We picked up this end of the year reflection from our friends in Classroom Struggle. Advance the Struggle appreciates the hard work these warriors for public education have put in since their inception during Occupy Oakland. As the attacks on public schools continue nationwide we feel their work continues to be the most inspiring in this extremely important sector of the working class.
Friday June 14th, 2013 was the last official day of school in Oakland Unified School District, the last official day for students was Thursday the 13th.
Its always good to see the delighted looks on the faces of teachers and students as they ready their summer plans, and some don caps and gowns to celebrate the pinnacle of K-12 education, also known as high school graduation. Congrats to all of the class of 2013!
Militants in Classroom Struggle (CS) also look forward to summer, as it gives us a chance to review and reflect on the successes and failures of the school year and touch up our strategy for the coming school year (2013-2014).
Last year at this time, we were preparing to occupy Lakeview Elementary School in protest of the closure of five elementary schools serving primarily black and latino families. This year the district did not close any schools. But they did try to eliminate the rest of the already decimated adult education/GED programs throughout the district. CS is thrilled to report that the district decided to save these programs rather than eliminate them (more on that below including the role CS played in support of the students and teachers of that program).
We continued publishing our newsletter – also called Classroom Struggle (formerly Education for the 99%) – putting out many high quality articles meant to move teachers in a more radical direction with the intent to fight against the worst of Tony Smith and the Oakland School Board not to mention austerity funding from the feds. and Sacramento. We continue fine tuning the newsletter by distributing it across the East Bay far and wide, and make every effort to gather feedback from all of our readership. The cover and back cover art is the work of current public school students and teachers, and we will feature a new header for each new issue. The latest is linked here:
It includes: a critique of the report on “teacher quality” published by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and heavily endorsed by GO (Great Oakland Public Schools), a solidarity letter for our teacher comrades in Mexico currently fighting against similar neo-liberal assaults on public education we’re fighting in the U.S., testimony of a public school custodian, a report on the adult education fight, and a update on the trauma of school closures from a parent of of an affected student. Please check it out.
We began making interventions in the Oakland Education Association (OEA) as site representatives. Passing motions in support of Adult Education students & teachers along with Mexican teachers fighting neo-liberalism. Our goal was to push the union to act above and beyond the narrow interests of teacher unionism. We got motions passed for OEA to help us build for two forums we organized. The first provided a report/analysis on the current funding issues in OUSD, the second gave perspective on the importance and challenges involved with building a base of parents, teachers/school workers and students, it featured a founding member of Chicago CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators). The teachers responsible for organizing widespread support for the fall 2012 CTU strike. We are still very critical of current stance of OEA’s leadership, but have seen the rep. council meetings heading in a more critical direction and featuring very promising debates.
We held a year-long radical educators study group, providing a space for teachers, unionized and non-unionized, to sharpen their radical pedagogy for the benefit of their students, public education & after-school programs. We had many inspiring discussion/debates around a variety of important issues in public education, and feel these spaces have brought more teachers closer to us politically.
Classroom Struggle has several core members teaching in after-school programs in Oakland Public Schools, therefore we hosted a few happy hours to begin conversations around unionization and curriculum sharing.
All of this was instrumental for our most practical work in support of Adult Education/GED students and teachers – facing the complete decimation of their programs in OUSD. We feel this small but important victory will help us as we continue to build a base of support in the fight to defend and transform public education in Oakland and beyond. Below is the full report also found on classroomstruggle.org:
We won $1 million dollars for Adult Ed! This is definitely a partial victory, and we should celebrate this, since it was direct action and leadership on the part of parents and teachers which won it. But we also need to be clear about the limitations of every victory.
We offer a detailed overview of what happened at the school board meeting, what our victories have been, the limitations of the vote taken on Wednesday, as well as some directions for next steps.
A few key points:
At the May 22nd board meeting parents, teachers and students were united in fighting for a fair contract and against cuts (mainly to adult ed).
The board voted to maintain current funding for adult ed (due in large part to mobilizations by adult ed students and teachers as well as the outcome of the May Revise).
The vote guarantees 1 million in funding of adult education but does not guarantee how that funding will be spent.
It is still possible that cuts may happen because of “restructuring” by administrators or because school site budgets may not be able to pay the contribution that is currently required of them.
