Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Education Warriors Can Learn From NY Fracktivists

This post was originally written and published on my personal blog, on December, 2014.  This has been edited.

On December 17, 2014, the anti-fracking community received an early holiday gift with the announcement that New York State would ban fracking.  This victory was an astounding turnaround from the situation just a few years ago.  There have been some news articles that have analyzed how/why this success occurred.  It made me wonder how those lessons could be applied in support of public education, which has been under attack from both pro-privatization government and business interests.

1.  Many small grassroots anti-fracking organizations sprang up in New York.  They had the good sense to unite their efforts to work together with not only state groups, but national groups as well.  We are also seeing this in the fight for public education, with outstanding groups such as the Badass Teachers Association, Save our Schools, United Opt Out, New York State Allies for Public Education, Alliance for Quality Education, etc.  So far, however, AFT and NEA, along with state organizations like NYSUT, have not matched the efforts of the smaller organizations and have not reached out to create a united front.  In fact, they have accepted money and defended Common Core. In my opinion, a change in union tactics and/or leadership is essential to combat the money and political clout of the reformers.  Political change does not happen until opposition becomes a united movement.

2.  Activation of the public is essential, and is a direct result of grassroots efforts.  This was particularly difficult in the movement against fracking because at the start of the movement, the majority of citizens did not even know what fracking was.  There was much scientific and research-based information that had to be disseminated.  Some of this information was/is difficult for the layman to understand.  Documentaries like Greenland, which were screened in homes and small cinemas, as well as on social media and video channels, were essential to the building of this understanding.  Even The Simpsons had an episode where their water was on fire, indicating that anti-fracking points were being integrated into our cultural media.  Once people understood, they began protesting.  Signs on lawns, rallies, and (thanks to the coordinated efforts of organizations) ONGOING continual protests at Cuomo appearances also helped to spread the word.  Social media was essential and letters, petitions, phone calls and/or visits to legislators were vitally important.  In the public education fight, most citizens do not understand what is really happening in our schools, and misinformation that comes from media attacks, teacher-bashing, "failing schools" soundbytes, etc., has convinced many that teachers are to blame for the "failure" of the public school system.  We are somewhat hampered by (understandable) teacher reticence to speak out, because they are in fear for their livelihood.  Creating a new public and social understanding of the web of deceit and misinformation that has been deliberately and carefully crafted by reformers is difficult, but not impossible.  Allying with parents in this struggle is essential.

3.  The movement did an excellent job of supporting the efforts of small governments to resist fracking.  Towns and cities passed prohibitive zoning ordinances that would keep fracking out of their communities.  When big oil and gas money and lawyers descended on them, communities were helped with fundraising efforts that enabled them to defend their resolutions in court, and they won.  This was a "pivot moment" in the fight.  We need local governments, school boards, and school districts to speak out and pass resolutions against the so-called reforms that are destroying our schools.  Defenders of public education need to be willing to go to court over unfair school/teacher evaluation procedures, civil rights violations that occur in testing (see, unfair funding of public schools, and practices that favor for-profit corporations. A true partnership with teacher unions, public education alliances, local school boards, parent groups, and school districts should develop that would financially support the crucial legal plays that need to occur.  Everyone who is a part of the pro-public education movement should be attending and participating in their local school by attending board meetings, as well as joining and working with any number of activist groups.  We also need more representation on boards of education, parent associations, and other local government groups.

4.  Never underestimate the role of research studies, bloggers, and expert opinion. Scientific studies were crucial in combating erroneous and misleading industry studies on the "safety of fracking."  Pro-public education also has science and statistics on their side.  Studies that have decried the use of Value-Added Methodology (VAM) in teacher evaluations have been publicized, and solid evidence is building.  For example, the joint statement of the American Education Research Association and the National Academy of Education on the failure of VAM models used in teacher evaluations shows that solid research is on the side of educators ( Likewise, evidence that US schools are not a failure is out there (see, as well as the effect of poverty on school/student performance (   Statistics and articles like this need to be relentlessly front and center in our efforts. Thankfully, the public education movement has many outstanding professionals who have produced and shared a prodigious amount of information on their blogs, and their voices are being picked up by newspapers like the Washington Post and Huffington Post.  Facebook groups are sharing this information and communicating it to the public at large.

5.  Politicians need to be called out and made to define their position in public statements.  Wherever there is a chance for questions and answers, on public record, the right questions need to be asked.  Some people feel Cuomo painted himself into a corner by continually referring (for political reasons) to the need to wait on scientific studies before making a decision on fracking.  When the science came in against fracking, he therefore could not make a case on an economic level.  Cuomo seems not to be shy about voicing his goal to destroy the "monopoly" of public education.  That is why we need to follow the money trail that is behind such positions, and publicize efforts like that of Zephyr Teachout to call out the hedge fund manipulators (, as well as the recent work by the Hedge Clippers.  Wherever there is a pro-privatization fight, there is dark money and political contributions.  Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have people working full-time to advance their privatization goals, and they often write the legislation that shows up in our state and federal system.  Where political contributions are swaying public education policy, we need to find out, and shout it out!

I believe we can win our fight to save public education.  The future of our children depends on it.

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