Dear Rethinking Schools readers,
For almost a decade, we have been involved in an effort to build a multiracial organization of public school teachers, parents and community organizers known as the National Coalition of Education Activists (NCEA). Today we write to urge readers of Rethinking Schools to help keep this effort alive.
NCEA began when a group of education activists met in the mid-eighties to discuss a response to the wave of conservative school “reform” that was raining down on us from above. Some were connected to local projects like the Rethinking Schools group in Milwaukee, and the Central Park East schools in New York. Others were activists in their unions (both NEA and AFT) or classroom teachers looking to overcome their isolation. Still others were parent advocates or organizers seeking strategies to reverse the school failure that was devastating their communities.
From the start, NCEA was a grassroots, activist effort to find ways that people with common interests in improving our schools could work together. It was also a place where school activists tried to break down some of the formidable barriers that keep all of us — teachers and parents, union activists and community organizers, whites and people of color, people from different class backgrounds, men and women, lesbians, gays and straights — from standing together whenever we try to deal with any of the serious social problems.
Now in its ninth year, NCEA has matured into a multi-racial network of education activists united by five principles:
- school reform must be guided by a broad vision of social change;
- children’s needs should be the center of school life;
- conditions of learning and teaching need to be dramatically improved — with smaller class sizes, better facilities, an end to tracking, more democratic practices in all areas of school life, and better and more equitable funding;
- anti-racism, as well as struggles against class and sex discrimination, needs to be at the heart of movements to transform education; and
- genuine reform must be driven by grassroots efforts, not commission reports, business round-tables, or other top-down directives.
NCEA is the only national organization that we know of that brings together a multi-racial assembly of classroom teachers, parent organizers, teacher unionists, university-based teacher educators, and other education activists to discuss and share strategies on every aspect of school life. Recent conferences have been gatherings of 300-400 activists. Conference programs have included sessions on de-tracking the school curriculum; authentic, performance assessment; developing anti-racist teaching strategies; combating sexual harassment in schools; “rethinking our unions;” and building local grassroots school reform organizations.
Perhaps even more important than the concrete skills and information we’ve drawn from NCEA, has been the living reminder that, despite our different work focuses, we are part of one movement to transform schools and society. The rainbow coalition that NCEA has become over these last few years, though still imperfect and in need of nurturing, prefigures the kind of multi-racial social movement that is essential if we’re to combat the frightening growth of the right wing. We need an organization that voices and works for a clear alternative, that fights to defend public education not only as it exists, but as it should be.
Many of the articles we write or edit for Rethinking Schools draw on our experiences in the National Coalition of Education Activists. But we’ve been hesitant to blur the lines between two separate, if overlapping projects. Ultimately, however, advocates for radical school reform need to turn critical analyses to action, and we need a national organization that can help inform and coordinate local initiatives, and sustain the multi-racial, cross-constituency dialogue that is crucial to long-term success.
Unfortunately, at the very time that NCEA is most needed, it is in most danger of disappearing. The organization is in desperate need of more stable funding in order to survive and expand. If you belong to NCEA, we urge you to increase your financial commitment. If you don’t belong, we urge you to join now, and contribute generously to this unique organization. (Dues are $20 for individuals, $100 for organizations. Contact NCEA at PO Box 679 Rhinebeck, NY 12572, 914-876-4580, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If you appreciate the perspective of Rethinking Schools, we hope you will also give your support to one of the few national organizations working to put those ideas into action.