President's perspective

We want to hear your story

Michael Mulgrew 2015 PortraitMichael Mulgrew Given Donald Trump’s record in his first two weeks in office, we can count on his administration to be reckless and — when it turns its attention to education — to push policies that will do grave harm to our students, our schools and our profession.

Our response will be two-pronged: We will continue to vigorously oppose Betsy DeVos and her destructive policies, but at the same time we will highlight the great work going on in our schools. That positive campaign is vital because DeVos will paint a false picture of failure to justify her privatization schemes.

Those who attack public schools disrespect the work we do as public school educators. Public schools accept all children. We educators make no apologies or excuses. That is our work. We embrace all our students, whatever their challenges.

We launched the #PublicSchoolProud campaign because the public must hear our stories.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign up now and join our fight. On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, school communities across the city will be organizing events and projects to show their love for public schools. We welcome your participation in this kickoff event for the campaign.

We need to convey the joy of teaching and the love of learning in our classrooms. For this campaign, your enthusiasm and creativity mean everything. Tell your story — the obstacles your students have overcome, the daily moments of grace, your school’s annual celebrations and special programs — in photos, videos, short stories, posters and murals.

And as we tell our stories, we must continue to call out their lies. Make no mistake: DeVos is trying to rewrite history about her dismal record in her home state of Michigan. That’s why we gathered the research about what really happened in that state and brought a parent leader and a former school board president from Michigan to Albany to tell their stories to state lawmakers [see “A mess in Michigan,” page 4].

Michigan gave free rein to for-profit charters and created a free-for-all public education marketplace after hard-ball lobbying and millions of dollars in campaign contributions from DeVos. Michigan has no accountability, no oversight and no regulation of charters. The only basis for closing a school is if it doesn’t make money for the charter school operator. In Michigan, parents found out the hard way that “school choice” was about choice for the market, not for the parents. DeVos’ focus is on ideology and profit, not children.

The results have been dismal. Urban, rural, suburban — the DeVos system has wrecked public education in Michigan. An analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest found that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s gold standard for testing, Michigan now ranks 41st in 4th-grade reading, down from 28th in 2003; and 42nd in 4th-grade math, down from 27th. Detroit’s test scores in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have been the worst for seven years straight among the 20 large cities being tracked.

In Vice President Michael Pence’s home state of Indiana, where 32,000 children use vouchers in the program introduced by Pence five years ago, The Washington Post has reported more than half of the voucher recipients never previously attended a public school. Taxpayers are footing the bill for their private and religious school education. The voucher program started out for low-income families, but now many wealthy families in Indiana are taking the vouchers, too. One political analyst used the term “Trojan horse.”

The Trump administration will look to steer billions of dollars in federal funding from public schools to private and charter schools. All that we cherish will be at risk. This is no time to sit back and hope nothing bad will happen.

When they go after our schools, we must stand up and say, “This is my school, and I’m fighting for it.”

When they malign our schools, we will not be silent. With the #PublicSchoolProud campaign, we will champion our public schools and communities and honor the accomplishments of our students.

It’s time to tell our story.

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