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updated: 9/21/2012 4:29 PM

Teachers unions to fight 'top-down' school reform

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Associated Press

Seeking to capitalize on the momentum of the Chicago teachers strike, unions and allied parent and community groups promised Friday to launch a nationwide fight against government-led school reform efforts that they say are only making public education worse.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced at a news conference in Washington that they plan workshops, town halls and other events in 11 cities to engage communities in finding their own solutions to improve public education.

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For years, unions have pushed back against government interventions in education reform, including the closure of failing schools, the takeover of others by private consultants and the growth in charter schools. They say school closures put a disproportionate number of African-American teachers out of work and leave blighted communities with even fewer resources. They also decry what they say is a "top-down" reform effort by city leaders that fails to hear the opinions of local educators and parents.

The seven-day strike in Chicago, the nation's third-largest school district, reignited the debate.

The series of town halls, teach-ins, workshops and other events will be held in Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Minneapolis, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Paul and Tampa.

"Our goal is to empower teachers, parents, students, clergy and other community members to act together and to drive real public education reform," Weingarten said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis described it as a struggle to safeguard the "public character, integrity and inherent democracy of public education."

"The strike in Chicago, the first one in 25 years, is the first phase in our long struggle for the soul of public education in the United States," Lewis said at the event in Washington.

She railed against the focus on standardized tests and the heavy reliance on test scores in evaluating teacher performance, which became one of the main issues in the Chicago strike. Teachers in poor and violent neighborhoods felt it was an unfair measure.

"Only people who do not know how to educate children want to reduce them to numbers," Lewis said.

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