FLORIDA PUBLIC EMPLOYEES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: MARLA KILFOYLE OR MELISSA TOMLINSON
BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION PROTEST RALLY RESULTS IN MEETING
WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN
–Call for National Teachers Congress–
–Halt to Destructive and Discriminatory Education Policies–
July 31, 2014, Washington, D.C.–U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), a burgeoning grassroots organization, to gain an understanding of the concerns of the 50,000+ member group which has been highly critical of the Secretary’s policies. The BATs had been protesting outside the Department of Education (DOE) building on July 28, and met with the Secretary during a post-rally meeting which BATs had scheduled with senior staff in the DOE’s Civil Rights department that same afternoon.
BATs articulated numerous concerns about Race to the Top policies. In addition to criticisms, they also suggested a way forward. Dr. Yohuru Williams, an author, historian and education activist from Connecticut, suggested the Secretary convene a “National Teachers Congress” to invite a frank discussion about policy concerns. DOE staffers promised to give the idea serious consideration.
BATs Co-Founder Mark Naison sounded the alarm on civil rights. Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, said, “These policies, promoted with Civil Rights rhetoric, are riding roughshod over the civil rights of residents of inner city communities. School closings, privately run charter schools, chasing away teachers of color—all of these things are destroying our public schools, and they need to stop.”
When Secretary Duncan surprised BATs by joining the meeting, he asked specifically about BATs’ concerns about policies regarding special needs students. BATs General Manager Marla Kilfoyle responded.
“I told the Secretary what I know as a teacher and a mother of a special needs student,” said Kilfoyle. “The policies push schools to expose special needs students to abusive levels of testing, and force school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s,” Kilfoyle said. (IEPs are Individualized Education Plans which are required by law to help ensure special needs students gain greater access to curriculum).
Officials at the meeting seemed baffled by the intensity of anger teachers across the country have directed at the DOE. BATs explained that the Secretary fueled teacher mistrust by making statements showing disrespect for teachers from his support of the firings of Central Falls, Rhode Island teachers in 2009, to his comments on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans public schools, from his support of Cathy Black for NYC school chancellor to his recent endorsement of the Vergara decision undermining teacher due process in California.
“If provocative comments like these stop,” Naison said, “maybe teachers will regard the Department more favorably.”
When DOE officials insisted that school closings, charter school preferences, and the use of test scores to rate teachers and schools were not the sources of problems, Chicago parent activist Shoneice Reynolds and her 10-year-old son Asean Johnson described in depth how Chicago community schools were first starved, then closed, and replaced with privately run charter schools which were often limited in their programming and sometimes abusive in their discipline policies. They explained that the result was stifling parent voices, depriving children of great neighborhood schools, and making Chicago neighborhoods more dangerous. Reynolds and Johnson have been outspoken in their criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s implementation of DOE policies.
At the meeting, NEA BAT Caucus Liason Larry Proffitt, a middle school teacher, described how rating teachers on the basis of test scores was driving the best teachers out of the profession in almost every school district in his state of Tennessee and was severely constricting the curriculum.
DOE officials including Secretary Duncan and James Kim, of the Office of Civil Rights, promised future meetings with the BATs.
The rally earlier in the day drew over 500 teachers, parents, and education activists from 38 states. It marked the one-year anniversary of BATs, which started as a Facebook group that attracted 20,000 members within two weeks. A list of ten demands included ending Common Core State Standards.
“We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise,” Naison concluded. “We intend to continue doing just that. Whether they will listen, only time will tell.”
Additional information is available at http://badassteachers.blogspot.com and www.badassteachers.org. Spokespersons are available in every state and may be reached by emailing Marla Kilfoyle or Melissa Tomlinson at email@example.com.
Press Release written by CA BAT Karen Wolfe
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