National Coalition of Education Activists

Editors Note: The National Coalition of Educational Activists (NCEA) is a multi-racial organization which unites parents, teachers, and community members who are working for fundamental school reform in the United States. Last July, the group met at Oberlin College and drafted the following two documents: “Principles of Unity” and “beginning notes toward a national platform to transform our educational system.” We are printing these draft documents because we believe they can spark useful reflection and debate about how our schools can and should be changed. The NCEA has decided that its first major project will be to sponsor a national tour of parents and students active in the struggle for non-racist education in Selma (See Stan Karp’s articles on page 1). If you have comments on the draft platform, or wish to learn more about the NCEA, please write them t: .NCEA c/o Montgomery County Education Association, 60 W. Gude Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.

Statement of Principles

Our schools are in crisis. Our children are being miseducated. Our youth are losing their spirit to live constructively in society. We must act now to build a progressive agenda and movement which will provide equal, quality, and humane education for all our children.

A new agenda for education should be set by those with the most at stake: teachers, students, and other workers inside the schools, and the parents and communities those schools should serve. Today, across the nation there are many dedicated creative people organizing in schools, in teachers unions, and in local neighborhoods to make our schools democratic, child-centered, and capable of providing quality education for all of our children. These efforts recognize the multicultural nature of our society and work towards schools that are non-racist, non-sexist, and not biased against poor and working people . The goal of the National Coalition of Education Activists (NCEA) is to give national form and voice to these efforts in order to enter the public debate on education and to counter the program of elitist reform with an activist, progressive program of alternatives.

Progressive educational change should serve broadly-defined individual and social goals. The results of reform should be judged by our success in preparing students who can participate actively in a democratic society, not only circle the correct answer on a test; students who can think critically about the world around them and fully develop their potential, not just secure entry-level jobs in the labor market. All students should know not only how to read, but love to read. They should not only be good writers, but want to use their knowledge of writing to improve their lives and their world. Students should have high self esteem and identify positively with their own heritage while at the same time know about and respect others who are different. Throughout their schooling students should learn how racism and other forms of prejudice have stained our nation’s history and the world they will inherit in the next century.

Ten years of intense national attention on education has made one thing clear: schools will change in the 1990s. What remains uncertain is how they will change. A top-down “reform movement,” driven exclusively by business interests, politicians, and foundation analysts, is pushing schooling in some dangerous directions. If unchallenged such “reforms” will leave our schools less democratic, more repressive, and less able to serve the diverse and pressing needs of our increasingly multiracial, multicultural, and multilingual public school population.

To ensure that educational reform is truly about quality education for all, teachers and parents need to be in the forefront of building a genuine bottom up movement.

Yet, for years, these two groups have been unable to forge sufficient trust and unity. Teachers and parents often tend to blame one another for problems over which they have little control. Elitist attitudes by some teachers and narrow self-interest approaches by many teacher unions have further contributed to this division. We must highlight and duplicate the positive efforts by teachers and local teacher unions and parents and community organizations who seek to overcome barriers to unity. There must be respect and equality between teachers and parents, and there must be institutionalized means, such as local school councils, in which teachers and parents are empowered to affect the future of their schools. Our success will in many ways be determined by our ability to overcome the barriers to teacher-parent unity and to proceed in a new, united movement that puts the interests of our children first.

To this end we pledge ourselves and call on others to build a national movement that will be characterized by these principles.

