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Message to D.C.: Educators Need Money, Support, Respect

Educators often wish they could tell national leaders what schools need. Last night, they got their chance, as small groups around the U.S. brainstormed ways to get education in the national spotlight and make schools' needs known. Included: One house party's suggestions for putting education on the national agenda.

A group of teachers and concerned citizens in Middletown, Connecticut, had a message Wednesday night for the nation's leaders: schools need more money in general, pre-school education needs more funding and support, and the deadlines for meeting federal mandates need to be more flexible.

And if those federal mandates are going to keep coming, districts and states need money specifically to pay the costs for them.

That was part of the consensus reached at one of thousands of house parties across the country, as part of the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools. The mobilization is a joint project of the National Education Association, Campaign for America's Future, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), MoveOn.org, NAACP Voters Fund and U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Four teachers, a retired teacher, and a parent attended the Middletown house party, hosted by Jennifer Jasenski, a middle school teacher in South Windsor, Connecticut.

"It seems like we are asking teachers to do more and more, and we are not giving them the tools to do their job," said Tony Razel, a resident of East Hampton, Connecticut. "My fear is that people have become so complacent about education that they think teachers will just keep working, no matter what happens."

SPREADING THE MESSAGE

The goal of the mobilization effort is to get people in their communities talking about education issues and lobbying politicians to make education a higher priority at the national level. About 4,000 house parties were scheduled nationwide.

During the house parties, participants were asked to watch a video outlining the challenges facing U.S. schools. According to the video, only 3 cents of every dollar of federal money goes to education. If that number were increased to even 5 cents, schools would see significant improvements.

Participants also were asked to sign a petition directed at the U.S. Congress, asking that its members keep their promise to fully fund education.

Jasenski said she got involved with the mobilization because she thinks educators need to make their views known.

"A lot of teachers don't talk enough about what's going on in education," she said. "They don't want to rock the boat. But we need to stand up."

Several of the teachers at Jasenski's party said they were frustrated with the requirements and costs of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and how they are impacting teaching.

"My problem is that the mandates are in all the wrong places," said Karen Share, a first grade teacher in Middletown. "We need to mandate pre-school, and provide support to young children and families. We need serious support, not just expectations. What they [federal officials] are doing now is crisis education; they are trying to fix things at the last minute."

The federal requirements for testing students also need to be more flexible, several said. The requirement that all students reach proficiency by the 2013-2014 school year also is not realistic, Jasenski said.

ALERTING THE PUBLIC

Participants also brainstormed ways they thought ordinary citizens could help make education a priority on the national level. Their suggestions included getting more people talking about education, urging community members to spend time visiting schools, and encouraging the public to promote respect for educators.

Several of the teachers said the party was a good way to get dialogue going. "This is a vehicle to get involved," said Lisa Harlow, a fourth grade teacher in Middletown. Share agreed. "I think this is energizing, and I think it is important that we get together as professionals and discuss issues," she said. "And if we think our voice may be heard, that's even more rewarding."

WHAT'S NEXT?

At the national level, Great Public Schools wants to keep the momentum going by asking people to call congressmen September 29, and ask legislators to fully fund education. House party participants also are urged to each recruit five people to call and sign the petition.

"Our hope is that when people come together, they will create their own energies, their own priorities, keep pressure on at the national level, and be creative on the local level," said Robert Borosage, co-director of the National Mobilization for Great Public Schools. "We've even talked about having people spend an hour every weekend knocking on doors in their communities, to talk with people about education."

Borosage said that follow-up to the house parties will take different forms, including using the Internet to reach as many people as possible. "All we can do is provide different occasions where they know that if they act together, they can have a cumulative effect."

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