‘Badass Teachers’ Fights for Public Education

A group calling themselves the Badass Teacher Association (BAT) launched a campaign on Monday against America's federal education policies.

The 15,000-plus strong Internet group spent Monday making hundreds of calls to the White House switchboard to tell President Barack Obama to replace Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Instead, the teachers want a lifetime educator who better understands and empathizes with teachers and parents. 

The White House call was the first action since the group started about a week ago with an initial 100 members on Facebook.

The group is part of an ongoing revolution in education in which teachers, parents, and students are exasperated and exhausted by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top proposals and the testing they require, the Common Core State Standards, and school closings.

“I think that many teachers hoped that if Barack Obama was re-elected, he would ease up on the testing, and the school closings, and the test-driven teacher evaluations,” Mark Naison, a professor of African-American studies and history at Fordham University and a cofounder of the Badass Teachers Association, told TakePart. Instead, he doubled down on all of those, “leaving teachers with no other option than to speak out in the most forceful way possible, say, ‘enough is enough,’ and demand a seat at the table in shaping education policy, which they emphatically do not have now.”

There’s long been a push for Obama to replace Duncan, a longtime friend of the president’s from their days in Chicago. Obama picked him as his Education Secretary soon after he was elected in 2008. From 2001 until then, he worked as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

Duncan has plenty of foes from his Chicago days, particularly those who disapproved of his successful efforts to shutter underperforming schools and replace them with charter schools.

“I want BAT to show everyone that we are not going away quietly, that we see the true agenda and it isn't about better education,” Marla Kilfoyle, a teacher in California, said. “It is about profit and privatizing our public school system. I hope that BAT exposes that the school closings we are seeing in our inner city neighborhoods are not about helping kids but about business and money. I would like to see BAT expose that to the public and dismantle it so that we can start doing some real work that is genuine.”

Priscilla Sanstead, cofounder of the group and an activist parent, said she helped to get the BAT group started because she likes to connect people and ask questions that “a lot of people won't just go ahead and say out loud.”

Sanstead said that she wants big changes in education. She specifically wants standardized testing to be reigned way back, portfolios to become an accepted way to assess students, and for teachers to get a voice in setting education policy, she said. “I want smaller class sizes, too, and the way to do that is to spend money hiring more teachers.”

Bonnie Cunard, a Florida teacher and parent, is a member of the group. She says that although she can see education reform from both sides, things still need to change.

“Mostly, I see depleted public schools and our public funds channeled to testing corporations and corporate, for-profit charter schools,” Cunard said. “I see high-stakes tests strangling the education of children everywhere, including my own children.”

I'm very tired of teachers not being allowed to be a part of the decision-making process that affects our everyday lives and the lives of our students.

She says that she hopes this group will awaken teachers across the nation “to the fact that many of us are fighting these same issues—that we are not alone...I also hope to take proactive steps to change policies regarding high-stakes testing, privatization, and depleted funding of public schools.”

Michael Peña, a public school teacher in Washington who led the charge to call the White House, says he hopes the group accomplishes three things: reduce or eliminate the use of high-stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom, and include teacher's voices in legislative decision-making processes.

“I'm tired of being pointed at as the problem in education by people who don't understand the complexity of the public education system and how decisions are made by elected and unelected officials,” Peña told TakePart. “I'm very tired of teachers not being allowed to be a part of the decision-making process that affects our everyday lives and the lives of our students.”

Many teachers are demanding that they have more control over their profession.

“We are professionals” Denisha Jones, a professor at Howard University and a teacher educator, told TakePart. “We are educated. We deserve to make decisions regarding our craft. I hope that through this group, teachers can come together, organize, and save the profession from the corporate takeover of public education.”

Related stories on TakePart: