Table of Contents

The 2020 Presidential Election: Educators Speak Out

The 2020 Presidential Election: Educators Speak Out

Brian Jones: Transform the System

The next president needs to tackle the roots and mechanisms of persistent inequalities in the nation’s education system. The president must recognize education as a human right and push for a constitutional amendment to guarantee it.

There can be no justice in education without a massive redistribution of resources. The system of local funding should be abolished and replaced with a federally supported equity-based formula (tax the rich, take from the military budget). The president should aim to double the number of K–12 teachers in the country, from roughly 3.5 million to 7 million, immediately raising the quality of education for all children by cutting class sizes in half. The president should set a target for the teaching force to, at the very least, roughly correspond to the nation’s racial and ethnic composition. 

The president should set ambitious goals for the desegregation of the nation’s schools and support enforcement legislation. Desegregation will be meaningless without anti-racist teacher training and culturally responsive and sustaining curricula (including Black history and ethnic studies). The president must strengthen federal funding for schools of education, tied to those priorities, and with funding to support apprenticeships and “grow your own” programs for student teachers to gain experience and qualifications over time with full financial support. 

The president must end all efforts to privatize the nation’s school systems: end the abusive reliance on standardized testing, stop supporting Teach for America, and offer charter schools a choice between reabsorption in the public system or end their dependence on public subsidy.

Remove police from schools and at least double the number of guidance counselors and other professionals who are trained to help young people process and deal with trauma in constructive ways. Parents, educators, and students must have the opportunity to democratically contribute to debate, discussion, and decision-making at all levels of the education system.

Brian Jones is an educator and activist in New York City and the associate director of education for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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Eric Blanc: No New Charters and Legalize the Right to Strike

Two planks top my 2020 wish list: a moratorium on all charter schools and the legalization of the right to strike for all public employees. Not too long ago, both of these demands would have been dismissed as entirely unrealistic. But the strike upsurge across the country has raised the expectations of educators, parents, and students. It’s a good time to be bold.

Faced with teacher mobilizations and the reactionary ineptitude of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, even corporate Democrats are walking back, at least rhetorically, their previous advocacy of school privatization. Corporate education reformers are now on the defensive. But the Democratic Party establishment is remaining characteristically vague about its newfound promises to support teachers and public education. That’s why we need to put forward a clear and unequivocal demand for no new charter schools.

Among the 2020 contenders, Bernie Sanders has already taken the lead on fighting school privatization. His Thurgood Marshall plan lays out a series of important proposals, including a moratorium on for-profit charter schools. Bernie’s plan is a major step forward, but it does not go far enough. Most charters are technically nonprofits, and these are no less damaging for the health of our public schools. 

Winning a full charter moratorium and a massive reinvestment in public education means taking on some of the most powerful billionaires and corporations in the world. Even the most radical president can’t defeat such opponents alone; to win, we’ll need a mass movement from below. For that reason, there’s an urgent need to legalize public sector work stoppages, which are currently allowed only in 12 states. Educators shouldn’t have to risk getting fined or fired to make their voices heard. Every student in this country deserves an excellent public education — and every teacher deserves the right to strike.

Eric Blanc is author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics. A former high school teacher, he writes for The Nation and The Guardian and during the Los Angeles, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Denver, and Oakland public education strikes, was Jacobin magazine’s on-the-ground correspondent.

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Camila Arze Torres Goitia: Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline Once and for All

There are a few students who keep me up at night.

The students who commune in hidden stairwells after being asked to leave their classes. They are the students of color who are more likely to get referrals for subjective offenses like “mild defiance” or “talking too loudly.”

They are the African American students who are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled. They are the students who talk back to teachers and leave in handcuffs.

Presidential promises of tuition-free college, Pell grants, or loan refinancing seem intangible and inconsequential to the students who aren’t even in a classroom because they have been pushed out by a discipline system that targets them because of the color of their skin.

