SOS March on Washington a major step forward in the resistance to high-stakes testing and the defense of true public schools and teachers in the USA

The rally, on one of the hottest days in one of the hottest cities in the USA, took place before the march. Dozens of speakers gave moving speeches to the Save Our Schools (SOS) march in Washington, D.C. on July 30, 2011, despite oppressive heat. The speakers who came from all parts of the country to denounce high-stakes testing and the Obama administration's Race to the Top education policies, ranged from celebrity writers like Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch and celebrities like Matt Damon and Jon Stewart to rank-and-file teachers and parents from dozens of states. The rally that preceded the march to the White House lasted more than one hour and heard from dozens of people, ranging from teacher and parent activists to the main speakers, who delivered some of the major themes of the event.

Nathan Saunders (above, center behind banner), President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union, helped organize the union's presence at the SOS rally and march on July 30, 2011. Saunders and the new leadership of the famous D.C. union had helped organize the resistance to the corporate "school reform" agenda of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Fenty's hand-picked schools chief Michelle Rhee. Fenty's electoral defeat prompted Rhee's melodramatic resignation as head of the D.C. schools, while corporate media support enabled her to continue to spin her version of what happened during her tenure in D.C. while all the facts in the D.C. school contradict her version of reality. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.March organizers and Substance reporters estimated that at least 5,000 people participated in the rally and march. (Because of the intense heat, many of those who were participating were found seated under the white cooling canopies around the perimeter of the rally site, making it difficult to do a complete count of the entire event, which spread over more than two hours).

As he had during the pre-march conference, author Jonathan Kozol made the direct connection between the 2011 March on Washington and the 1963 March on Washington that included the famous "I Have a Dream" section from the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. Many of the organizers of the SOS march were consciously trying to wrest the civil rights legacy from the hands of corporate propagandists who promote high-stakes standardized testing and the current attacks on public education.

The SOS conference, rally, march, and "congress" was definitely a work in progress, as the thousands who came to D.C. for the rally could see. The most popular slogan of the march was the one opposing high-stakes testing and the policies of the Obama administration's Department of Education under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Speaker after speaker denounced the government's "Race To The Top" program and the scapegoating of public schools and public school teachers by the Obama administration. "Our problem is poverty, not our schools," Diane Ravitch and many others insisted.

Actor Matt Damon (above at podium) told the crowd at the rally that he came to his support via his mother, an educator (who introduced him at the rally). Damon told the crowd that he represented millions of Americans who support public schools and public school teachers against the attacks by the corporate school reform agenda. (Damon's mother in in the rear of the above photo, in the white tee shirt). Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.Corporate media attention was another story. It was scant, considering the fact that the march and rally had some celebrity participants (Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and actor Matt Damon) and some very well know writers (Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch), had been endorsed by most of the major teacher groups in the USA (including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) and dealt with one of the three or four biggest policy issues facing the USA today.

However, media-watcher Robert A. Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), told Substance there was quite a bit of media attention. He noted, though, the absence of coverage by liberal media outlets.

"CNN, NBC and the CBS DC affiliate (WUSA) all had cameras there (so did Al Jazeera English)," said Schaeffer. "Also covering the event were Claudio Sanchez of NPR, Pacifica, WTOP the main radio news station in DC, and a producer for PBS News Hour (no camera, however, but they can get tape from the commercial networks). Much more conspicuous by their absence and total lack of coverage of SOS before, during or (so far) after DC was self-styled "liberal" media such as the Nation, New Republic, Progressive, MSNBC, etc — these are the kinds of national outlets that could/should have helped us build the crowd.

"There was tons of trade (EdWeek, Ed Daily, etc.) coverage plus bloggers for Daily Kos, Huffington Post, American Independent, and lots of state/local "left" news outlets such as Substance.

"And, remember, that major media were simultaneously covering the Senate, House and White House end-game on the debt ceiling deal-making on a weekend day when they have fewer staff available. Unfortunately, when both houses of Congress went back into session at noon on Saturday, CNN shifted the crew they were going to use to shoot live cut-ins from the SOS Rally to Capitol Hill (they still did nearly-live coverage by shooting footage and having a courier rush it back to their office, which is just north of Union Station).

"This is typical in my experience — many so-called "corporate media" outlets do a better job (more stories reported more accurately) covering the work of FairTest and related groups than our so-called allies do," Schaeffer said.

CNN focused on the fact that actor Matt Damon was supporting the event and helping build the movement people hope grows out of it. Damon was also quoted in the Washington Post article on the march and rally. But none of the quotes gives justice to the content of what he actually said, which was posted on You Tube soon after the rally. The URL for Damon's remarks, for those who cannot get it, is:

A crowd pleaser was that Matt Damon was introduced by his own mother, who, as the actor pointed out, was a professor of early childhoood education and a critic of high-stakes so-called "standardized" tests herself.

"One of my sons became very well known," she said. "He’s Matt Damon. He came to join you in this sweltering heat. We’re standing up for every child’s right to a quality public education. Thank you Matt for joining us. …"

A large number of Chicago Teachers Union members came to D.C. by car and a union sponsored bus, carrying the signs that they have carried in Chicago as the protests against the attacks on Chicago's public schools have grown. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The actor told the group that he had flown in from work in Vancouver, on the other side of the continent, because of his commitment to what the marchers were doing. "I really had to tell you all in person that I think you are awesome," he said. "I was raised by a teacher. My Mom was a prof of early childhood education. I attended public schools.I would not trade that education and that experience for anything."

