THE BLOG

Kids Are Not French Fries

11/15/2010 04:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Elissa Stein Owner: High School 411, Author, Designer, Kidney donor, PTA president

This week, Mayor Bloomberg abruptly announced that NYC School Chancellor Joel Klein was being replaced with Cathie Black, the former CEO of Hearst publications. Amazingly, to many, neither Mr. Klein nor Ms. Black came to the job with any educational experience.

While I too am no expert in education and know I do not have the qualifications to lead the school system, at least I am a mother of kids in public school here -- PS41 and MS104, both in Manhattan. I'm also co-PTA president at the latter. In spite of my limited experience I can confidently say it seems that the Department of Education has become increasingly disconnected from the reality of the kids it's educating and the families it's communicating to.

Our mayor wants to treat our school system as a business. But, as many commentators have pointed out this week, education is not a business. The goal in business is to make profit. The goal in education is to enrich kids, support kids, inspire kids. Kids are not commodities. Each one has a unique background and story with extenuating circumstances. Some public school kids have have wealthy parents, some have parents in jail, some have no parents at all. Some live in shelters, some in foster care, some in brownstones. Some have involved families, some who could care less, some whose parents cannot communicate with the schools because of language barriers. Some students excel while others are challenged by emotional issues, health issues or learning disabilities.

Our kids aren't McDonald's french fries, Gap jeans, or Vogue subscriptions. They are not clones that can be uniformly subjected to rigid standards nor should, or can they be judged by the same test. It seems that the mayor has attempted to mask the difficulties and messiness of educating our vastly diverse school population through the implementation of a crisp, clean and professional façade which the DOE has spend huge amounts of time, energy and money administering. It provides for sound bites and statistics that can be manipulated, but parents understand that it is a substitute for the teaching that really matters.

Here's an idea -- as we confront failing students, failing schools, and tests that aren't working the way we've been told they are, how about we put kids first?

Instead of focusing time and resources on test results to determine a student's educational trajectory, why not limit the test to merely a component of the equation.

And perhaps, if less time was spent teaching to the test, more time could be spent on on things like sex ed, which at this point isn't part of the mandatory curriculum until eighth grade, when many kids are already active and misinformed.

Maybe more attention and energy could be focused creating a viable anti-bullying initiative so that kids, parents and faculties have resources and guidelines to follow.

What about encouraging more families to be involved? Parents are an amazing resource that are underutilized in nearly all public schools. More energy and resources should be focused on establishing a thriving and self-sustaining PTA at every school possible.

Why are there vending machines in cafeterias? Even though the DOE is trying to promote healthier eating, offering Doritos and Pop-Tarts, not to mention caffeinated drinks in high schools, as daily options defeats the purpose.

And then there's the serious issue of the lack of seats for students and classroom overcrowding.

How about naming a chancellor with experience working with all the unique challenges of public education?

Call me idealistic, but we need leaders who understand that this is about more than just public relations, system management, and statistics.

After all, public education is about our kids, their futures and ours.

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