It is imperative that a candidate for president create policies targeted at repairing historic and ongoing harm to nonwhite students. In my view, this begins with a complete reimagining of how schools view discipline. It means a reinvestment in culturally relevant and restorative justice practices in schools. It means fewer police officers and more mental health specialists and school social workers. It means recruiting more teachers of color and putting zero tolerance policies and practices to rest.

To put it bluntly, it means making schools less like prisons.

When U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recommended rescinding Obama-era guidance to reduce racial discrimination by urging schools to “seriously consider partnering with local law enforcement,” my students rose up. I heard from students whose fathers, brothers, sisters, and cousins have had negative interactions with the police — students who have been stopped and frisked without probable cause. I heard from students wary to interact with officers due to language barriers or their documentation status.

I would urge the next president to remember and value these students and to break the school-to-prison pipeline once and for all.

Camila Arze Torres Goitia (carzetorresgoi@pps.net) teaches at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon.

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Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Denisha Jones: Defend the Early Years

The future of the United States depends on the well-being of the nation’s children and their ability to grow up and become citizens who can work to solve the problems of our future. Research shows that early childhood education enhances the life prospects of children and has a high benefit-cost ratio for society’s investment. 

The next president must commit to providing access to high-quality affordable care from infancy that includes prenatal support to all families. We cannot allow a parent’s income or ZIP code to determine whether a child receives high-quality or inferior early care and education. As the next president makes universal care and education a reality, we insist that they listen to early childhood experts who understand what constitutes high quality early education.

The educational policies in place today that focus on academic standards and testing of young children were developed without the input of early childhood professionals, and as a result they are wildly out of step with the best practices of the field and the knowledge base that informs them. Young children learn skills and concepts on very different paths and timetables; one size does not fit all with young kids. Decades of research and theory tell us that children learn best through active, exploratory, creative play, and relationships with caring adults. The overemphasis on academic standards and testing and the belief that technology can substitute for face-to-face interactions must be replaced by a more informed, developmentally appropriate approach to educating young children. 

In addition to positive early learning experiences, young children who experience trauma and adverse childhood experiences need mental health support to build resiliency that can mitigate the harmful effects of traumatic childhoods. And finally, early childhood teachers, whose work is vital to the nation’s health and survival, must be compensated at a level similar to other professionals. n

Denisha Jones is the director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Nancy Carlsson-Paige is professor emerita at Lesley University and co-founder of Defending the Early Years.

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Suzanna Kassouf: We Need the Green New Deal and a Radical Imagination

The next president of the United States has an extraordinary opportunity to completely reimagine what education is and can be. We are living through remarkable times: The world’s scientists are telling us that we have only 11 short years to cut our global emissions in half if we are to have a shot at preventing irreversible and catastrophic climate chaos. Nothing short of a radical transformation of our economy and our society could attempt to achieve this goal. The next president must launch us into the decade of the Green New Deal.

As the myth of eternal economic growth unravels and certain arenas of our economy are forced to contract, we are being given an opportunity to expand the valuable low-carbon work of an emerging care economy. 

At the center of this transformation is educators.

Mass systemic change must be accompanied by a knowledgeable, supported teaching force committed to providing students with the skills, information, and passion necessary to achieve and thrive within a just transition.

The next president of the United States must support a nationwide climate justice resolution in education similar to the one passed by Portland Public Schools in 2016. Teaching students the root causes of the climate crisis, as well as empowering them to seek out and fight for radical solutions, must become a central priority of education. Educators, administrators, and all school personnel must be provided adequate professional development, curricular materials, and any other supports necessary to achieve this goal.

As we risk our own extinction in the brutal, blind, and unrestrained quest for profit, the entire paradigm of domination begins to crumble. Teaching climate justice means teaching racial justice, Indigenous justice, disability justice, LGBTQ+ justice, food justice, healing justice. It means radically reimagining the ways in which we live, work, get around, and learn. It means ushering in a new world. The next president of the United States must center this reality in their education platform.

Suzanna Kassouf (suzannakassouf@gmail.com) is enrolled in the teacher education program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and is student teaching at Lincoln High School. She is an organizer with Sunrise Movement PDX.

