I sent the following letter to my state and city representatives after the 1/26 PEP meeting:
I am a NYC public school parent of a high school student at LaGuardia, where I serve on the SLT. I am writing to express how appalled I am at the outcome of the so-called "hearing" Tuesday night at the NYC Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) held at Brooklyn Tech. I was in attendance from 6 pm, when testimony began, until 12:30, and I know that testimony went on well beyond that, until nearly 3 am, when the mayoral appointees on the panel voted (unconscionably!) to close 19 schools.
Thank you to all the legislators who came to speak on behalf of the schools. Thanks to Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Robert Jackson and other City Council members in the districts affected, and Public Advocate Bill deBlasio. Thanks also to Patrick Sullivan, PEP member, who consistently challenges the DOE on its consistently cynical, misguided decisions.
Mayor Bloomberg was quoted in the Times today as saying "We listened very carefully, but nobody made a convincing case." Perhaps we should buy him and the puppet members of the panel hearing aides!
I was there. I listened to 6 1/2 hours of testimony. I was extremely moved as student after student, teacher after teacher, parent after parent got up and made a case for their schools.
• The DOE statistics, the ones that they were basing their "decision" on, were often wrong. The schools presented the panel with accurate statistics.
• Many of the schools slated to be closed received passing "grades" from the DOE, garnered "proficient" status on their Quality Reviews, and had earned teacher bonuses for improvement.
• Most of the schools affected have populations that will not be served by the small and much more exclusive charter schools that will replace them: ELLs, special ed students, students who live in shelters or foster homes, students who have scored low on tests, teen-aged mothers.
• The DOE is saying that these schools don't meet the criteria for 4-year graduation rates. But significant numbers of students at these schools do go on to get diplomas after 5 or 6 years. This seems to me to be a great accomplishment. Can a teen-aged mother get her degree in 4 years? What about a student hopping from shelter to shelter?
• Closing down these schools will create a domino effect. These students will get transferred to other large schools, contributing to further overcrowding, and setting them up for “failure” (and subsequent closing) as well.
But more than that, I learned that a school is more than statistics. I was reminded that a good school is a web of connections and relationships between teachers/administration and students/families/community. I heard students speak eloquently about teachers they love, teachers who have challenged them to learn, who stay after school long hours to run clubs and tutoring programs. I also heard teachers speak passionately about specific students who came in discouraged and with low scores, but who then went on succeed. An in case after case, I was moved to tears.
A school is so much more than (manipulated) DOE statistics. The DOE should get off of ARIS. They should dismantle their bloated and myopic accountability office and get their butts into a classroom. They should stay a day, 2 days, 3, a week, a month, a year. Chancellor Klein should apprentice himself to the educators who are on the front lines. And while he is at it, he should attend staff meetings and team meetings, and why not staff development workshops at university education departments, we have plenty in this city: TC Columbia, Bank Street, NYU, Hunter and CUNY. Then he will know what education is. Then he would never close these schools and turn the system over to his billionaire business cronies who want to drop in and "reform" the system. Re-form to what? To a system that can put $ into their pockets?
I am appalled at what passes for democracy in this city: an arrogant, billionaire bully mayor who buys off or intimidates everyone who dares to challenge him, a pit bull chancellor who has no education background whatsoever, who has no respect for experienced educators, and who accepts counsel only from the business community. Where are the nationally respected education elders who would work with and advise you, Chancellor Klein? What happened to Shelley Harwayne? And Carmen Fariña? Why did they flee the system?
And so now, in the wake of the PEP's decision, we are left with the question: where will the students who attend the shuttered schools go? Thousands and thousands of students are affected. Many will no doubt drop out or be discharged. The DOE just sacrificed them. And what will these students -- the hundreds who scraped up the courage to stand up and speak, the ones who heard their teachers plead their cases, the ones who organized, gathering statistics and powerful anecdotal examples of what their schools mean to them, how they have buoyed and supported them -- what will these students now think of the democratic process in this city?
Mayoral control? This is the result.