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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Teachers rally in DC for education

From the Palm Beach Post

by Allison Ross

A Palm Beach County face will share the stage with actor Matt Damon and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch during an education march this weekend in Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, thousands of people — including several from Palm Beach County — are expected to muster in Washington to participate in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.

The event, which is accompanied by several days of lobbying and conferences, aims to push back against what its organizers see as misguided education reform policies, including high-stakes standardized testing and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools Among those in the crowd will be Rita Solnet, a suburban Boca Raton activist who is part of the event's organizing committee. She has been asked to speak before the march from her perspective as a parent and as co-founder of the nonprofit Parents Across America.

"Our politicians and the Department of Education are just not listening to people in the trenches — the parents, teachers, constituents," said Solnet, a former PTA president at Eagles Landing Middle School in western Boca Raton. "We want equal air time."

Solnet said she has been on conference calls every Sunday night for the past eight months helping to plan the event, which includes a conference at American University on Thursday and Friday, organized lobbying efforts, and the rally and march from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Organizers are expecting to draw about 10,000 people to the march, which begins at the Ellipse and loops past the White House. Solnet said speakers during the march will include Damon and his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor of early-child education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.; actor Richard Dreyfuss; author Jonathan Kozol; Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond; and Ravitch, who was an assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush.

Solnet said Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show," a current events show on the Comedy Network, has sent in a video for the event because he has a conflict and cannot attend.

"Never in my lifetime have I seen people care so much about education," Solnet said, noting that the timing of the event comes as Congress continues to discuss overhauling No Child Left Behind, which came up for reauthorization in 2007. "It's a combination of the demoralization of teachers and of public schools. People are angry."

In Palm Beach County, the local teachers union is offering $150 to teachers who want to travel to D.C. for the event, union president Debra Wilhelm said.

She said she isn't sure how many Palm Beach County teachers will end up going, in part because they might be on vacation or short on cash.

Forest Hill High School teacher Sara Cuaresma said she is flying in on Saturday just in time to participate in the march.

She said she feels that legislators ignore the voices of teachers and parents who are dealing with the public education system every day, and that, through the unified march, "they will see this is something serious, a serious group of stakeholders whose concerns need to be heard."

That's Solnet's goal for the event, as well. She said she's been appalled by what she sees as a push to "privatize public education," such as increased focus on charter schools, and by how focused schools have become on high-stakes testing.

"Everybody who attends is there for a reason, because they're just as frustrated," Solnet said. "Whether they are parents or teachers or businesspeople who are frustrated that the people they hire can't do math, they want to show that it's time to put the public back in public education.",0,7284750.story

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