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Thomas Nikundiwe and Carla Shalaby: Take Young People Seriously

In the struggle for education as the practice of freedom, revolutionary creativity blooms only in the soil of the margins. The stewardship required to “grow our souls,” according to Grace Lee Boggs, is in the interconnected tangles of the grassroots, so growing new forms of education requires leadership not from the “top” — not from constrained politicians, policymakers, school administrators — but from the creative and unruly “bottom.”

Young people themselves are the leaders we need and the leaders we already have. And an education platform for freedom rests on one central tenet: taking these young people seriously.

Children are solutionaries who brim with changemaking characteristics: imagination, energy, courage, hope. Are we intentionally leveraging their power, creating opportunities for them to lead us in the struggle for liberatory education?

Adults get stuck and confused when working on problems impacting youth because we act on young people instead of with them: protecting them from things they are already surviving; figuring out things they already know; preparing them for some future life instead of loving them through their already complex lives. In their friendships, classrooms, student unions — on paper, on stage, on the basketball court — young people create and solve conflicts, devise and revise policies that govern their relations, share and fight over resources, take chances and measure consequences, learn and teach, fall and pick each other up.

We witness their power in action: college students demanding ethnic studies; high schoolers getting cops out of their schools; 2-year-olds intervening on peers wrecking ant holes; 5th graders discussing whether unfair laws should be followed. We’ve seen kindergartners fetch each other Band-Aids, teenagers comfort each other after a breakup, babies handing back toys other babies drop. These tender and powerful acts of leadership, intended to grow our souls, heal our society, and remake education, are the seeds of freedom. Our job is to offer resources and skills in solidarity — our own water and sunlight — to nurture the revolutionary work young people sow.

Thomas Nikundiwe is executive director of the Education for Liberation Network and Carla Shalaby is a researcher at the University of Michigan.

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Emma Teng: Address the Hate Crisis in Our Schools and Teach Kindness

“Would you rather your child be smart or kind?”

This question has been heard by every student and parent for decades. Everyone knows the preferred answer: One would want their child to be kind. However, what is the U.S. school system actually doing to instill kindness above all else in our future citizens? In a world where mass shootings and hate crimes have become the norm, the answer seems obvious: They’re doing very little.

This year, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report detailing the sudden rise of hate in U.S. schools. Like many problems in the country, the issue seems to stem from one ugly seed: xenophobia. The report speaks the bleak truth that many students have already experienced xenophobia on a daily basis.

The truth is also that xenophobia builds on top of itself. It’s a well-known reality that young children tend to absorb their parents’ beliefs. When these beliefs are filled with hate and they stand uncorrected, everything is at risk.

Here in Mississippi, and across the country, it’s horrible and saddening to hear about teenagers who are too terrified to openly identify as anything but heterosexual, and there are few people in power who see this reaction to such prevalent hate in our schools as an emergency or critical problem with our systems of education.

But when that hate rots into an anger that causes a shooting that kills young people and rocks the country to its very core, a national crisis is at hand — at least for a short while. Without the conscious effort to prevent the further exacerbation of hate at a young age, heightened security and metal detectors are meaningless.

With gun control, immigration, climate change, and abortion all on the table, presidential candidates cannot and must not forget about what is perhaps best described as the hate crisis.

Without addressing this, the country will rot from the inside out.

Emma Teng is a junior at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mississippi. She is an enthusiastic member of the debate team, an Envirothon co-captain, an avid reader, and an artist with a love of cats.

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Julia E. Torres: Our Students Deserve an Education That Is Liberatory

Our students deserve an education that is inclusive, responsive, and liberatory.

Our current system does not encourage intellectual curiosity or freedom and instead creates conditions that produce an uninformed populace — accustomed to performative scholarship and task-based expenditures of time. It would be radical and revolutionary for a presidential candidate to explore policy changes that can free educators and students from the banking model of education: one that centers adults, rather than empowers children, and perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline, among other oppressive structures.

