by David Safier
Over 400 people gathered at the Network for Public Education's first annual conference held at the University of Texas, Austin. It had to be the first NPE conference because the organization is just a year old. Eight Tucson-area folks joined the other attendees, including Robin Hiller, NPE's executive director (she also runs Tucson's Voices for Education) and TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.
The conference deplored the spread of the conservative "education reform"/"school choice" agenda, but the atmosphere was more uplifting than negative. Activists from around the country, educators and parents who knew each other from news articles and blog posts, shook hands, hugged, talked and shared the feeling, "We're not alone."
The two day conference hosted 30 panels and workshops over six sessions. Sanchez sat on a panel with other superintendents discussing the challenges of “Leading schools and districts in an era of high-stakes accountability.” Hiller was part of a panel looking into the "Opt out" movement, where parents refuse to let their children take high stakes tests and teachers defy their districts by refusing to administer them. I was a member of a panel looking at charter schools, virtual schools and vouchers. (I referred to Arizona as the Meth Lab of Democracy without crediting John Stewart with the line as I should have, but I figured, mistakenly, that everyone had heard it before. The line was tweeted and re-tweeted by participants as if I invented it. Oops.)
Sunday's keynote speech was delivered by Diane Ravitch, an education researcher and historian as well as NPE's co-founder and resident superstar. Her two recent books, including her latest, Reign of Error, are must-reads for anyone who wants to understand the growing movement to stop the privatization of our schools, to support and improve public education rather than dismantle it.
It was an invigorating, energizing two days. Editor Dan Gibson willing, I'll be writing an article for the print edition going into a bit more detail. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about NPE, visit its website and its Facebook page. I recommend you sign up for the NPE News Briefs to receive daily emails with links to the day's best education-related news articles and blog posts. If you "Like" and "Follow" the Facebook page, you'll get short FB posts throughout the day.