|Driver takes a question during the opening session|
Driver talked a lot about her experiences as an attorney and organizer in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. She said that, in Detroit, only one-third of schools seven years ago are still operating today, and despite what she felt was a clear and obvious effort to push people out of the city (partly by closing public schools), many people have both refused to leave and refused the push for charter schools that have attempted to replace traditional public schools. Driver commented on the discovery of a secret committee with members even from the teachers union that met for some time in the name of finding ways to bring more charters to Detroit. She was clearly distressed that the AFT and NEA are not pushing politicians for the policies that teachers believe in, and lamented Joe Biden's speech at the AFT convention, which she felt he must have given in either a sleep-deprived, drunken, or drugged state.
Driver was proud that there has been a strong fight in Detroit to end the reign of the Emergency Financial Manager who was allowed control for the Detroit public school system in the wake of their enormous financial crisis.
She ended her talk by pointing out three tenets she believes Save Our Schools must advocate for:
1) SOS must have complete political independence; it can't be tied to the Democrats
2) This is a new civil rights movement
3) It must be made clear that egregious attacks against public schools are racist - AND that we know school integration is the solution to the achievement gap, but we're not promoting policies that promote it.
At 9:45 I went to listen to Ceresta Smith and a panel of student leaders about ways students can have a voice in this movement. Stephanie Riviera, who blogs at Teacher Under Construction, and Zak Malamed (who you can follow at @zakmal), a recent high school graduate. All of them spoke about ways that students can get involved increasing their voice and opting out of standardized testing.
At about 10:30, I moved to listen to a panel speak about ways that union members can work within their unions to promote better policies in our schools. Union representatives, mostly from Chicago, but from cities across the country talked about recent actions members have taken to press their unions to push against corporate reform.
There were a number of things people said that caught my ear during discussion.
"We can't let our union leaders redefine concessions as victories."
"We can't attach massive neoliberal policies that are destroying our schools to any one individual." (said Xian Barret (@xianb8) in reference to Arne Duncan)
"After I tried to organize in the union, I was put on a no-hire list. I managed to get off that list, but it just amazes me that there's a black list in Chicago to keep people who are trying to help children out of teaching positions."
What I took mostly from the union discussion is that union members are often just as frustrated with union decisions as are union opponents. More on that here.
More from the conference later today. I'm currently listening to Karran Harper Royal talk about "How Some African Americans and Civil Rights Leaders Got on the Wrong Side of the Ed Reform Movement."