One way to do this would be to explore the repercussions of Brown v. Board of Education for the population of educators of color. The field of education is not as ethnically or racially diverse as it should be, and this directly impacts the types of education students in some of our most underserved and minoritized populations receive.

Another consideration must be the fact that our current funding models create situations where those who have greater financial means still have the option to take their money from the public school system to create academic and cultural silos where their children receive disproportionate economic and social advantages. This polarizes our society in ways that affect every facet of adult life for the children who are both directly and indirectly impacted.
The truth is that many of our students are more likely to see themselves building careers as video gamers and professional YouTubers than scientists, writers, or mathematicians, and both we — and our presidential candidates — need to have honest discussions about why.

When we begin to have honest conversations about the fact that our educational system has not changed drastically despite the influx of “tech money” and the overabundance of people preaching innovative education solutions for profit, we may be able to start brainstorming solutions for a brighter future.

Julia E. Torres is a veteran language arts teacher serving as a librarian for five schools in the far northeast region of Denver Public Schools.

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Leigh Patel: Educational Equity Requires Telling the Truth About Our Country

I return to a sentence I have been repeating since the 2016 election: The atrocities that we are witnessing and experiencing are both precedented and next-level.

The history of politicians, particularly those in the highest office in the U.S. government, has never been about freedom and liberation for all, but that does not mean that we should ever settle for anything less.

Central is the need for integrity and truth-telling. Any 2020 candidate for president should address plainly and clearly the truth that this is not a nation built by immigrants, as is often quipped. Rather, this nation came into its wealth through the attempted erasure of Indigeneity to claim stolen land, coupled with the profit from stolen labor by enslaved peoples, who were claimed as property. Immigrants have been a crucial part of the nation’s rise in wealth, but that history is much more about wage theft and revocable humanity than the worn and threadbare story of individual grit and bootstrap resiliency.

Second is educational equity, again requiring truth. Black, Indigenous, people of color, and queer children and their families do not need fixing or sloppy psychometrics propping up nonstop testing. People are entitled to a society that minimally stops killing their bodies, minds, and souls through legal and extra-legal actions in and outside of schools. We deserve a candidate whose platform recognizes that if we are to dream a new world into existence, we must stop falling for the hustle of school-based achievement measured against white norms. Learning and education are crucial tools for liberation, but these lessons are more readily available by studying the histories of freedom struggles by marginalized peoples.

Lastly and perhaps most fundamentally, a person bold enough to seek this position should have the morality to disallow the selective enclosure, disposal, and exploitation of humans and living entities, including the planet itself.

Leigh Patel is a professor and the inaugural Associate Dean for Equity and Justice at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.

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Ivelis Pérez: Candidates Need to Say “Enough! Basta!”

Presidential candidates need an education platform that puts children first and commits to fully funding public schools. Schools are the heart of our communities and all schools should have the support systems and adequate resources for teachers, students, and families to thrive.

The current educational system is failing to meet the needs of diverse learners and students of color. As I reflect on my own educational journey as a young Puerto Rican girl moving to the United States, I recall experiencing the same struggles many of my own students face today. Our students continue to need culturally responsive educators who are committed to teaching all learners. Our students need welcoming and safe facilities, small class sizes, high-quality instruction, and learning experiences that will prepare them for college and careers in the future.

For far too long, our children and schools have suffered the consequences of educational policies that have tried to dismantle the premises of public education in our country. It’s time for political candidates to stand up and say “Enough! Basta!” to the educational inequalities replicated across school districts in the United States! “Enough! Basta!” to the overcrowded classrooms, rundown buildings, privatization, and underfunding of our public schools!

Political candidates need to truly value the teaching profession and support pathways to recruit and retain culturally diverse teachers. They need to commit to fully funding special education and bilingual education programs. Multilingualism and multiculturalism should be at the forefront of education by ensuring students have access to learning multiple languages and programs that embrace diversity. Most importantly, presidential candidates need to promise educational equity and stand firm against racial and discriminatory practices that directly impact traditionally marginalized student populations and their families. 

