I went to the Save Our Schools March on the White House Ellipse 3 weeks ago with enthusiasm and an open mind. I was eager to hear the speeches by edu-luminaries Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Pedro Noguera. I was especially interested, like most of the other attendees and all of the media, in hear what Matt Damon had to say. I tried to block out the name-calling and nasty puns (ex. “Duncan is flunkin’”) that peppered the crowd.

I went home excited, posted my video of Matt Damon’s speech on Youtube (quickly drawing 130,000 hits), and googled around for others write-ups of the event. What I found made my jaw drop.

Save Our Schools March organizers turned down a meeting at the White House with President Obama’s education advisers. Let me say that again: educators rejected an invitation for a seat at the table of power. The march organizers wanted to meet after the rally, not before.

They ended up with nothing. Talk about overplaying your hand. What was the point of rallying and marching next to the White House if not to actually attempt to have your ideas discussed inside it?

And we have real problems for which teachers and parents must have a voice in shaping policy if we are to have any hope of solving them:

High-stakes testing is venom in the heart of American schools. Privatization is threatening to engulf ever more neighborhoods and school communities. Teachers are being vilified in the mainstream media on a regular basis. The best and the brightest college grads don’t want to become career educators. There are no clear career ladders for teachers except to leave the classroom permanently. Poverty is a diagnosis, not an excuse, for millions of students’ academic and social struggles.

The George W. Bush administration would never have invited parents and educators to come to the White House for a meeting. The Obama administration may not offer the progressive education agenda that many of us were hoping for, but at least they’re opening to listening to us.

The Save Our Schools March was a lost opportunity. Hopefully, Matt Damon’s star power can raise a bit of awareness among many not typically attuned to the edu-blogosphere. (TMZ and the Huffington Post front page shared video of some of Damon’s profanity-enhanced backstage comments, propelling the Youtube clip to over 1.8 million views.

Where do we go from here, Parents Across America? Where do we go from here, righteously frustrated teachers? Which organizations will lead the way? What are the next steps?

I’ll offer some ideas in my next posts, but I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments section.

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