more corporate-run charter schools, a "longitudinal database full of student information to track performance," and teacher evaluations based on high-stakes standardized testing.
"All of these things," Mother Jones writes, "create a windfall for big companies seeking a piece of the enormous public education budget and smother creativity in the classroom."