We need candidates to be education champions and stand alongside educators as we educate the future leaders of our country. It’s time for political candidates to do the right thing for our students and say “Enough! Basta!”

Ivelis Pérez is a bilingual early childhood education teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools and is past president of the Wisconsin Association for Bilingual Education.

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Arlene Inouye: A New Deal for Public Schools in Los Angeles and Across the Country

Over the past 30 years I have been involved in bringing a progressive agenda to education through different roles. For me, nothing compares to the 2019 United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) historic strike that made our platform around the Schools LA Students Deserve a reality.

Our strike was the largest public sector strike in a single city of the United States in years. It shifted the national narrative around public education and privatization. Our union was strengthened by the upsurge in new grassroots leadership and the unity forged on the picket lines.

This new school year UTLA is amplifying the power of our strike by vigorously enforcing the new contract and pushing a broad and bold platform — Our New Deal for Public Schools — to reclaim the promise of public education. It leans us further into the values that we believe in, and is not just a pledge. It is an organizing strategy to empower our school communities; it drives us in making our contract wins real through enforcement; it frames our reopener and health care bargaining campaigns as community issues; it is a mobilizing strategy to get out the vote and win four school board seats; it drives the essential work to pass the Schools and Communities First Initiative to close the corporate loopholes in Proposition 13. We hope that this organizing will shape the narrative for the U.S. presidential elections and commitment to increase IDEA and Title 1 funding for public education.

Our New Deal for Public Education are the principles that drive our work and call for a charter moratorium and end to the unregulated expansion of the charter industry. The five pillars of Our New Deal for Public Schools are Nurture the Whole Child, Respect Educators, Respect Students and Parents, Fully Fund Public Schools, and Stop Privatization.

We have shown that when we organize — with each other, with parents, and with students — we can win. We made history in 2018–19. We are ready to make history in 2019–20 with Our New Deal for Public Schools — and we need presidential candidates who will make a New Deal for Public Schools at the federal level too.

Arlene Inouye is the secretary for United Teachers Los Angeles and led the UTLA bargaining team through the 2019 strike and contract fight.

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Ashana Bigard: We Are at a Tipping Point

Dear the next president,

America is always a beautiful vision, whether that vision comes true is truly up to you.

The educational platform you employ is so important because our country is at a tipping point. The wealth gap is growing and people are becoming more disgruntled, more frustrated, and have less options and less resources. 

If 21st century America is to survive we need people who are critical thinkers, negotiators, farmers, scientists, and physicists.

We need people who see what has been done to planet and what can be done to fix it. 

We need visionaries, great thinkers, and people who are willing to grow up and devote themselves to public service in a better world. 

This can only be achieved through holistic education.

I would hope that your platform would be the one that Finland adopted in the 1960s, when they found themselves at the bottom for education they decided to focus on the whole child — best practices but also happiness, the tools they needed to become more productive citizens, to care about themselves and their family and their communities, to try to make the world a better place, as well as fostering the love of learning.

I would hope that at the least we would adopt the best practices around early childhood brain development, adolescent brain development, and whole child development making that a part of every educational institution.

We will strive to give children who need it more instead of only giving more to the wealthy. To make school again places where children have books, recess, lockers, showers, band practice, plays, musicals, and TV stations that produce shows about lunch meals and upcoming events. That our schools would finally become places of the true democracy where we operate schools of from an equity lens. Places with kindness and caring are part of the curriculum.

We can build a better world by treating each other with true love, true compassion, and true caring. Making schools a place where giving our children all they need to be successful citizens and happy people is the rule not the exception.

Ashana is a fifth generation New Orleanian and lifelong resident of the Crescent City. As a mother of three, Ashana has been a powerful force for equity and social justice in Louisiana, especially in her work advocating for children and families in Louisiana. Ashana is a writer, educator, and activist who currently advocates and consults with EJP and FFLIC. In addition, she does facilitation work through Theater for Solidarity. Ashana is a fellow with The Progressive magazine, serves as a Community Faculty member with Tulane University’s Center for Public Service, and is also a board member of BENOLA.

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