Monday December 9 has been declared a Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education. This movement, initiated by AFT (American Federation of Teachers), is designed to oppose those who demand and pursue austerity, polarization, privatization and de-professionalization of our public schools. In Utah, AFT hosted two Reclaiming the Promise of Education town hall meetings in October and November. These meetings brought educational leaders, civic leaders, legislators, and the community together to discuss the importance of supporting our public schools.
Several clear messages emerged from the dialog at these meetings. First, public school teachers and support staff are working tirelessly to make sure students succeed and are supported. Second, public school students appreciate their teachers. Third, if public schools are failing in Utah, it's not the fault of the students or their teachers, it's a lack of support for our public schools.
A statement often used in school administration circles is "If a student fails, you as a teacher must own it!" So who takes ownership if teachers fail? Who takes ownership if public schools fail? Who's going to step up and own it?
Administrators can own it by ensuring; 1) practical professional development, 2) time to implement new practices and create curriculum, 3) practical and useful collaboration meetings, 4) less formal testing of students by collecting data using multiple types of assessments, 5) smaller class sizes, 6) equitable evaluation systems, 7) words of encouragement for their teachers, 8) they are modeling best teaching practices as instructional leaders.
Utah lawmakers can own it by guaranteeing; 1) funding that will move Utah's per pupil spending rapidly towards national averages, 2) funding that will surpass student growth, 3) legislation focused on privatization of public education does not pass, 4) a reduction in charter schools and money poured into neighborhood public schools, 5) support for compulsory education.
The press and media can own it by reporting: 1) successes in public education, 2) movements and initiatives from corporations to privatize and destroy public education, 3) human interest stories that show the power of public education to better our communities.
The public can own it by committing to: 1) serve on community councils, PTA boards, or other school committees, 2) volunteer time to tutor students or help in classrooms, 3) vote for student, teacher, and public education friendly school board candidates, 4) writing to their elected officials in support of public education and voting out those officials if they refuse to fund and support public education, 5) being a voice for public education and refusing to let the small majority of people bent on destroying public education be the public's voice.
On Monday, December 9, the best action all of us can take as individuals to Reclaim the Promise of Education is to make a commitment to fight for our public schools. Once we commit, we can build a movement to ensure that our public schools will remain for generations to come.
Brad Asay is president of AFT Utah.