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SOS Event Draws Small Crowd, Focuses on Organizing

In sharp contrast to last summer's celebrity-attended rally and march to the White House, the Save Our Schools gathering this year proved a quiet, 150-person affair.

Held this weekend in the regal Wardman Park Marriott in downtown Washington, the convention featured presentations on an array of topics including advocacy, social justice, and elevating student voice, and a keynote by author and activist Jonathan Kozol. Attendees also attended workshops during which they crafted official policy stances to eventually present to policymakers (though these sessions were closed to the media).

Mike Klonsky, Chicago-based educator and activist who is a first-year member of the SOS steering committee, said of the smaller scale of this year's gathering: "We have a different purpose here. This isn't a mass protest march. It's an attempt to consolidate the organization. ... Going forward, to be a force for change, we have to organize ourselves."

Stan Karp, a 30-year teacher and editor for Rethinking Schools, explained that the group is now "inwardly focused." What the march did last year was "build a bridge between national academics and grassroots efforts," he said, but the logistics of pulling off the event "stretched them [SOS organizers] to the gills." This year "it's more about grassroots efforts and talking to each other," he said.

"The [presidential] campaign is probably a big distraction, too," Karp added.

There were some notable absences this year. Education historian Diane Ravitch—a key player and, according to Klonsky, funder of the group—did not make the trip, but she allayed rumors that she's no longer affiliated with SOS by explaining on her personal blog that she's busy working on her next book. (Ravitch co-writes an opinion blog on Education Week as well.) Matt Damon, the actor who gave a rousing pro-teacher speech last year, did not attend either, though his mother Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a veteran teacher-educator, gave a keynote Friday on objecting to early-childhood testing.

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