At an all-day meeting featuring panel discussions and break-out sessions, a group of parents, students, teachers and other educators met to propose an alternative to Mayoral control of the New York City public school system. Sponsored by the CPE (Coalition for Public Education) an education advocacy group, and held at the District 37 (AFSCME) building, the conference centered on strategies to establish a People's Board of Education as a way of giving parents of young learners in the public school system a decision-making voice in their children's education.
At the conference which featured a number of educational "true reform" activists such as Jitu Weusi, Benita Rivera, Sam Anderson, David Dubosz, and Brian Jones among many participants, several of them recalled the time in which community control of the schools was implemented in the 1960s and the controversies surrounding the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district in Brooklyn.
Ms. Rivera recounted the disappointment she and her son had when he became enrolled in the Henry Street School of International Studies, with its promises of foreign travel for the students. She pointed out that most of these promises were unfulfilled, that only a tiny fraction of the students who entered the program as freshmen actually graduated and that the staffing included mostly inexperienced teachers, some without certification.
Sam Anderson emphasized the "corporate connection" between the public schools and corporate influence during the Bloomberg Administration's control of the schools. He underlined the importance of public education as a "human right" and that the way in which the schools were presently run, much of it for the benefit of corporations, was a violation of that right. As an alternative to Mayoral control, he proposed a People's Board of Education to be made up of "parents, grandparents, students, community members and educators who will be charged to serve only the interests of parents, students and their communities."Among its guiding principles would be the right of parents, students and the community to:
- Participate in the governance of the educational system;
- Independently monitor the system;
- Receive adequate training and information that would ensure effective participation in the system;
- Employ effective and timely remedies when rights are being violated.
Other proposals involving the PBE would be community participation in developing a "new vision of free anti-racist public education in NYC," a way to "participate and monitor the results of future reorganization efforts," and thus "assure that federal, state and city laws provide independent public oversight of the public education system."
The major emphasis of the PBE would enable community members of the neighborhoods in which the public schools are located who are knowledgeable in pedagogy, education law, community organizing, and training, and fundraising and media connections to participate in forming and directing its policies. Not, as is presently the case, being shut out of any input into the decision-making process of the PEP (Panel on Educational Policy), which is a rubber stamp for the Bloomberg Administration.
Brian Jones, a noted educator and producer of the documentary The Inconvenient Truth Behind 'Waiting for Superman,' a critical response to the hyped documentary about charter schools, Waiting for Superman, pointed out that the consequences of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy divided teachers from parents and that now "connecting the dots" means that parents and teachers need to unite in the common cause.
The effects of the Bloomberg administration's handling of the schools can also be seen, according to another participant, in a significant decline in the number of African-American and Latino teachers recruited into the system since Mayoral control was implemented. The importance of having positive role models in a predominantly minority student population cannot be underestimated.
Other issues such as the negative influence on communities when "charter schools" are co-located in neighborhood schools, the more inclusive, multi-cultural teaching materials that were an integral part of the school curriculum in the 1960s, and the need for getting the police out of the schools were among the many other topics aired. The afternoon of the conference consisted of planning for future meetings and outreach strategies for the wider community.
Assemblywoman Inez Barron is presenting a bill to the New York State Assembly to establish a People's Board of Education as an alternative to Mayoral control. Given the recent critical report by the Schott Foundation that the present policies of the Bloomberg administration have contributed to "educational redlining" and its resultant failures to improve the public schools if not make them worse than when he took control, the alternative of a People's Board of Education seems worth serious consideration.
The People's Board Of Education will meet again on Saturday June 2 to continue to expand its base in all of New York City's neighborhoods.