Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige Reflects on the 2016 Network for Public Education Conference

The 2016 Network for Public Education Conference, held April 15-17 in Raleigh, NC, is truly an experience—something hard to describe.  For a few days in April, education and social justice activists from around the country come together in a burst of energy and synergy to share lives and ideas and to build an education movement for equity and justice for all children.

I was glad that Denisha Jones, DEY National Advisory Board member, and I attended because our session was the only one focused exclusively on young children.  Our panel was called T-E-S-T and Not PLAY is a Four-Letter Word:  Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform.  Susan Ochshorn, early childhood author and journalNPE 2016 3ist, moderated, and we were joined by Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher and early childhood leader in the Chicago Teachers Union. We covered many issues in a short time including the decrease in play and active learning in classrooms for young children, the disproportionate effects of corporate education reform on black and brown children and those in low-income communities, and the need to strengthen our advocacy for young children.  Lots of folks attended the session and I was really glad we were there to connect early childhood issues to the larger landscape of education reform that were the focus of the conference.

Many people came up to me over the course of the three days in Raleigh to tell me how they follow DEY, appreciate us, and benefit from using our materials.  It was really heNPE 2016 2artening to realize that we are voicing important ideas and issues that might otherwise not be accessible to teachers and parents.  People are using the papers we’ve put out in a variety of ways as well as our fact sheets, and many say they read our website regularly.

At the conference, we learned about many new documentary films being made about the current state of education in our country.  All of these films and how to order them are listed on the NPE website.   In a separate session we saw a “fine cut” preview of the almost finished documentary Backpack Full of Cash.  This film is being made by Sarah Mondale and Vera Aranow who made the PBS series called SCHOOL which received so much acclaim.   Their new film unwraps the movement to privatize our nation’s schools, telling a straightforward and understandable narrative through the eyes of the communities affected.   The film should be out in the coming year and I think its time is right.

On Saturday, we listened to a riveting keynote speech from Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of NAACP, about the history of racism in our schools and the continuing reality of systemic racism that permeates our society today.  Rev. Barber is a gifted orator who can move his listeners to new levels of awareness by his artistic crafting of words and powerful delivery.Themes of charter schools, over-testing, privatization, racial justice, poverty, global education, democracy, and public education ran through the speeches and sessions of the conference, helping all of us to heighten our understanding and also our resolve to continue our work.  I felt re-energized about our work at Defending the Early Years, proud of what we do, sure that we should keep on.

Maybe next year YOU will want to attend the Network for Public Education conference—you won’t be disappointed!

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Livestream DEY Session at the NPE Conference: Saturday, April 16 at 2:30 EDT

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DEY Senior Advisor Nancy Carlsson-Paige and DEY National Board member Denisha Jones will join Susan Ochshorn and Michelle Gunderson in a panel discussion entitled, “T-E-S-T, not P-L-A-Y is a Four-Letter Word: Putting the Young Child and the Teacher at the Center of Education Reform” during the third annual Network for Public Education conference, held in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The session will be held on Saturday, April 16 from 2:30 to 3:45 pm (EDT). Livestream their session by clicking here. Several other keynotes and sessions will be livestreamed as well.

Support the ISAT Boycott in Chicago!

My head is spinning after two incredible days at the Network for Public Education national conference. It was their first conference – and plans are already forming for the next one. This gathering of education activists from around the country was inspirational and energizing.

We met folks who have had incredible successes – such as the Providence Student Union’s campaign to remove the requirement for passing the NECAP test for graduation in Rhode Island and TAMSA’s successful reduction of high school high-stakes testing from 15 to 5 exams in Texas.

We also met folks who are deep in the struggle right now. In Chicago Public Schools the teachers at two elementary schools have joined together to boycott the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). You can read more about what is happening in blog posts by CPS first grade teacher Michelle Gunderson here and here. Gunderson writes, “Educators and parents in Chicago joined forces this week to boycott the ISAT at two schools, Maria Saucedo Elementary School and Drummond Montessori. There are also over 1,000 parents at 37 other Chicago schools who requested to opt their child out of ISAT. They are supported in their decision by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE).”

The teachers have the support of President of the Chigaco Teachers Union Karen Lewis and AFT President Randi Weingarten – who were both at the NPE conference and have publicly stood up for the teachers in Chicago. The teachers also have the support of many parents. The school district has threatened to revoke teacher licenses (which they have no authority to do).

At DEY we encourage you to show your solidarity for this act of civil disobedience with the boycotting teachers in Chicago by signing their petition at Moveon.org. The petition states:

  • We support the teachers who refuse to administer and the parents who opt their students out from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).
  • We call on Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education not to give the ISAT test this year.
  • There should be no retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education against the parents, students and teachers who have taken action to improve students’ education.