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"Education Spring" is Here to Stay

Tired of endless accountability mandates, parents and teachers are stepping up the fight to preserve public education -- and using the ballot box to do it.
 
 
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Earlier this year, spontaneous rebellions against top-down mandates and budget cuts inflicted on public schools erupted around the nation.

In a months-long Education Spring, students, parents, teachers and community activists staged boisterous rallies, street demonstrations, school walkouts, test boycotts, and other actions to protest government austerity and top-down “accountability” mandates that damage community schools and diminish students’ opportunities to learn.

The protests spanned the nation and generated national media attention, resulting in a policy impasse in Washington D.C. and many state capitals, as government leaders and politicians scrambled to pause the rollouts of new heavy-handed school punishments.

Prominent pundits began to openly question the intention of a self-defined “reform” movement that has reigned for years but failed to produce any direct benefits to school children. And prominent educators, economists, parent advocates, labor and religious leaders, and community organizers called for a new policy agenda focused on ensuring students have the opportunities and resources they need to learn as much as they can.

Now, with a new school year in session, mass protests have yet to reemerge, but there is widespread evidence that America’s Education Spring has now gone mainstream, affecting voters’ behaviors at the ballot box, lawmakers’ actions in state capitals, and policy administrators’ decisions in carrying out new directives. And the call for an opportunity-based education agenda which began with a much-heralded education declaration has been expanded into a blueprint for positive change in an important new book.

The De Blasio Win On Education

[Recent] electoral victories for Bill de Blasio in the New York City mayoral race and for three “outsiders” in a school board race in Bridgeport, Conn. provided clear rebukes to out-of-touch leadership of education policy.

For years, under the autocratic rule of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City had imposed education policies that typified what has become known as “education reform.”

The “reform” suite of prescriptions calls for, among other things, summarily closing neighborhood schools based on test score data, forcing non-regulated charter schools onto neighborhoods, and ratcheting up testing as a means to sort students by race and cultural background and unfairly rate teachers as ineffective.

But under the Bloomberg regime, the reform agenda widened achievement gaps between minority students and their white, more well-off peers, reduced learning opportunities for the most struggling students, and produced more high school graduates who were not college-ready.

The mayor’s policies had become so unpopular that candidates to replace him vied to see who could be the most “Un-Bloomberg” on education, and the candidate who was the most un-Bloomberg of all – who, according to Democrats for Education Reform, “offered the least support for issues of concern to education reform advocates” – won.

Declaring de Blasio’s victory a “full speed reverse on education reforms,” Politico’s Stephanie Simon wrote, “Exit polls showed that education was a key issue for voters, and de Blasio made it a central plank of his campaign.”

Placing a victory against education reform squarely in the middle of the progressive movement, Peter Beinart, writing at The Daily Beast, called the de Blasio win “an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left.”

The Bridgeport Revolt

Like the de Blasio vicory, the triumph of the three non-establishment candidates in the Bridgeport Democratic primary was, according to one local blogger, “really a referendum on the education reform efforts” of the political establishment.

As in New York, Bridgeport had long been subjected to the dictates of a self-anointed “reformer” – superintendent Paul Vallas – who had repeatedly forced a destructive market-based agenda on school systems in New Orleans, Chicago and Philadelphia, and was then forced onto the citizens of Bridgeport, despite repeated objections.