Going forward, adult ed students and teachers are continuing to fight to make sure the program continues as it is and expands to restore the 90% of this program that was cut 3 years ago. There is still work to be done THIS SCHOOL YEAR.
We want to learn from and build out of the May 22nd board meeting so please take the time to read the rest of this report to understand the details of this struggle and contact us with any thoughts/suggestions/questions.
The meeting started with a picket line and rally of hundreds of parents, teachers and students chanting “Save Adult Ed,” “Fair Contract Now” and “Not One Cut!” After 15 minutes of picketing outside, the contingent marched inside and held a spirited general assembly with speeches from parents, Adult Ed students, and teachers. Oakland’s educational community was out in strong force and electrifying what is otherwise an incredibly dull “business meeting” (to use School Board Member Jumoke Hodge’s own words.)
After 30 minutes of public comment (only 30 people were allowed to speak for 1 minute each), the last speaker was a CCPA adult education student who asked that all of the adult ed students and teachers stand. These people stood up and began to lead the room in chants. Over a hundred people stood up, many different immigrant communities were present as well as a diverse group of GED students in their caps and gowns. This image captures the complexity of the adult education program and the campaign that was waged to save the bits that are left of it and that will hopefully continue in order to rebuild adult education to what it once was.
After this striking moment the board went forward with it’s business-as-usual proceedings. The dullness and lack of democratic participation involved in this process led the vast majority of the adult ed students, as well as many of our allies and comrades to leave before the Adult Education agenda item was even brought up.
We self-critique here for not having put forward a clearer tactical plan – we might have, for instance, chosen to “Mic Check” the crowd at the end of public comment and demanded that the Adult Education item, one of the most important items of the evening, be moved to the front of the agenda in order for the maximum amount of community members to be there during the discussion and subsequent vote. We didn’t do this, and the meeting dragged on and many of us had to leave to take care of children, plan our lessons, or get some much needed rest. This is understandable and we seek to improve our interventions in the future.
Ultimately the vote came up on the agenda. The chief financial officer of the OUSD, Vernon Hal, was heckled when asked by the directors of the school board, “what do you recommend?” People shouted – “Do the right thing! Make the right decision!” The board clearly felt the heat of the community. Eventually, they made a proposal (which is transcribed below for you to review) which was voted on. They unanimously voted for the proposal to continue funding for Adult Education to the degree that it has been funded this past year.
This is clearly a victory in many ways. The adult education students across OUSD who have organized themselves along with their Adult Ed teachers and some K-12 teachers have waged a campaign that has been challenging but effective. But it has been a campaign that has been effective. Parents and teachers organized cross city meetings of various Adult Ed schools involving parents and teachers of different racial and cultural backgrounds. These first steps towards unity and organization, across race, across parent-teacher lines, and between many different schools are victories in themselves!
In these meetings they collectively made decisions and built pressure through direct actions that, in turn, forced the Board to take action and concede victories long before the May 22nd Board meeting. One of these victories was a meeting that was demanded through a written letter that was brought to the board offices by a group of 30 adult ed students. The meeting took place in the morning at CCPA on May 1st where over 125 adult ed students attended as well as 3 board members. This was a huge advancement for democratic control of our schools since many Adult Ed students are only able to meet during the few hours of the day they have free from work and childcare, at their school sites. The more we can do this, the more likely decisions will reflect our needs.
In the Board meeting itself all of these links we had built up became fully clear. The rally of parents, teachers, and students was powerful to say the least. Parents cheered teachers’ demands for a fair contract and teachers echoed Adult Ed students and teachers’ demands to rebuild Adult Ed. The unity and the strength was obvious which in no doubt contributed to the Board’s hiding away for 20 minutes after the scheduled start of the meeting.
The Limits of the Vote
This is where we must be clear about the limitations of this victory. The decision reached by the board maintains the current level of funding, but it does not at all deal with the challenges faced at a number of schools currently hosting Adult Education classes. For one, most schools are required to pay part of the salaries of the Adult Education teachers, while the other part is centrally funded through the OUSD. This functions as a tax on schools in neighborhoods where there is greater need for family literacy classes. Principals at the flatland school sites are forced to choose between funding a family literacy class that will foster parent involvement and funding positions like nurses, librarians, and other school workers that serve children. This is the logic of austerity – choose between parents and students – and it’s a logic which continues even with this partial victory.
