I've heard it said that if a single person raises an issue, one should listen politely.
If the same concern is repeated by many and in more than one setting, that is a signal to start paying closer attention.
And, when people begin organizing, rallying and protesting… that’s when you know you had better do something – and quickly.
Applying this axiom to recent events in Albany, it would seem New York’s elected leaders and education policymakers should be tripping over themselves to return the State’s public education system to educators, parents and students.
An impassioned crowd of better than 15,000 students, parents, community members and educators jammed Albany’s Empire State Plaza on June 8th to deliver some very clear messages:
Central to their messages was that schools belong to students, parents and educators… not giant testing companies, billionaires and bureaucrats.
They wanted students protected from excessive standardized testing, which replaces creativity with test-taking strategies, and they wanted students' personal information better protected.
These stakeholders in public education insisted that all students must have the opportunity to study art, music and foreign languages, and to benefit from a well-rounded education.
They argued that public education must be considered an investment in the future of our state –and our democracy – not an expense to be cut in hard times.
Most importantly, they were committed to seeing that all schools are returned to being places that nurture teaching and learning.
And they also made clear that inequity doesn't stop at twelfth grade. Inequality must be addressed at our public institutions of higher education as well, along with program quality and broader access.
The message shared at this rally – billed as One Voice United – made clear that we must look anew to ending the achievement gap – the undeniable by-product of poverty and the wealth gap – and that we must restore local control and democratic principles to school budget voting by fixing the flawed property tax cap.
How committed were the more than 15,000 in Albany on June 8th? Committed enough to fill 225 buses and over a thousand cars for the One Voice United rally. Many traveled for hours (the first bus leaving Southwestern New York at 3:45 in the morning). They came to express their concerns and unleash their frustration. Their enthusiasm and energy was great, yet it was also understood that they weren't rallying “against” anyone.
When I addressed the rally, I made it clear: it was a rally “for” children. Children who practitioners call students; parents call daughters and sons; grandparents call grandchildren and communities call their future.
Most importantly, the rally signaled a turning point.
It was a giant step forward in the journey to move public education in the right direction – with the right investments, with equity and opportunity, and with accountability balanced by fairness.
Like the “ripples of hope” that Robert F. Kennedy told us would build a current that together can sweep down the mightiest walls, those gathered in Albany on June eight came together to speak with one voice – united for the future of public education.
The right message to mark the close of another school year.
Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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