"All of these things that I value most came from the way I was parented and taught…." he told the cheering crowd. "And none of these qualities …. That make me who I am can be tested…"

His speech, which was obviously carefully prepared, went on to describe the difference between the public education had had received and what was happening today. "My teachers were free to approach me and the other kids like an individual puzzle," he said. "They were empowered to unlock our potential…" and not forced to conform to some test prep model of teaching.

He went on to narrate and early example of test resistance: "I did have a brush with standardized tests," he told the cheering crowd. "My Mom went to the principal’s office and said I wouldn't take the test. 'It’s stupid. it won’t tell you anything, and it will just make my son nervous...'"

"I don’t know where I’d be today if my teachers’ job security was based on some standardized test…" he told the crowd. I honestly don’t know where I would be today if [test prep] was the kind of education I had. I sure as hell know I wouldn’t be here..."

He told the people at the SOS march that he was speaking for millions of people who were backing them and the demands of the march. He hammered the corporate reformers driving things. "You enclounter some simple minded policy that has been driven in to your life by some corporate reformer who never tauight anyone anything..." he reminded the crowd, to rousing cheers.

And then he ended his remarks by promising that the movement would grow. "You have an army of regular people standing behind you," he said. "We love you. We thank you. And we will always have your back!"


"Actor Matt Damon rallied teachers Saturday at a march in Washington decrying the widespread use of standardized testing to judge how well teachers, students and schools are performing," CNN reported. "A group of teachers and education advocates organized the Save Our Schools March in an effort to inspire change in standardized testing policies, according to founder Anthony Cody. Critics say standardized testing takes teachers' focus off their core mission of educating students."

After assembling at the Eclipse and hearing the speeches, poems and other things, the group, mostly teachers, marched to the White House.

"And none of these qualities that I just mentioned, none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, none of these qualities that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful professionally, none of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested," he said.


The Washington Post report follows:

Teachers march on Washington, By Michael Alison Chandler and Sarah Khan, Published: July 30, 2011

There are many reasons thousands of teachers traveled across the country to protest in front of the White House on Saturday — including to oppose charter schools, to fight for equal funding for poor schools, and to have more say in public education policies.

But at a noisy rally starting at noon under soaring temperatures, their message boiled down to one point, which was summed up by the sound check before the first speaker took the stage:

Tap. Tap. “No testing, no testing, 1-2-3.”

The assembled teachers, education advocates and parents vented a frustration they said has been building since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, which made standardized testing the centerpiece of a school reform agenda championed by George W. Bush.

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, many thought their long-standing complaints, about how the policy has imposed unfair penalties on the poorest schools and how it has narrowed curriculum to make time for test preparation, would finally be heard.

But three years later, the law is still intact, more schools are being labeled as failing, and standardized tests are starting to be used to make teacher tenure and termination decisions.

“We had reason to believe from his campaign promises that Obama was going to reverse the damage that this law has caused,” said Jonathan Kozol, a public education activist and author. “He has betrayed us. . . . That’s why we are here today.”

And so about 5,000 people, according to the organizers’ estimates, stood on the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument and waved posters that read “Boycott NCLB” and “Teach Me, Don’t Just Test Me.”

[img=3762]A row of white tents on the edge of the crowd offered shade next to an art display of a graveyard meant to represent “the very real destruction that NCLB has brought to the important experiences and processes of learning.” Most teachers baked on the lawn, waving fans emblazoned with the Washington Teachers’ Union logo.

The “Save Our Schools March” was part of a four-day event including a two-day conference at American University with dozens of workshops, such as “Winning the Testing War” and “Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” There was also a half-day strategy session and a film festival, headlined by the documentary “The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting for Superman,” a response to the 2010 film “Waiting for Superman,” which featured then-D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and which promoted charter schools.

The event, which was endorsed by the two major teachers unions, took about a year and $150,000 to organize. At least a dozen other cities hosted sister rallies or events. The demonstration’s leaders are a core group of teachers, parent activists and education bloggers who maintain that federal policies are too influenced by business leaders and too little by educators who know how policies play out in classrooms.

The White House invited some of the organizers to speak with education policy advisers Friday, but the organizers turned down the offer, saying they would be willing to meet after Saturday’s march. “July 30 is your opportunity to listen to us,” they said in a news statement.

Bonnie Van Roekel, a 61-year-old music teacher from Commerce City, Colo., said she came to the march because “testing has become a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit” in her district. Teachers are expected to follow scripts for each lesson, a new strategy intended to boost scores, she said. Like many in the crowd, she wore red (“for public ed”) .

Sonya Romero, 36, said she flew from Albuquerque because “No Child Left Behind is demoralizing New Mexico.” The state has a population that is poorer and more diverse than much of the country, she explained. By now, the vast majority of the schools statewide have been classified as “failing” under the federal law, which sets increasingly high pass rates for state tests each year.

Under that “failing” label, Romero’s school has cut back time for physical education and recess, and she has been required to use a new reading curriculum, she said. The regimen “stifles imagination,” she said.

The speakers included a long list of longtime education advocates and a few Hollywood celebrities whose mothers are teachers or public education advocates.

“The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart sent his support by jumbo-size screen rather than driving to the march because, he said, “the dog ate his car.”

Actor Matt Damon elicited cheers when he commiserated with the crowd. “This has been a horrible decade for teachers,” he said. “The next time you feel down or exhausted . . . please know there are millions of people behind you.”

With that send-off, they marched off the lawn, up 17th Street and around the White House, many chanting, “Education under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back.”



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