Monday, September 8, 2008

Common-sense education reforms for the candidates

Today the NY Sun broke the story about our letter to the Presidential candidates, sponsored by Class Size Matters and Parents United for Responsible Education, out of Chicago:

Senators Obama and McCain have a panel of education advisers each, and there is no shortage of school administrators, union bosses, business leaders, and policy wonks who would very much like to be in those ranks.

A new group is urging the presidential candidates to pay attention to another constituency as they craft their education platforms: parents.

Led by two parent organizers — one in New York City and one in Chicago — this group says it's parents, not the unions, not the CEOs, and not even many of the academics, who have the right idea of how to improve public schools.

"There's a complete disconnect between what we're being told by the politicians and the businesspeople about what we should want schools to do, and what parents want schools to do," the executive director of the Chicago-based Parents United for Responsible Education, Julie Woestehoff, said. "But frankly what parents want schools to do is better for their children. They know best."

Our letter to McCain and Obama -- posted in full here -- describes some common-sense education reforms that parents and other stakeholders believe the federal government should be supporting, including safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors, smaller classes, a rich curriculum including arts, and more parental involvement. This isn't rocket science, guys!

High-needs kids need these sort of conditions in their schools as much as the children of those who are backing the so-called Education Equality Project, who are pushing a very different agenda for urban schools that, in the letter, we call "NCLB on steroids."

We also have a slightly different emphasis than those who put together "A Broader, Bolder Approach" in that the education reforms we propose are both more specific and more wide-ranging, and we strongly believe that making these sorts of fundamental changes can make a significant and sustainable difference.

As our letter says, "Until these goals have been achieved, we cannot and should not give up on the potential of schools to transform lives."

We are also more explicit in our critique of the current regime of high-stakes testing and the argument that simply adding more charter schools will lead to improvements systemwide though competition and market forces-- which we see no evidence of in NYC or Chicago.

Instead, here in NYC, charter schools are allowed to cap enrollment and class size and are being forced into overcrowded buildings, where they are diminishing the ability of the children who attend the existing school in the building from enjoying the same advantages. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg/Klein administration remains vehemently opposed to reducing class sizes in our regular public schools systemwide.

As we say in the letter, the last thing our nation needs is a "trickle down" educational system.

The full letter is posted here, on our new website, Common-sense reforms for our schools ; if you'd like to sign on, just send us an email with your name, affiliation and town or city to and we'll pass on your names to the candidates as well.

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