SOS Conference 2012, Day Three

Originally Published Sunday, August 5, 2012 by James Boutin

This morning, I began the day by attending a session led by Monty Neilland Bob George where attendees offered suggestions for how Save Our Schools might adapt its policy recommendation literature for policymakers and the public.

Over and over again, in the session and throughout the conference, participants railed against high-stakes testing as the illusion on which corporate reform is standing. I felt this to be the area in which we had largest consensus. As Tim Slekar put it (to paraphrase), “This is a hill to die on. Don’t accept test scores as valid indicators of student learning, teaching quality or school quality. Not even a little bit. There’s not one shred of evidence they tell us anything except for what zip code the kids come from and who their parents are.”

It was during this session I realized the term “high-stakes testing” is really an oxymoron in a way. If it’s high-stakes, then there’s a good chance it won’t be a valid test.

Other ideas in the session included the push for local control in deciding educational issues and assessment, to advocate for moving time and money spent on testing to curriculum and instruction, and the notion of co-opting the language of the corporate reform movement in an attempt to more easily convince the public and wrest away from them terms we feel they’ve taken from us.

In the following session, I finally met Becca Ritchiewho, although she teaches in the district right next to mine, I’ve known for over a year and never met in person. We sat with six participants from Washington State and discussed ways for mobilizing our state. We lamented the reality that few people in Washington have any sense for the danger posed to public education by corporate reform. Charters are still illegal in Washington, and teachers there are largely cocooned from destructive policies like VAM, for now. Becca and I talked about setting up a Washington State listserv for people interested in sharing news items and ideas. We also talked about possibly using the listserv as a means of planning events, or possibly creating a website devoted to Washington State education news. As far as I know, nothing of the sort exists as of yet.

Rose Sanders speaks

For our final session of the day, we had the opportunity to listen to Rose Sanders speak about the fight for public education and its importance. She suggested that even more difficult than struggles we’ve fought in the past (in which she included the Civil War and Civil Rights movement), the fight we’re engaged in now will be our nation’s greatest test yet. It is so difficult, she said, because those on the other side are so skilled at making people agree with them even when it is against their best interest (more on this from Karran Harper Royal yesterday)“We all use the same language, so who are you supposed to believe? And the truth is hidden in plain sight. Public schools are not teaching people to think critically or for themselves,” Sanders said to a round of applause.

Sanders went on to say that our public school system reflects the views and prejudices of a society still consumed with the notion of white superiority and black inferiority, but that system could not be maintained without the participation of all of us. And it is this that is at the core of the preparation gap, as Sanders called it. “Because you must know this isn’t an achievement gap.”

The audience listened to the history of whites’ educational attempts in the late 1800’s to put blacks in their place as servants. Sanders likened this oppressive education to Eli Broad’s academies for principals today, which teaches principals to put high value on standardized test scores, nearly to the exclusion of other factors.

Sanders called for African-American history to be taught to all students in all parts of our country as a means of awakening large masses of our population. She said we need long-term goals and told the story of Gideon from the Bible, who, with God’s help, defeated an enemy with many more soldiers. This is the fight we’re engaged in, said Sanders. “We have what we need. We just need to go fight now. Because none of us are free until all of us are free.” She ended by saying that we must understand those we fight against as the victim. When we do that, we can understand how to see them as friends and bring them to our side. Sanders received a standing ovation.

The SOS Steering Committee in Attendance

Before the convention ended, there was a question from one of the participants about why there were so many more people at last year’s convention than this year’s. The official answer from the SOS Steering committee was that last year’s convention was a time for a big mass of people, a march, and lots of energy. This year’s convention was intended to be smaller and more focused, so as move us all toward the same page.

All in all, this year’s convention was definitely different. I took a lot of inspiration from it and am excited to go back to work at the end of this month.

You can see a nice collection of other blog posts from the conference here. If you’d like to read about my experiences last year, you can go here, here, or here.