Thursday, August 6, 2009

CPE/CEP 10 August Press Conference A Success! PLUS FOUNDING CONVENTION!

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New York City's Battle
for Neighborhood School Control


‘MAYOR’S WIN, CHILDREN’S LOSS’

Sen. Perkins and advocates decry mayoral control of schools

By MARYAM ABDUL-ALEEM
Special to AmNews
and NAYABA ARINDE
Amsterdam News Editor

Published: Thursday, August 13, 2009

"The mayor's victory is our children's loss," said State Sen. Bill Perkins, who voted against the mayoral control bill twice in the Senate. "Mayoral control, unfortunately, was renewed when Governor Paterson signed the bill into law on Tuesday, but the so-called amendments were not included. This underscores how in this point in time the parents are still left out; the policing in our public schools will continue to the dismay of parents and educators. Art education and cultural education will continue to not be included and there will not be the type of transparency and accountability that parents demanded and demonstrated on the steps of City Hall for."

After a stalemate in the New York State Senate over a power struggle and then a deadlock over a vote to extend the Assembly's version of mayoral control, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten what he wanted and succeeded in getting a large number of legislators to agree with his vision for 1.1 million New York City School students. Mayoral control is back until 2015.

In a closed-door session, at 10:30 on Tuesday morning, Gov. David Paterson signed the 2002 state law that the Assembly overwhelming passed in June—without the proposed amendments that the New York State Senate added to that bill. The four amendments—which still have to be debated and voted on in the Assembly—would create a parent training center, an arts advisory committee, the expansion of superintendents' roles and required public meetings on school safety.

The bill that the governor signed is very similar to the original version of the 2002 law, except for a few changes that were added to address some concerns people expressed over the mayor's governance power.

In a released statement, Gov. Paterson said, "It gives me great pleasure today to sign into law an agreement that will secure the future of New York City's school governance and allow 1.1 million schoolchildren and their families to breathe a sigh of relief. The agreement continues the progress made under Mayor Bloomberg over the last several years, while adding new layers of cohesion, stability and parental involvement. This is great news for all of the students returning to school next month, as they will continue to receive the support they need both inside and outside of the classroom."

A representative from Paterson's office could not be reached for additional comments at press time. Out of his eight appointments to the 13-member Panel for Educational Policy, the mayor will now have to name two public school parents, as determined by the bill the governor signed. The mayor will have to hold public meetings and notify parents and the community before the closing of schools; the panel will review no-bid contracts and an independent budget office will have the authority to review data on the performance of students.

News of the governor's act was expected by many, but disappointing to others. "I am disappointed," said Jitu Weusi, a long-time educator and member of The Coalition for Public Education. "We hoped that the governor would at least have had a public hearing before signing the bill. It was disappointing that it was not a more democratic process." But, Weusi said, he knew that the governor was under a lot of pressure by certain forces. "That pressure would make you do a lot of things," he said.

"We, The Coalition for Public Education, will continue to develop and build a pressure group to end mayoral control at the earliest possible date," he added.

Sam Anderson, also a member of The Coalition for Public Education, said, "Governor Paterson is part of the problem; it's official now." Paterson, Barack Obama and a host of others have fallen for mayoral control of our school system, which is mainly for predominantly Black and Latino people, said Anderson. The governor "has aligned himself up with the right wing of the Democratic party."

Anderson continued to say that the Coalition for Public Education has now got to be a "formidable" force for more parental and student involvement to mobilize and provide the basic services needed, such as a grievance procedure that will resolve issues for parents in the schools. Anderson said they must now work "school by school, district by district "to create mechanisms to develop and retain Black and Latino teachers, while continuing to create meaningful change.

Ironically, on Monday, there was a press conference sponsored by The Coalition for Public Education, along with other advocacy and political groups in attendance such as Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence; Independent Coalition on Public Education; New York Coalition for Neighborhood School Control; and the December 12th Movement that gathered to show their resistance to mayoral control, which they view as an autocratic dictatorship that has no place in a democratic system.

