The Battle for Public Education

Boy! Has it been an exciting year for education in California!

In June, Judge Treu, of the Los Angeles Superior Court found that five education code statutes establishing teacher “tenure” (permanent status), due process rights, and seniority as a factor in layoffs, are unconstitutional. The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers’ Association are working together on the appeal.

San Francisco City College will stay open through the trial of the ACCJC, slated to begin October 27. And if you haven’t been following that story, basically this rouge commission tried to deny CCSF its accreditation, and without that, the credits earned there would not be recognized as legitimate. The ACCJC’s claims against San Francisco’s community college, where about 64,000 of the city’s residents take classes[1] aimed to shut down the school with the goal of privatizing it.[2]

Since this fight (if not before), socialist and social equality groups have stood up on campuses across California to recognize and speak out against privatization in all its forms — from the cutting of diverse courses to the ever-increasing cost of tuition.

One of the unifying forces behind these student-run groups in higher education has been the California Student Union,[3] who at their statewide conference in April narrowed down a list of demands behind, which individual campuses could use to organize (based on our biggest collective issues):

  1. Follow the Money (privatization)
  2. Freedom of Speech (repression)
  3. Diversity Education (diversity)
  4. No to Napolitano (democratization)

The Young People’s Socialist League (at Moorpark Community College in Ventura County) has taken this list, discussed it in a public forum, wrote up a list of demands more specific to our school, and took those demands to their Board of Trustees. There, in May, five members of the political science club spoke during the public comments session and spoke out about issues they have on their campus, what they expect from their administration, and what they as active students intend to do to see improvements made.

Another exciting development is the Chapters and Affiliates document that now gives the California Student Unioners a tool with which to reach out to existing organizations on campuses not yet involved!

But the fight doesn’t stop there; it continues on the K-12 level as well. This year CASU teamed up with Schools LA Students Deserve to realize that the attacks CCs, CSUs, and UCs undergo, are not unique to higher education.

I interviewed a leading member of SLASD, Jess Kochick to find out more:

JM: Who are you, Jess?

JK: I’ll have to get back to you on that one. 

JM: What do you do on a daily basis?

JK: Now that it’s summer, I do whatever I want, which usually means camping, traveling, yoga and drinking good beer.  During the school year, I’m a high school special education teacher.  I work at a really innovative, public LAUSD school.  Besides lesson planning and teaching, I dedicate my time to organizing: on-campus with students and parents, as well as with teachers district-wide through our union, UTLA. 

JM: How did you get involved with SLASD and how long have they been active?

JK: SLASD got started around January of 2013.  The idea was to build a movement of students, parents and teachers from across Los Angeles, not just to fight against budget cuts, school closings, and things like that, but also to put forward a vision of what our education system could and should look like.  I got involved through PEAC, Progressive Educators for Action, which is a caucus within UTLA.  We found out about the General Assemblies and starting going to them.

JM: SLASD has a totally progressive vision. They say:

“Youth, families, educators and community members are coming together to build a new vision of education and schooling.  We are working together because we know our communities have the power to transform our schools and our society.  Our voices matter and they need to be heard.  We want students in L.A. to attain skills, literacy in all subjects and become self-motivated, critical thinkers and participants in their schools and communities.  Students need to be able to build skills in a nourishing environment and be prepared for their lives when they leave school.”[4]

What has been your experience organizing with them and CASU?

JK: It’s been really exciting to participate in SLASD because it’s a very vibrant, democratic space.  It’s been refreshing to vision alongside students and parents and really begin to understand different people’s perspectives and experiences.  It was really powerful for the high school students to present at the CASU conference and dialogue with college students.  Because of the energy and commitment of the organizers, I’m optimistic that this movement has potential.

JM: SLASD has some pretty awesome goals. What realistic steps have you taken to meet those?

JK: The first priority was to create an inclusive, collective vision of educational justice, which we did through a series of General Assemblies with 200 or so participants.  We then held a series of community forums, as well as a Social Justice Schools Conference, to reach out to a broader layer of people. Many of us are involved in supporting independent student and parent organizing groups on our campuses; these groups participate in SLASD but also have other goals based on local concerns.  As for actions, in November we helped build a march against the billion dollar iPad purchase used solely for state testing, organized a student speakout in December, and held a large street theater action in May.  This was an opportunity to bring together all the schools who have been participating in SLASD to publicly display our vision.

JM: This is a radical approach to addressing the issues of our education system. Why be radical?

JK: I think more and more people are realizing that voting in friendly school board members isn’t enough.  What we really want is community control over the budget, curriculum and school programs and policies.  It seems reasonable that teachers and parents and school communities should have a voice in the education system, but we only get lip service, not decision-making power.  From the local to the national level, the politicians in charge of “education reform” are interested in austerity, privatization, and criminalization of youth.  There is a LOT of money in the “education industry,” from textbook corporations, consulting firms, testing software, and charter operators looking for profit. We don’t have billions of dollars, but we do have numbers: parent organizations, student groups, teachers’ unions. It will take a movement to turn the tide. I think it will be fun.   

I agree wholeheartedly with Jess. Getting involved with my student union has introduced me to new ideas, taken me on adventures, and seen me overcome challenges I would have never thought myself capable of. From jumping on phone conferences for months to in-person events and meeting inspiring organizers of all ages to cooking with a comrade for a crowd of hungry So Cal student activists, I have had a blast!

I say let the fun continue! I have mainly one question on my mind going forward: Who’s reaching out to our campus workers?








Jen McClellan

writes, reads comic books, skates, eats, sleeps and poops in the 34th district of Los Angeles. She's studying English and teaching Supplemental Instruction at CSUN until she becomes a high school English teacher. She's an active Socialist Party USA member.

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