Education Week - May 16, 2018 - 28
(AND STUDENTS) CHANGE
RACE TO THE TOP IS
OVER. WHY HAVEN'T WE
NO, STRIKES DO NOT
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
I'm a Veteran Teacher. Here's Why
'Education Spring' Has Come to America
By Paula Reed
began teaching in 1984, a year
after the publication of "A Nation At Risk," which asserted
that our nation's schools were
failing. Looking back, I can see
that at the tender age of 22, I
had walked onto a battlefield
just before the fight. Would I
have done it anyway, had I known then
that I was enlisting in a long battle, not
just a small war? Yes, I would.
The first half of my career I was only
peripherally aware of politicians vilifying educators' unions and decrying low
standards in schools. But I taught at
Columbine High School, in a tight-knit
Colorado community where students
had high college acceptance rates and
loved their teachers. Nothing bad could
Until it did. It was the 1998-99 academic year.
First, our Gov. Bill Owens (following
the game plan of his good friend Texas
Gov. George W. Bush) pushed for highstakes standardized testing statewide.
Those test results would eventually
hold teachers accountable for student
achievement. Teachers pushed back,
fearing the change would divert critical education dollars into the coffers
of big publishing companies and restrict teachers to test-driven curricula.
Colorado's political leaders assured the
public that educators' concerns were unfounded. But teachers turned out to be
right. A 60-hour-a-week hard but joyful
job, became one of increasing stress.
Then, on April 20, 1999, stress turned
to trauma. Two of our students murdered 12 classmates and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves.
The battlefield was not just in politics,
but also, horrifically, now in the classroom.
The stress and the trauma we faced
then sounds much too similar to the
stress and trauma educators face now.
When the same horror that befell Columbine struck Marjory Stoneman
Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.,
earlier this year, students across America took to podiums, tipping the nation
toward what felt like real action in gunsafety legislation. Columbine students
pushed for common-sense gun regulation in 1999, but there were no socialmedia platforms that offered a national
stage. There was no tinder for the fire.
Many things have changed since then.
My own activist journey began in 2013,
when my county elected a school board
majority with a privatization agenda.
My students' public education was in
imminent danger, so I knocked on hun-
Melody Newcomb for Education Week
It seems like all of
America is in the midst
of a sea change."
dreds of doors, met with the superintendent, and attended school board meetings while grading papers on my lap.
Though most of my colleagues expressed concerns about the board, many
refused to take action. Between 50- and
60-hour work weeks, fear of retribution
from principals, and the desire to simply
stay out of politics, it was hard to build
Then the board majority stated the
Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum should focus on only the positive aspects of our nation's history.
Thousands of our students who didn't
want a sanitized education walked out
in protest, strengthening the impact of
teachers' voices. Many educators who
28 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 16, 2018 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
had formerly held back were inspired
to get involved. Voters listened, replacing the entire board majority with
board members who respected public
Why bring up this example from years
ago? Because it shows that when students across the country publicly stand
up for themselves, their actions have the
power to galvanize educators and force
politicians to open their ears. When reforms directly attack our students, our
profession, and the institution of public
education, our students embolden us.
Now we're seeing something similar on a wider scale. It seems like all
of America is in the midst of a sea
change-what some are calling an
"education spring." After years of state
leaders balancing education budgets
through teacher paychecks, protests
in many states are pushing for higher
salaries and more funding. Voters are
grasping the unfairness of making
teachers solely accountable for all of the
variables that might have an impact on
a child's test scores.
Many of the reasons educators have
tended to avoid activism, including
busy lives, fear of retribution, and an
aversion to political discord, remain.
But there seems to be an increasing
awareness that, fair or not, we've all
been drafted. If our students can speak
out, we can, too.
On March 14, I was a guest speaker
at the local March for Our Lives rally
for stricter gun laws. I spoke again locally at our Vote for Our Lives rally in
April, the day before the 19th anniversary of our school's shooting, with
students from Columbine and Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High Schools. And
in recent weeks, I donned a red shirt
alongside my colleagues as we fought
for more education funding at the state
capitol in Colorado.
Though I just turned in my retirement papers, my activism for education
will continue. While it may have been
a long time in the works, our students
deserve nothing less. n
PAULA REED is an English and alternative
education teacher at Columbine High School in
Littleton, Colo. She retires at the end of the month.