The Public Schools All Our Students Deserve

Public education is the road to opportunity and the path to economic and racial justice. A strong public education system is essential as an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams.

Yet, in the past 15 years, as standardized testing, test prep, and test-based accountability and punishment permeated public education, so did a negative narrative that is causing real harm. That narrative—that our public schools are broken beyond repair and that the “solution” is to close schools, hand them over to private entities, force them to compete, or submit them to state takeover—reflects a certain ideology, but it doesn’t reflect reality.

Today, 100,000 students, educators, parents and other community members in 2,000 schools in more than 200 cities and towns across the country will advance another narrative. We believe in the promise and potential of public schools, and we will demonstrate our commitment to public education by walking into public schools across the country—calling for the support, investments and policies necessary for all children to get the great public education they deserve.

The walk-ins were conceived by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a coalition of more than 100 community and labor organizations, and they reflect an array of community priorities. In Volusia County, Florida, parents, students and teachers will walk into every public school to urge officials to end the overuse and misuse of standardized testing. The walk-ins in Chicago will call for full funding of public schools to support wraparound services, smaller class size and special education. The focus in Baltimore is on supporting and expanding community schools and wraparound services for disadvantaged students. In Los Angeles, educators and community groups plan events citywide to build a shared vision for community schools and to urge passage of a ballot proposition that would prevent a repeat of recession-era education cuts.

These are the kinds of changes needed to counter the misguided top-down policies, test-based accountability and disinvestment that have hurt public education and public school students for the last decade and a half. Instead of ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality, well-resourced public school in his or her neighborhood, too many students, particularly in low-income, Black and Latino communities, have been subjected to flawed “reforms”—such as school closures, school takeovers and vouchers—all of which have stripped the public’s voice in local schools and have never lived up to their hype.

Even charter schools, which some parents like, generally perform no better than public schools and increasingly have raised concerns about accountability, transparency, and draining of resources from and displacement of public schools. Here’s our agenda for change—to create high-quality public schools in every community by focusing on these essential elements:

  • Wraparound supports to nurture children’s well-being by providing crucial health and social services, particularly in poor communities.
  • Curriculum that is engaging, culturally relevant and broad, including art, music and other subjects that promote creativity, critical thinking and joy.
  • An emphasis on high-quality teaching, not high-stakes testing.
  • Positive discipline practices such as restorative justice, and social and emotional learning.
  • Parent, community and educator engagement in planning and decision-making.
  • Adequate resources for every public school.

It’s these things that are inspiring parents not just to drop off their children at school today, but to walk in to show their support. They are the reason business owners are walking into their community public school for perhaps the first time. And they’re mobilizing faith communities and elected officials.

Policymakers have listened for too long to the people who want to run schools like businesses, who put competition ahead of collaboration, who think you can measure a kid’s potential or a teacher’s contribution with a fill-in-the-bubble test.

Now it’s time to listen to the people closest to our kids. Parents, educators and community partners—the people who know our children’s names, their strengths, their challenges and their dreams—are walking into their schools today to call for the public schools each and every student deserves. We are rejecting the narrative that says that our public schools don’t work and can’t work. And we are demanding that we, as a nation, fulfill our obligation to ensure that getting a good public education does not depend on a child’s ZIP code or family background. All children deserve an education that prepares them not only to dream their dreams, but to achieve them.

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers and Keron Blair is director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools