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Public Education Reform Successes of 2013

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In 2013, the American public was schooled in a lot of things. The iPhone 5s brought even more smartphone technology into the hands of consumers, Paula Deen showed her true colors in widely-read discrimination court documents and unfortunately, people Googled the term "how to twerk" in the millions. When it comes to popular culture, 2013 was a year of massive revelations and discussion.

Though not as flashy as pop culture headlines, public education saw a shift towards advocacy from within. It was not a year where laws were simply handed down—students, parents, teachers and activists pushed back against the decisions impacting the future of their public schools.

Student-driven change. When it comes to the paths of their educations, K-12 public school students are standing up for their rights more than ever before and empowering positive changes in their learning experiences. In April, over 100 Chicago Public Schools students made news when they skipped their standardized testing to protest the tests instead. Speaking to the press, one CPS student said that the protest was designed to draw attention to the fact that "standardized testing should not decide the future of our schools and students." Student-led zombie flash mobs took place in front of the Philadelphia School District headquarters to oppose the closing of public schools in the city. Hoards of students in other cities like Denver, Providence and Philadelphia followed suit and spoke out against the advance of high-stakes testing and school closings. They rallied together and marched relentlessly to prove their strong dislike for standardized testing - and the belief the effects are not a true measure of success in the real world. While there may have been some parental encouragement behind the scenes, these students appeared to act alone in their pursuit of a better public school learning experience.

Parents as reformers. In California, the parent-led "trigger movement" made waves as parents demanded more from failing public schools. Dessert Springs Elementary School in Adelanto is an example of a school that was transformed from a consistently failing school (students had reading scores in the bottom 10 percent of the state) to a public charter that better served its student body - all because parents took a stand and demanded the change. The Lone Star State had some big news this year when a coalition led by parents was successful in petitioning the state to reduce by two-thirds the number of tests required to graduate high school. In 2011, the state required at least 15 high-stakes tests on students prior to earning their diploma. Two years of hard work later, the Texas legislature passed an education bill reducing the number of tests to five.

Activists step up. During 2013, civil rights advocates found an audience with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In January, these public-school supporters gathered in DC to discuss their grievances to the Department of Education. The Journey for Justice came as Chicago was on the cusp of closing around 50 schools, and New York and Philadelphia had voted to close more than 20 each. These activists had every right to speak up - research shows that the closing of public schools in urban areas has the biggest negative effect on Latino and Black students. Mass school closures often disrupts children's learning, among other effects on displaced students. Perhaps the biggest public school activism success story for 2013 was the teacher union-led Scrap the Map in Seattle. After months of protesting Washington's mandatory MAP standardized testing at Garfield High School, a decision was made to make the test optional for students throughout the state. In 2013, public school activists came out en masse and took to their local, state and federal legislators to protest detrimental closings and other public school legislation.

What positive changes for public schools did you see take place in 2013?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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