  1. School reform must be guided by a broad vision of social change, consciously linked to the struggle for democracy, equality, and social justice. The many problems that we face at schools are reflections of deeper social problems, especially racism, poverty, and powerlessness. Moreover, each distinct problem of teaching and learning is linked to a myriad of other educational issues and cannot be addressed in isolation. There are no panaceas, no singular strategies, no “teacher-proof” formulas that will magically solve the education crisis.
  2. We stand for a new kind of schooling. We reject the factory model that has characterized U.S. education where teachers are viewed as assembly line workers and students as products. We condemn the prison-like atmosphere that exists in too many of our schools. Instead we envision classrooms and schools as places where children want to be and which are connected to their lives and neighborhoods. Teachers must restructure their classrooms so students become active participants in their education critically examining their lives and the world around them.
  3. Conditions of teaching and learning must dramatically improve. Class sizes need to be much smaller, bureaucracy reduced, preparation and planning time increased. Teachers need more time to personalize instruction, to assist their students, to plan with their colleagues, and to evaluate what works.
  4. We must address the negative impact of racism — both on U.S. education and within the educational reform movement. Schools must give high priority to confronting the long history of racism that has shaped our educational system. Likewise we must address the dangers of class and gender discrimination. While legal access to institutions and programs must be maintained, the quality of education must be improved for all students. At the same time, we must purposively integrate the reform movement with the voices and participation of people of color.
  5. Grassroots efforts are the key to successful school change. In order to tackle the deep and multiple problems of our schools, the communities in which the schools are located must be mobilized and empowered. The failure to make this connection has meant that the highly publicized reforms of the 80s have not met the needs of teachers, parents, and students. The school reform movement must be driven by organizing campaigns, not commission reports, by teacher-parent-community-union alliances, not administrative directives, and by the mobilization of schools and communities, not conferences of governors and politicians.

Please join our efforts!

Notes on a Education Platform for the 1990s

The National Coalition of Education Activists offers the following ideas as the beginning of a national platform to transform our educational system. We welcome comments and suggestions.

  1. Funding. Dramatically increase federal funding for education and other social needs, paid for by sharply cutting defense expenditures. Provide full equity in funding for all schools and school districts.
  2. Tracking and Grouping: Promote heterogeneous classes and groupings within the classroom which foster intellectual and cooperative learning, values, and skills. End racist, class biased, and sexist tracking systems and grouping practices which frequently start in elementary school and which do not prepare children with the necessary skills for life and work.
  3. Reconstruction: Rebuild our failing schools and build new schools to meet our communities’ needs — making our schools centers for community activities, increasing local jobs, allowing more classrooms and smaller classes, and providing for libraries, art, music, and sports.
  4. Class size: reduce the student/classroom teacher ratio to 1/15 in kindergarten through 3rd grade and 1/20 in 4th grade and up.
  5. Teachers of color: Fund federal and state programs to recruit, educate, and hire African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian American teachers. Remove arbitrary barriers (such as multiple choice tests) to inclusion.
  6. Reform the education profession: Reform how teachers and administrators are educated, trained, selected, inducted, and evaluated. We need fair and equitable means of monitoring staff performance which give support to these education reforms.
  7. Multicultural education: Federal, state, and local agencies should promote curricula that is multicultural, anti-racist, and anti-sexist, including funding for community based curriculum development efforts, staff development in multicultural education and inter-group dynamics, and for universal student access to enrichment activities. Teachers must be willing and held accountable to implement multicultural education and be able to teach children culturally different from themselves.
  8. Bilingual education: Every child should have the opportunity to learn a second language, including the maintenance and development of his or her native language.
  9. Shared Decision Making: Federal, state, and local policies should encourage meaningful school level decision making and reform initiatives led jointly by teachers and parents —leading to reduction in local school bureaucracies and an increase in power to local school councils.
  10. Testing: Ban norm referenced multiple choice and short answer standardized tests in kindergarten through 3rd grade and phase out their use in upper grades. Replace such tests with performance based assessment, particularly with classroom-based documentation and portfolios.
  11. Curriculum: Curriculum reform should create methods and environments which enable educators to improve academic skills, as well as to teach children to act as critical and morally responsible citizens.
  12. Teachers unions should become more child-centered and fight for the rights of children to get a quality education as well as teachers’ rights as workers. Local, state, and national teacher unions and organizations should make all possible efforts to learn from and unite with parents and communities in their efforts to improve schools.