A furious City Councilman Charles Barron fumed, "The people must hold the governor and Senate and assemblymen accountable for mis-education of our children. The mayor been a failure, and it is very disappointing that they can't see that this mayor, who we've invested $130 billion in to educate our children, has failed miserably. And for them to give one person this dictatorial control is incorrigible."

Barron continued, "We must hold them responsible for endangering our future by putting the responsibility of educating Black and Latino children in the hands of two unqualified individuals such as Bloomberg and Klein.

"Parents have no power; the people have no power. The power was instead kept in the hands of those who are unqualified and uninterested in educating Black and Latino children, in particular, and all children in general. We hope our people have long memories come the election regarding who it was who sold our children out."

Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott were even spotted entering City Hall while the press conference was taking place. The assembly of organizers and activists booed and chanted "no mayoral control" along with "dictator" at the men as they walked by.

The same day that the press conference was taking place, Mayor Bloomberg introduced a proposal to end social promotion in public schools for grades 3–8.

Previously, the mayor instituted the policy for grades 3, 5, 7 and 8, but now has added two more grade levels, saying that the new policy to end social promotion was a step in the right direction for students.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) has to approve that measure. The mayor's policy on social promotion made headlines when he first promoted the educational reform.

Bloomberg fired members on the panel who had disagreed with him on the issue. This issue of mayoral control and term limits even received the attention of the federal government when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is an open advocate for mayoral control and charter schools, sent a letter to an influential educational advocacy group to influence the group to stop fighting for term limits for members of PEP. Even President Obama has made known his admiration for "innovative" practices regarding public education, which includes "schools of choice" that are run independently but receive public money.

Many have expressed their concern for some of the educational initiatives that are being proposed in this season of educational reform, such as paying or firing teachers based on performance and student achievement, and closing down schools that do not make the grade.

All this comes at time when more states with heavy urban populations are transitioning to a mayor-controlled public education system.

Mayoral control is predicated on the premise that the public educational system has failed far too many students, mainly students of color, who are disproportionately affected by high dropout rates and low testing scores and who, many proponents of these educational reforms say, are being left behind in the competitive work force, especially against other students in different countries, along with their European counterparts.

But many opposition groups to mayoral control have asked what will happen when another mayor comes along who is not as vested in public education as their predecessor? Others assert that mayoral control is not about the students, but about politics.

While the Bloomberg administration has said that the achievement gap is closing, graduation rates are climbing and test scores are up since 2002,studies are continuously being revealed that show the measurements the administration are using may not be fully accurate. And others have said that public education is now too focused on showing these "measurable" stats of improvement over the quality of the education that students are exposed to, in addition to making the test easy to pass in the process. They charge that schools have become "testing mills."

At the press conference on Monday against mayoral control, Weusi read from a paper in front of the podium that stated, "Under dictatorial powers of the mayor—police rule in the schools; criminalization of children; continuation of the classroom to prison pipeline; excessive high stakes testing; crowded classrooms; harassment of veteran teachers; the notorious 'rubber room'; reckless and excessive spending of public money; using charter schools as a means to privatize public schools creating a three-tier public school system; no discussion, no debate, no democratic tradition; no libraries with books; no science and computer labs in all schools; charters in minority neighborhoods with all-white staffs; no independent parent organization of training establishment of an independent commission to evaluate education; no educational leader of NYC public schools—for all these reasons and more, we say NO to mayoral control."

Perkins concluded, "We want the people to understand this loss is not the end of the movement to empower our parents and bring transparency and accountability to our schools, bring back art and culture to the curriculum and curb the excessive policing in our schools. The organizing will continue because they are angrier than ever.

"Until our children get the type of education they are entitled to without the fudging of the numbers and the procurement practices and the Bloomberg buddy system are brought to light, the organizing will continue," said Perkins. "Obviously, the answer is a new mayor who will listen to and bring about the changes that the parents have continued to demand. For parents, this is the most important issue in this upcoming election."
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