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Policy, Advocacy, and the Power Potential of Educators

Posted: 2011-03-28

This was part of a panel presentation at the BEEMS Conference, El Paso, Texas, March 26, 2011.

In a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, a teacher explained that the problem with test scores and performance on tests wasn't teachers or education policy--it was parents. My response was to say "Not true!" and then proceeded to explain why. The responses to my post, and Steve Krashen's as well, were mean spirited and downright mean. Here is why.

At the heart of education in a democracy -- this democracy -- is the notion that all who reside in this country are entitled to an equitable, free education. Teachers and administrators in public schools are at the chalk-face -- where the tires hit the pavement to use another metaphor. Because we are there, we have a responsibility to do what is best for the students we teach whether or not we want this responsibility or believe we can do anything to remedy the situation. Within a language lies the reality of the society who uses it and includes the history, culture, and life of a people in and out of school. Those new to living in this country don't have this knowledge at their disposal; especially the parents of children in our schools.

What these parents need is an information gathering system yet the parents don't know that they need it or that it exists. Teachers can help parents understand and negotiate the cultural norms of "doing" school. We often intuitively understand this but we don't always know what that may mean for the parents of students. Those who teach in Bilingual Education programs, ESOL, ESL, ELL, ENL, EFL, or any other name given to the student population we teach, can advocate in either new comfortable or uncomfortable ways -- and we have the power to help our students and their families.

We have had some momentous protests across this country recently. Wisconsin, Indiana, and several other states had teachers and other public employees protest and march against the abolition of collective bargaining rights. It may be only coincidence that teachers and other public employees chose this time to become vocal, however these protests occurred after immediately after Egyptians began their fight for independence. If the fight for independence helped move teachers and others to take a stand against the abolition of collective bargaining then I'm grateful. Krashen (2011) has often stated that all of us need to keep children safe from the effects of poverty and here are some ways that teachers and others can help keep the children safe.

Building Information Systems for Parents and Students:

1) Help the parents navigate the ways of doing school in the US by:

a. Initiating contact with the parents so they know who they need to contact for specific things they may need for their child’s success in school and why.

  • One part of this information may regard standardized testing and the option to opt out of the tests should that be an option your states –- especially for the beginning students.

  • Touch base with them periodically if you hear a parent is ill, injured, and/or the family structure is undergoing change of some kind.

  • 2) Tell the parents in your area about La Casita in Chicago -- they show a very real and important issue and the power that parents have to effect change. These parents serve as a current illustration of parents who maybe don't push for communication from school but who sure pushed politically when they decided to fight for a library

    3) A number of teachers around the country are arranging the showing of "Race to Nowhere" as a stimulus for parent discussion about pressures put on children.

    4) Call/visit/write the parents for updates about their child and if this is a concern or not and why.

    POSITIVE communication starts with the teacher.

    a. Even more importantâ€Â¦ make a call or visit to let the parents know we enjoy their child and are happy to have them in class. Parents rarely get positive calls or visits from teachers about their children.

  • For elementary teachers: find something positive to write about each student every month. Be specific, so that the comment means something. If you divide the class up and do some each week, it becomes routine.

  • For upper grade teachers: if numbers are prohibitive, try to do this at least once a term for every student.

  • 5) Write letters to the editor responding to education issues. Don't let local news people get away with anything. The champion letter writer in the country is on the panel (Steve Krashen). Susan Ohanian's website has an archive of his best letters and he invites us to borrow his ideas and strategies. (I thank Steve for getting me to use twitter.)

    6) Write op-ed pieces explaining the complex educational issues that your community faces. Often the general public buys in to what the media reports without digging deeper -- this is not a condemnation of the general public -- rather it is a challenge and opportunity for us to use research to support our work -- through writing -- and educate the public.

    a. A good example of this kind of educating is Steve Krashen who makes the research on literacy and libraries accessible and easy to understand. Follow him on Twitter and if you’re a member of NCTE, join the Open Forum on the Connected Community, where Steve tries to convince the Executive Committee to do the right thing. He cites the research. His website also has the research listed.

    7) The Save Our Schools Million Teacher march and 3-day workshop in Washington, D.C. this summer (end of July). Most of us can't get to Washington but we can rally a group together and quietly or vocally march to the town square with signs of support and information fliers.

    8) Attend local and state school board meetings and begin to work with board members to understand the theory, research, and practices that limit our students’ success in school to help them understand that Poverty and lack of access to books are the key limitations on our students’ success in school.

    9) Run for school board. Barbara Flores in California is a great example. She ran for school board (San Bernadino City Unified School Board member) and won a seat. Since then she has used her knowledge of the learning and teaching process to effect change at the local level. It is hard, slow, but vital.

    10) Vote someone in or out of office or Run for office. Teachers have a large collective voice. Use it!

    11) Join listservs and other organizations that promote democratic education and equal rights for learners and teachers.

    a. Institute for Language and Education Policy.

    b. TLN listserv --Ken Goodman's "A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers" was written 20+ years ago and it is still as vital today as back then.

    c. NCTE/NABE/Unions, etc. -- these kinds of organizations badly need people to do more than just pay dues. They need members to join discussion groups and, like Steve Krashen and others do at NCTE, challenge policy that the Executive Board is accepting straight from corporate politicos.

    d. Watch for immigration law reform in your state -- Texas -- but some attendees may be from neighboring states. Arizona's law is being pushed all over the country-even Indiana. If it isn’t democratic or fair then push against it.

    e. Do what Carole Edelsky has done in

    retirement. . . joing the "Raging Grannies" and while most of us may not be as eloquent as Carole when writing/rewriting lyrics and then singing them -- we can do what we can.

    12) Watch for changes in official language laws. While I wasn't looking (something I regret), the Indiana General Assembly voted in an "official language" -- English. I'm looking for the abolition of translations of legal documents and information in the near future. I will be looking for that very closely.

    This list is just the beginning -- add your own ideas to it -- remove some. . . most of all don't be afraid to do something. Don't just sit there and let things happen to you, to your students, and their families.

    Together we can effect change.

    References & Sources

    1. La Casita, Chicago (Everitt Elementary School & libraries)


    (For other articles google La Casita for more articles.)

    2. Ken Goodman's "A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers"

    URL: http://www.rcowen.com/rcoprfdv.htm

    (It is towards the bottom of the page)

    To sign the petition go to :


    3. Susan Ohanian Website: http://susanohanian.org

    Resister's Letters: http://susanohanian.org/letters.php

    4. Stephen Krashen's website: http://www.sdkrashen.com

    5. Save Our Schools March website: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/

    6. My Twitter address: Deb East @ForTrueEdReform

    7. Institute for Language and Education Policy: http://www.elladvoc.org

    8. Richard C. Owen Publisher: http://www.rcowen.com (Ken Goodman's Declaration is on this website.)

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