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Re: PRESS RELEASE: New York City Parent Leaders Statement On Govern

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  • Josh Karan
    The Need To Enshrine Educational Goals in A NYS Education Constitution Re: New York City Parent Leaders Statement On Governor Cuomo and The New York State
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 17, 2014

      The Need To Enshrine Educational Goals in A NYS Education Constitution

      Re:  New York City Parent Leaders Statement On Governor Cuomo and The New York State Senate's Agenda To Destroy Public Education

      In this statement, Sam Pirozzolo, President of Community Education Council 31, commented on actions by the NY State Senate to undermine local control of school governance in order to favor Charter Schools.  He stated:

      "Almost since its inception, New York City public school parents have pointed out that Mayoral Control was out of control and the laws needed to be changed … Yesterday the NYS Senate introduced a bill that would effectively eliminate Mayoral Control …".  He went on to enumerate some of the ill effects which would ensue from that bill.

      In doing so, he brings up the contradictions of a focus on school governance that was noted in 2009 by the Parent Commission, a grouping of 15 education activists of which I was a part, which also included two who co-signed the  present Press Release of protest to the Governor & State Senate, along with CEC and Community Board  officers from 5 districts. 

      The Parent Commission report asserted "It''s More Than Governance"
      Conditions in our schools "have been the same for decades now; whether centralization, decentralization, school boards or mayoral control was the governance structure". The same problems exist because …. "structures have been put in place to support goals, but there is no detailed list of exactly what the goals of education are in NYC, or how to achieve them equally for every school in every neighborhood".  

      For me, it is a focus on comprehensive goals which needs to be paramount, but around which there has only been limited organizing. 

      Towards that end, the Parent Commission called for the establishment of a new commission of parents, teachers, educational administrators  and recognized experts to write a Constitution for New York Public School System. Just such an Education Constitution, which enumerates philosophy and values, and mandates programs,  facilities, and structures, exists in countries throughout the world. The Parent Commission offered an outline of a Sample Education Constitution for New York City.  (www.parentcommission.org)

      The ability of the NYS Senate to consider its recent legislation, and of the NYC DOE to maintain most of the Bloomberg co-locations, stems from the absence of such a detailed debate by our elected officials, Chancellor,  and PEP members. 
      about the goals of education 

      What would such a debate  entail?

      Much of the educational activism of the past few years has been resistant and defensive, with a program that I would characterize as the 5 No's:  
      No Co-locations, No High Stakes Tests, No Charter Schools, No Contracting out of services to crony corporations like Joel Klein's Amplify, No Budget Cuts.  Those who have tirelessly struggled for these goals deserve the credit for making them part of the agenda.  Hopefully the new Mayor and other elected officials will eventually keep their campaign promises on these matters.  Yet is this enough?  

      Have we, the education advocates--including parents and community based activists--adequately defined what is needed to fulfill a vision that provides educational excellence for all, and developed a strategy for achieving that vision?
      Have we created the broad based organizing force to conduct that discussion and mobilize for the implementation of that vision?

      The Parent Commission dissolved in 2009,  Subsequently, the establishment  of the A+ Coalition in 2013 was very promising. Comprising a wide array of expert educational analysts and activists, Its program called for:
      smaller classes, arts programs, comprehensive support services, social and emotional learning components, real cultivation of effective teachers and administrators (www. aplusnyc.org).

      The A+ Coalition, however, was a temporary policy promulgator designed to influence the programs of the November 2013 candidates for various elected offices.  None of the candidates for any office were willing to endorse its program.
      The A+ Coalition was not designed to be a permanent organizing force to ensure accountability to its program that would be enshrined in NYS Constitutional law. 

      I think that what would be most valuable is if it or an equivalent broad based coalition of educational advocacy forces were to become such.

      How about attempting to organize an A+ Coalition in each district, with endorsement of the A+ program by a coalition of district based community organizations -- CEC, PA's, social welfare organizations, religious institutions?

      That could ensure that our elected officials and their designees in the Department of Education and legislative committees focus on enactment of this program by 
      legislative mandates and administrative execution of , amongst others:
      1) Small classes for NYC schools, as exist by law in Florida and elsewhere 
      2) Provision of the arts, sciences, and physical education to all students as an integral daily part of the curriculum
      3) Supportive services for students in need --- academic tutoring and counseling
      4) Culturally responsive pedagogy -- which highlights the contributions and the languages of the diverse population of this city that uniquely enables it to offer the most inclusively humane education of any place on this planet
      5) Diverse teaching and administrative staff

      What would it take to obtain such an alternative vision of education, which the Campaign For Education Equity (CEE)  terms Comprehensive Education Opportunity? 

