Matt Damon criticizes Eva Moskowitz's charters at D.C. rally

A contingent of New York teachers joined thousands of protesters from across the country in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to march against the Obama administration’s education policies.

Joining them was actor and budding philanthropist Matt Damon, who railed against “corporate reformers.” In an interview with GothamSchools, Damon exhibited a familiarity with New York City education politics, criticizing co-locations of charter schools and district schools and calling out the Success Charter Network in particular.

The march was the main draw of a four-day event called “Save Our Schools,” which included a conference and a film festival. A coalition of more than 100 teachers came down from New York City, including groups from the United Federation of Teachers (this reporter embedded with a UFT-sponsored charter bus) and the Grassroots Education Movement. GEM also hosted a workshop at the conference and showed its documentary film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman to an audience of about 250.

More than a dozen speakers – including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier – spoke at a rally that directly preceded the march. The lineup featured songs, performances, poem readings, in addition to a pre-taped message from The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (here’s an excerpt).

But it was the Academy Award winner Damon who the drew top bill. The audience waited two hours in sizzling temperatures to hear him speak and judging by their response, he did not disappoint.

Damon called the last decade “horrible” and “demoralizing” for teachers and said an overemphasis on high-stakes testing is not what helped him succeed professionally.

“My teachers were empowered to teach me. Their time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep, a bunch of drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning,” he said to rousing cheers.

Here’s the speech in its entirety:

In an interview, Damon said that he was troubled by the trend of co-locations in New York City, even referencing a recent Daily News report on the marketing expenditures at Success Network Charter Schools.

“Eva Moskowitz just spent $1.7 million in advertising, as in marketing for her…so it’s like, you know, the kind of core inequality has to be addressed,” he said. The figure cited in the article is actually $1.6 million. A spokeswoman for the Success Network disputed the total.

Here’s video of that interview, which also includes an idea to cut the military budget to reform national education policy.

Damon, the founder of, an organization committed to bringing clean drinking water to third world countries, is known for his social awareness, and attended SOS in part because his mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, is a well-known early education professor and outspoken critic of high-stakes testing.

The purpose of the march was to end at the White House to deliver President Obama a list of demands. The demands included an end to high-stakes testing as a factor in teacher evaluations, compensation and school closures; smaller class sizes; less curricular emphasis on math and reading; and a greater role in policy-making by teachers, parents and community leaders.

It’s not clear why the march didn’t end up delivering the list of demands, but it did attract the attention of the Obama administration. On Thursday, Arne Duncan met with several of the SOS March’s core organizers — Duncan called the meeting ‘useful‘ but organizers disagreed — and President Obama invited them back to the White House on Friday. The organizers declined and the two parties did not end up meeting.

Supporters estimated the total crowd at more than 5,000 teachers, but no official estimate was provided by the Washington D.C. police department.

As a kicker, here’s a video of Taylor Mali reading his famous poem, “What Teachers Make”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”