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5 Ways That Education Activists Pushed Back in 2014

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Activism, and fighting for the common good, are as old as the human race itself. In P-20 education, the last decade has seen groups that have been traditionally left out of the decision making process, fighting for a seat at the table. To the surprise of some and elation of others, many of these education activists groups have be overwhelmingly successful, especially this past year. In honor of those of us that fight for what's right, I decided to do a piece discussing the top ways that education activists pushed back against "the man" in 2014.

1. BAEO sues Gov. Bobby Jindal. A black education group that once supported Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is funding parents and teachers in a lawsuit against him, charging that he is trying to eliminate the state from the controversial Common Core standards and associated assessments. The BAEO supports the standards and believes all children deserve access to high-quality education and the group strives to promote parental involvement.

The lawsuit was filed the day after Louisiana lawmakers filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge district court requesting instant suspension of the Common Core standards in the state's schools. Lawmakers believe the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state education department neglected to follow the state's Administrative Procedures Act for integrating the Common Core standards in the first place.

In June, Gov. Jindal issued orders to eradicate his state from the Common Core standards, including the assessments linked to them. He based this choice on the argument that the decision by the Louisiana Department of Education to sign onto the PARCC Common Core test consortium was unlawful. Jindal claims it bypassed the state's procurement law that mandates an open bidding process.

I understand the reasons the Black Alliance for Education disagrees with Gov. Jindal's lack of Common Core support. As a former supporter, Jindal is now fighting the standards, leaving many people in the state confused and frustrated with the sudden changes and uncertainties. Louisiana, like many states, is full of controversy over Common Core, and this debate appears to be one of the biggest feuds yet.

2. Gov. Jindal sued again over common core. Talk about déjà vu. Within a week of BAEO's lawsuit, another group of Louisiana parents, teachers, and a foundation that runs charter schools also sued the governor and said that he lacks the authority to withdraw his state from the Common Core national academic standards.

Stephen H. Kupperman, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs said, "We think the governor has overstepped his bounds and doesn't have any right to do this. We don't want to hold the children of the state hostage to somebody's ambitions."

In June, Jindal suspended testing contracts that the state education department planned to use to purchase testing material associated with Common Core for the upcoming school year. The lawsuit filed states that the Governor has violated the Louisiana Constitution by issuing a number of orders intended to undermine Common Core.

As a potential 2016 presidential candidate, Jindal once was a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards. He once believed that the standards were a way to "raise expectations for every child" in a pro-common Core ad. As the standards experienced growing criticism, particularly from Tea Party supporters, Gov. Jindal's support vanished too.  He now opposes Common Core, and believes that the standards are a federal intrusion into local education.

I am really interested to hear what happens next in Louisiana. Common Core raises a lot of controversy, and it is unfortunate the people in Louisiana and the Governor aren't seeing eye to eye when it comes to the use of these standards within the state's schools.

3. Philadelphia educators call for more Pre-K programs. In September, 500 preschool-aged kids joined the Philadelphia school district at Franklin Square to call for more funding for early childhood education in the city, and the state. Right now less than 20 percent of the children in Pennsylvania are able to access state-funded preschool programs -- and that's a number the school districts, and the advocacy group Pre-K for PA, believe must change.

Philadelphia schools superintendent William R. Hite stood before the kids and their parents and called for an increase in the amount of resources and educational opportunities for the kids in his school system, particularly the ones who are Pre-K age. Hite said that the difference between children who are able to take advantage of early childhood education opportunities and those who do not really does show up later in the schooling process.

The rally is certainly a step in the right direction, not just for Philadelphia schools, but for all urban K-12 ones that often suffer lower achievement rates, lower graduation rates and higher behavioral problems than suburban or rural settings. Giving kids an early start in academics and the structure of a school setting is important to boosting the success of K-12 students and also to the overall communities impacted by these students.

4. Malala Yousafza speaks out in favor of education as an anti-terrorism tactic. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafza had a message for President Obama in the fall of 2014: stop fighting terrorism with more violence, and invest those resources in education.

Speaking to a crowd at the Forbes under 30 summit in New York City, the 17-year-old Pakistani woman said that she believes attacks against terrorists through drone technology and other ground violence only further the problem. Killing a few terrorists will not squelch the larger problem -- only education can do that. She said she had expressed those very sentiments to President Obama in a private meeting.

She did not outline his response to her thoughts, but merely said that he had "political" answers to her concerns.

The sentiments that Malala holds are actually pretty American in scope. In policy and practice, we believe that educating our children is a better use of energy than the futility of changing the minds of those already entrenched in one belief system or another. There seems to be a paradox though in how we behave here in the States, and how we act when dealing with issues outside the country. Instead of looking for a long-term solution to issues like terrorism, like the education Malala is emphasizing, we handle the immediate problem (that seems to return again with even greater fury).

Perhaps the "political" answers that the President gave to Malala are the necessary ones in order to keep us safe. But perhaps Malala's suggestions should still be taken seriously, as a simultaneous initiative that could lead to long-term peace.

5. Education supporters ask Bill de Blasio to add 25 schools. In May, the Coalition for Educational Justice released a report that urged New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to reconsider his school budget for the coming school year to include $12.5 million for 25 new community schools. The new schools would be housed in existing buildings and would double as community centers for health care, adult education and job training.

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio promised to open 100 new community schools and now education advocates say it is time to start making good on those words. The mayor's proposed education budget for the 2014 - 2015 school year currently has no money allocated for community schools. It leads to the obvious speculation -- how can 100 community schools be opened if there isn't money to make good on even one in next year's budget?

Opening the schools was a pivotal component to de Blasio's campaign, along with his fervor to establish universal preschool and more after-school programs at the middle school level.

So far de Blasio has not done a whole lot when it comes to adding educational opportunities for New York City children. One of his first moves in office was to start charging rent to charter schools that had previously been given free access to city buildings. School choice advocates marched against the decision, but community school supporters cheered it.

This action, coupled with the newest lack of funding for community schools, points to the possibility that de Blasio was bigger on talk in his campaign than on action in his actual term.

What would you add to my list of ways that activists spoke up and had some success for education in 2014?

If you would like to invite Dr. Lynch to speak or serve as a panelist at an upcoming event, please email him at [email protected].

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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