      CEE  (http://www.tc.columbia.edu/equitycampaign) is an organization founded by Michael Rebell, former lead attorney for the historic Campaign For Fiscal Equity lawsuit, It has promulgated proposals for full service Community Schools which provide for universal pre-K from age three, in-school physical and mental health clinics, after school tutoring and recreational programs, adult education, and all the academic supports of small classes, teacher training etc. 

      Moreover, CEE asserts that such programs are required to make real the NYS constitutional mandate, as defined by the NYS courts, for a "meaningful" "sound, basic education". This is his avenue for articulating an Education Constitution. 

      CEE knows that such a program won't be possible without a huge increase in funding .The New York State Court of Appeals ruled, in its resolution of the CFE case, that an additional $ 2 billion had to be spent to make for compliance with the New York State Constitutional guarantee of a "Sound Basic Education", (a miserly  sum, in my opinion, which itself may not even have been provided).
      The New York State Legislature in 2006 took a large leap further in its legislative settlement of  CFE, allocating in steps what would amount to an additional $ 5 billion per year for New York City schools ($ 9 billion total per year for all NYS schools).  It certainly has failed to subsequently provide either.

      On behalf of a broad coalition of New York State School Boards called New Yorkers for Student Educational Rights (NYSER) --- which includes many NYC CEC's  ---  Attorney Rebell recently  filed another lawsuit to obtain an immediate downpayment on these debts, and to get the NYS courts to act as the NJ courts have, by overseeing on-going compliance with their decisions about what is constitutionally required, including adequate funding for essential programs and facilities. 

      Massive civic support will be needed for this lawsuit to prevail in the courts and branches of government responsible for implementing any new decision. 

      Building  such a movement, which knits the components of the individual issue struggles into one for Comprehensive Educational Opportunity, is to me the challenge for us:

      Can there be portfolio assessment instead of assessment by standardized tests if there are not small classes (CFE mandated a maximum of 20 for grades K-3, 23 for grades 4-8 and 25 for high school); can there be universal pre k starting at age 3, and a rich curriculum if there is not a massive new school building program of schools that have science labs, art rooms, and physical education facilities?  Will parents perceive that they do not need to compete for scarce special schools -- be these G & T or charter schools, --- if there is available for all a welcoming local public schools of excellence which address students academic, physical, social, and emotional needs?

      If these funds are not allocated, we may get the mantras of the 5 No's fulfilled, but the outcome for students will be little different.  20 years ago there were few high stakes tests, co-locations, or charter schools, but most NYC students were not any better prepared for a bright future.  

      And even if miraculously this administration were willing and able to commit such funds, what would happen after its reign is over?

      Will we get another such administration, or will the political pendulum swing again to a Guiliani/Bloomberg tenor?  When our schools are governed solely by an omnipotent Mayor, can we be complacently content with relying on the hope of a benevolent authoritarian ruler?  When controlled by an omnipotent NYS legislature can we expect anything different?  This will be the limitation of focusing exclusively on  governance when the present law authorizing mayoral control of NYC schools expires next year.

      For even if we did restore some semblance of shared governance/checks and balances --- with input by the City Council and/or parents, CBO's and education schools --- what would that accomplish? The period prior to the 5 No's was one of shared governance with a Board of Education appointed largely by the 5 Borough Presidents, and Community School Boards receiving their own budgets to hire scores of administrators to run  schools in the 32 city districts.   Yet again, however,  the outcome for most students was little different than now.

      So if we were to adopt the program of the A+ Coalition/NYSER  and if we were to obtain the funding needed to institute it, how would we assure its perpetuity?

      The answer to that question brings us back to the need for an Education Constitution that guarantees such provisions.

      The starting point for that is the lawsuit filed by Attorney Rebell, on behalf  of NYSER .  If the NYS courts act affirmatively and determinedly, a fuller articulation of what the NYS constitution requires for education policy will be promulgated. Everyone should publicize and build support for this campaign.

       If the resulting constitutional standards are inadequate, then a full Education Constitution is needed to detail our needs. 

      Given the political and economic realities in NYS & NYC either may be a utopian dream.

      But for me it provides the direction for struggle because anything short of this will continue the shortchanging of the majority of NYC & NYS  school kids. 

      Let us call for an organizing conference to bring our disparate forces together around such a program. 

      If anyone wants to work with me on this, please contact me directly.

      Josh Karan
      former President CEC 6

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