Four strong grassroots challengers took on four rubber-stamping, corporate ed reform school board incumbents here in Seattle on Nov. 8. All but one race was close. Two of the challengers won!

Martha “Marty” McLaren and Sharon Peaslee both won, and will soon join Seattle’s seven-member school board, hopefully tipping the balance towards sensible, responsible and thoughtful leadership that is responsive to the parents and community of SPS, and not outside political agendas. (They will be sworn in at 4 p.m. today at the JSCEE district headquarters.)

The four challengers all brought a lot to the table. They ran solid, smart campaigns. And they earned many significant endorsements. Kate Martin is a parent activist and member of PAA-Seattle. Michelle Buetow is a parent activist and member of the Alternative School Coalition. Marty McLaren is a former Seattle math teacher (and member of PAA-Seattle) who took the school district to court over the adoption of weak math text — and won (later overturned on appeal, though). Sharon Peaslee is a parent activist who started a petition to save a popular principal who was summarily fired by our new reformist interim superintendent allegedly over test scores (the petition, bad publicity and overwhelming community support for the principal forced the superintendent to reverse herself and reinstate him).

The corporate ed reform powers that be who supported all the incumbents (including the Seattle Times, which prematurely declared one of the losing incumbents the winner) are not happy, and have tried to dismiss the victories as solely due to teacher’s union support, or disparage voters as simply being “silly.”

But the voters weren’t silly. They were fed up.

The four incumbents rubber-stamped the damaging, costly and scandal-ridden ed reform agenda of our previous (and fired) Broad Foundation-trained superintendent, voting to bring in Teach for America, Inc., merit pay, and high-stakes testing. National ed reform lobbyists, Stand for Children endorsed three of the incumbents. In addition to such political connections, the incumbents also significantly outspent the challengers (with money from wealthy donors outside of Seattle).

So this is truly a grassroots victory against ‘ed deform.’

To recap: Here in Seattle, this year we managed to oust our Broad superintendent (Maria Goodloe-Johnson), see our district rid of the last of the costly ‘Broad residents,’ and oust two of the four incumbents who supported and rewarded our superintendent and her corporate ed reform agenda.

The parent activist community in Seattle has also kept the klieg lights on Teach for America, Inc. and the behind-the-scenes political machinations that brought TFA here, as well as the MAP test, which is being misused for teacher evaluations and is a huge waste of time and resources.

Diane Ravitch came to town last week and it was a sold-out event. (In contrast, when Dora and I hosted a forum with her last year via Skype, the local media, and even one of the main education blogs ignored it.)

So perhaps the tide is turning here in Emerald City towards a more organic and community-centric approach to public education.

We still have many challenges ahead of us in Seattle, and Washington as a whole, the biggest being the gathering, moneyed forces that are pushing for charters. We still have the Gates Foundation right here in Seattle, so as long as that foundation pushes for and bankrolls discredited, failed reforms, those of us in the parent activist community will have our work cut out for us.

But, for a bunch of finance-free, grassroots volunteers with little more than blogs and research skills and a willingness to speak and act up, the unofficial ‘Seattle Ed Deform Resistance’ is doing all right.

So I hope those of you who are faced with similar battles in your own districts around the nation can take heart in our story and achieve similar wins of your own.

Sue Peters