The proposal also grouped funding for Adult Education with a number of other items, of unclear significance. The fact that these proposals were made without any attempt to explain their significance to the people in the room, and without any agenda items to address them, further illuminated the highly undemocratic nature of the proceedings.
Additionally, there’s the problematic nature of Adult Ed’s current status. At present, there remain only about 10% of the classes that were once offered to adults throughout Oakland. 3 years ago there was a massive cut of 90% of the classes. Some of these classes included services for adults with disabilities, career readiness classes, and other classes that serve adults with particular needs. The ableist and classist nature of the cuts to adult ed should be clear. Maintaining the current level of funding does not deal with rebuilding these programs, which is why it’s significant that so many of the adult ed supporters were not only chanting “Save Adult Ed” but rather “Rebuild Adult Ed.” This begins to make clear what our next steps are….
Where To Now?
David Kakashiba referred to millions of dollars in reserves (due to preparation for Prop 30 not passing) when discussing his motion to fund the “Innovation” programs at OUSD high schools. This further proves what we have been saying all along – the millions of dollars are there. The question is: how are they spent? What are the priorities? We need to see these millions of dollars as being the basis for the rebuilding and expansion of Adult Education: reopening the 73rd Ave. campus, providing full funding for all Family Literacy classes so that principals and teachers are not forced to choose between funding programs for students or for parents, and expanding the GED program to provide access at more site.
Furthermore, we should see how to build with the teachers’ demands as well. Teachers have suffered 13 years without a pay raise. They are the lowest paid in Alameda County. Probably many of us heard testimonies of Oakland teachers saying it’s too hard to stay in the district with the pay as low as it is, especially considering the much harder teaching conditions than in, say, Walnut Creek. All of this is to say parents and teachers have many reasons to build together, and Adult Ed supporters and K-12 supporters–often the same people!–have many reasons to build together. We should talk with our allies in our school and when actions come up to support each other, we should organize our allies to come with us.
Another step we should take is directly related to the anti-democratic nature of Board meetings. Earlier we noted how Adult Ed students and teachers were able to force Board members to meet in our schools during the day when we were actually available. We should push that the actual decisions of the Board are made in these meetings. After all, most decisions the Board passes on Wednesday night meetings are not actually made in the Board room. The decisions are made behind the scenes long before the meetings. Those night meetings are only rubber stamps on pre-determined votes. We should acknowledge this and push these decisions out into the open in meetings attended by and run by Oakland parents, teachers, and students.
But how do we get them to do this? The same way we got the precedent-setting meeting on May 1st. We do direct actions such as marches on admin offices, sit-ins, all the way up to student walkouts and parent and teacher strikes. All of these actually build our power and organization and show the Board they cannot ignore us. That is how can move beyond semi-victories to full victories that we can actually enforce–because a major part about winning a vote is making sure it’s actually implemented!
This brings us to our final point. We must organize for power. During the Board meeting we passed out a flyer basically saying we need one thing, to stay organized. That might seem overly simple, but in a complicated world it’s the most sure thing we can do. We cannot predict how this Board vote will actually play out in detail. We cannot predict if the District might try to close another 5 schools in the next years. We cannot predict what the state budget will look like in 5 years from now, by which time it’s very likely that another recession might have hit us. This time around the state budget worked somewhat in our favor but that doesn’t mean that it always will and it doesn’t change the fact that the wealthy have gotten much richer and the poor much poorer, meaning there’s much more we can achieve.
All of this is to say, with the future uncertain as it is we need to continue to build our own organization and power. These are the largest victories of this struggle. And we should see these gains as far from finished. We can build much more.
Concretely there is a meeting scheduled with all of the adult education students and teachers in order to celebrate what has been accomplished so far and plan out next steps. We still need to pressure the district in order to centrally fund these classes so that none of them are cut due to the school site not wanting to fund these classes out of their own budgets. We will work to maintain the pressure around this demand for the rest of the school year and will need the support of teachers, students and community members.
Please stay in contact about how this develops over the following days and weeks. We will send out an update after the meeting with adult ed students and teachers about support that is needed and ways to contribute.
A major slogan that adult ed students have used throughout this campaign (and has been used through history) is “La union hace la fuerza”/Unity makes strength. We value your support and hard work. Keep building with us, we have a lot more to win.