At least 300 teachers and education advocates picketed outside the venue of an education reform retreat in Lake Placid Sunday. They are upset that no educators were participating in the upscale Camp Philos organized by a group backed by Wall Street hedge fund managers with a goal of privatizing education.
The Camp Philo conference, sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform, was billed as a “philosopher’s camp for education reformers”. Among its attendees are Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, former U.S. Education Department assistant secretary for civil rights Russlynn Ali, and film maker M. Night Shyamalan. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is the honorary co-chair.
The problem for the hundreds of teachers, educators and education advocates who gathered in protest in front of the Camp Philos venue is that the education retreat shunned educators. Three teachers tried to pay the $1,000 registration fee. All were rejected. At a forum held before a march to the venue, retired Greenville Central School District music teacher Gail Richmond said she had registered for Camp Philos. “I was very interested in hearing what they had to say. I was interested in being part of the discussion. I thought it would be very worthwhile to be able to express our point of view from a public educator’s standpoint.”
But two days after she successfully registered, her fee was refunded and registration cancelled. When she inquired, Richmond was told they had overbooked. “I wish I could believe that they were overbooked. But I don’t believe that they were overbooked. I believe that they really don’t want the voices of public educators heard.”
Saranac Lake Teachers Association Co-President Don Carlisto, a member of the NYS United Teachers Board of Directors, helped organize the protest. “The kinds of decisions that are going to be made by the attendees of Camp Philos are the kinds of decisions that will impact public schools where I work and where kids in my community go to school. Those kinds of decisions about public schools should be made best by practitioners and parents and community members, out in the open. It certainly seems strange that we would have a conversation about something as important as education and not include those that are practitioners.”
Following a seminar at a nearby hotel, more than 300 teachers and education advocates donned rain ponchos and opened umbrellas to march the quarter mile to the Whiteface Lodge. NYSUT, the Alliance for Quality Education and the American Federation of Teachers organized the “Picket in the Pines” protest. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten stood on the soapbox to rouse the teachers. “Are you willing to reclaim the promise of public education? Yes! We are going to fight til we put the public back in public education in this great state of New York!”
Chris Tanis from New Paltz was holding a sign in the rain. “The ridiculous emphasis on high stakes mandatory state testing destroys any chance for real instruction. Parents and teachers were excluded from what’s going on at Camp Philos They’re selling us down the river to corporate interests. Parents and teachers have to stand up and say something.”
Bob Ladoucer traveled from Odgensberg. “We’re here for our kids. We want to make sure that they are having the best possible education they can. And they’re not right now. I’m concerned about the privatization of education. We shouldn’t be selling education to the highest bidder.”
Paul Pecorale from Long Island was also standing in the rain. “I teach in Patchogue-Medford. My biggest concern would be the conglomerates that are trying to create this concept that charter schools are the way that public education needs to be done and it’s not anywhere close to that because we in the schools really know what to do. Public schools need to remain public schools.”
Governor Cuomo was scheduled to attend on Sunday. But according to reports, rather than traveling to Lake Placid, he sent a recorded message.
Monday afternoon WAMC received an emailed statement from Joe Williams, Executive Director of Education Reform Now, on picketing of the Philosopher's Camp:
“The Philosopher's Camp--Camp Philos--provides a forum to exchange policy and political ideas on education reform among the nation's top elected officials, advocacy leaders, and philanthropists. One of our goals at the Philosopher's Camp is to reinvigorate and challenge leaders across the country to prioritize quality, equity, and excellence and to recapture the promise of an education for all schoolchildren.
Though there may be some with a different perspective from ours, we encourage all visitors to join us in supporting area businesses while here.
At the end of the day, the Philosopher's Camp seeks to support Lake Placid, engage leaders across all levels of government, and demand the best for American public school children who benefit from critically needed education reforms.”
The email also noted that Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, and Education Reform Now are political reform organizations that cultivate and support "...leaders in the Democratic party who champion America’s public schoolchildren." It continued that Camp Philos was sponsored by Education Reform Now.