Written by Hannah Lomele
Defend Public Education! On March 4, we need YOU to join students, teachers, parents and community members across New York State as we come together for the People’s March for Education Justice. Black, Brown, immigrant, refugee, low-income, LGBTQIA students, English Language Learners, homeless students and students with special needs are all facing a direct threat from our federal government and from Governor Cuomo. We are marching to protect our youth and demand the New York Legislature do the same. March with us. Follow the hashtag #March4EducationNY for updates! (http://www.aqeny.org/march/)
What is the People’s March for Education Justice?
Significant changes are coming to this nation’s public education system under the new administration, and students, teachers, parents, and community members everywhere are already feeling the negative effects.
The exceptionally unqualified Betsy DeVos was nominated and confirmed as Education Secretary in an unprecedented tiebreaker vote. Representative Thomas Massie introduced a brief and inexplicable bill which reads, in its entirety, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” And just this past Wednesday, the president rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. (Articles elaborating on all three of these disastrous measures forthcoming.)
Whether or not these changes will be enforced or are just examples of political posturing, the thought of their outcomes is catalyzing advocates of equality and opportunity in public education throughout the United States to fight back.
One major response is the People’s March for Education Justice, happening all over New York on March 4, 2017. The march is being heralded by The Alliance for Quality Education, a New York-based coalition dedicated to ensuring high-quality education to all students regardless of location within this highly socioeconomically diverse state. Through a combination of grassroots organization and legislative skill, the AQE intends to hold New York state government fast to its promises for public education, while also honoring all of the incredible strides made in public schools every day.
Why should I march? What would I be marching for?
The AQE has developed a platform comprising several demands, the purpose of which is to ensure racial justice in public education, fully funded public schools, access to higher education, and positive school climates for all. The following list is a thorough description of each demand as well as how everyone, not just students or children, would be affected.
The People’s March for Education Justice demands:
- Full and fair funding for all public schools from preschool through college. Systemic racism is being perpetuated through the current system, in which school funding is based on zip codes and home values. Furthermore, public school districts desperate for funding are pitted against each other, as they must compete for with each other for money. With increased funding, these schools could reduce class sizes as well as foster the growth of art, music, sports, and advanced academics programs. In addition, it is no secret that getting a higher education is an expensive, yet primarily necessary, endeavor. Funding public college would help alleviate crippling student loans and make higher education a possibility for all students.
- An end to the school to prison pipeline. Discriminatory school policing is rampant in this country, and will only increase with the president’s call for more “law and order,” “stop and frisk,” and immigration raids in communities of color. Every student deserves a positive school climate that values them as an individual, where they can feel safe and supported. It is significant to this cause that we decriminalize students both in and out of school.
- Increased access to early care and learning opportunities for babies and toddlers. The cost of quality early care has risen in recent years to impossibly exuberant values. However, it is also essential to preparing children for school and ensuring family economic security.
- An end to the state’s over-reliance on high-stakes testing. There is an epidemic spreading throughout public schools of teachers being forced to “teach to the test.” With too much emphasis on high-stakes testing, schools and teachers are shamed and students are negatively impacted. From the AQE website, “Education practices should be built around teaching and learning, not testing and punishing.”
- Protection for public education, not school privatization. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is infamous for pushing charter schools on Detroit, Michigan, which resulted on test scores lower than the state’s average. With the new administration’s support of charter schools, tax credits, and vouchers, this outcome is a threat to New York’s students.
- The implementation of a culturally responsive curriculum. From AQE, “Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) is a method of engaging, rigorous education that holds high academic expectations for all students is grounded in students’ experiences and interests; cultivates positive academic, racial and cultural identities; develops students’ ability to communicate and connect across cultures; builds student leadership as agents of social change and inspires students to fall in love with learning.”
- Increased support for students in poverty. 42% of children in New York state are living in low-income households; high-poverty, high-minority school districts have significantly less funding than more prosperous schools. It is crucial that there are sufficient safety nets in place for these families, that community schools are invested in, to prevent the vicious cycle of poverty.
- Increased supports for immigrant students and English Language Learners. This is a dual goal, intending to both preserve students’ native languages and cultures while providing them the support needed to succeed in English-speaking schools. This is also a call for translators to help students’ non-English speaking parents become involved in their school careers.
- Protection for the Education Rights of Students with Disabilities. New York state desperately needs to improve its education programs and opportunities for students with disabilities as well as increase parent engagement. This includes creating systems to train teachers and develop strategies and methods for teaching students who struggle with the curriculum. The utilization of alternative methods in teaching and mediation (dispute resolution) would be significant steps towards this goal.
What can I do if I can’t make it to the march?
If you can’t make it to the march, there are a plethora of local action steps you can take to tell your local representatives how the constituents feel about public education. Though writing letters is an effective method, calling your local representative and showing up at town meetings and other local government events are the most powerful ways of making sure your voice is heard. This Friday, March 3, the 100 Days Initiative will be holding a phone bank event, making calls to Representative John Faso to oppose a bill that would allow conceal-carry in all fifty states, a bill that would inevitably affect our schools. Check the Facebook page (facebook.com/100daysteam) to see the script and tell us you made the call!
The 100 Days Initiative is also hosting a de-brief on March 8 at Bard College’s Weis Cinema starting at 1:30. Together with faculty, students, and community members, the de-brief will be an opportunity for those who attended the march as well as those who didn’t to organize and brainstorm solutions to the issues raised by the march’s coordinators.