Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome back! as a new school year begins

Dear friends,

Welcome back to a new school year! I hope you are refreshed and energized as we have a very busy year ahead.

A new capital plan will be introduced that will determine whether we will have the room to finally eliminate overcrowding in our schools or significantly reduce class size. The Mayor is making a big push to lobby the legislature to renew Mayoral control, by helping form a new political operation that expects to raise $20 million. He is also apparently considering trying to overturn term limits. All of these factors will determine the future of our schools for years to come, and as parents, we have to make sure that our voices are heard and our views seriously considered in whatever decisions are made.

In addition, an important Presidential election will also be held just two months from now. A couple of years ago, Class Size Matters teamed up with a parent organization in Chicago called PURE to send an open letter to the parents of Los Angeles, warning them about some of the pitfalls of Mayoral control. Our letter, posted here, was reported on in more than 10,000 papers and websites around the world. (For example, see this AP story.) The mayor of LA never did get control of their schools (though this was due mainly to the proposal being blocked by the California courts.)

We're joining forces again to get a message out to the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates about the key reforms that as parents and stakeholders we believe are needed in our schools.

We drafted this letter to offer a different perspective from those expressed by two other coalitions that have recently formed: the Education Equality Project, run by Joel Klein and Al Sharpton, which is pushing for more charter schools, high stakes testing, and merit pay, and the Broader Bolder Approach, which argues that educational reforms alone cannot be expected to substantially close the achievement gap, and calls for a host of other changes, including increased investment in health care, afterschool, etc.

While more access to health care and quality afterschool is important, we believe that there are miles to go before classroom conditions in most high-needs urban schools begin to rival those offered by the schools that wealthier kids attend, and until we start to provide some of the same educational opportunities to all our children, we haven’t even begun to see their potential in improving outcomes.

As such, we're asking you to sign on to the letter above. It calls for a major federal effort to eliminate school overcrowding, provide smaller classes and more guidance counselors in high-needs schools, ensure that all students receive a rich curriculum, including more arts and high-quality assessments that are primarily classroom-based, and encourage parental involvement in decision-making.

Please let us know if you’d like to sign on by contacting us at classsizematters@gmail.com with your name, school and district or other organizational affiliation, and leadership post if any.

Too often the parent voice is the last to be heard in these debates, if at all; let’s make sure that this time, we speak out loudly and clearly for the sake of our kids.
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

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