By Mike Schirtzer
Leon M. Goldstein High School- Brooklyn, NY
Congratulations, Mr. Mayor Elect, no matter one’s politics there is universal agreement that twelve years of rule is enough, it’s time for a new day. I’m sure you have already heard from the so called education experts on how to best “fix” our schools. Some of our friends have already told you how to best address the education needs (Diane Ravitch and Assailed Teacher). Rather than write you a laundry list of everything we want to help our public school system we have one simple request; visit our public schools and speak to the real stakeholders, educators, parents, and of course our children.
There it is Mr. de Blasio, you have already said education is a top priority, so take time and actually show up unannounced to public schools around New York City. Please don’t show up with an army of advisors and consultants, when the “iPad mafia’ comes in from the DOE it disturbs our classroom by diverting our students attention. You do not need cameras or reporters either. It’s simple, show up, sit down, listen, observe, ask questions and find out the truth for yourself. Our elementary school teachers have a great expression, “use your five senses,” that’s great advice that can help your evaluation. I know there are bunch of folks at Tweed (DOE headquarters) who have fancy titles and resumes full of “qualifications’ that they believe makes them experts, but better to speak the real experts, the people on the ground, find out the truth for yourself.
Visit all types of schools, ones that are considered high performing, ones that have been labeled “failing,” those that are forced to share room with charters, schools in communities where poverty is the norm, and schools where parents associations and alumni have made up for the wave of budget cuts. When you get there sit in on our classes, watch what teachers do. Take time to speak to them afterwards. Find out from teachers about how all these new policies such as Common Core standards, new aligned curriculum, evaluation schemes, and proliferation of testing is affecting our students. After you’re done talking to teachers, visit the guidance counselors, deans, paraprofessionals, and other educators and find out their thoughts on all the changes made in the last twelve years.
Hopefully you can find some principals and assistant principals to talk to who preceded the Bloomberg era and can explain to you how our school system has changed for the better or the worse. Ask them their thoughts on the leadership academies, where inexperienced educators are left to run their own schools. Ask them how much sovereignty they actually have. It would be a really good idea to sit down and run a budget analysis with them, make sure to to focus on the allocations for “network support” and “educational consultants”. It would also help you out to ask our school leaders about networks, superintendent offices, consultants, Tweed, and if all that money being diverted to these levels of bureaucracies could be better used in the schools. Find out the impact that these so called experts are having on our children and if we can better allocate public funds, such as reducing class size, adding more after-school programs, and wrap-around services.
And while you are talking to the educators and leaders, meet with parents, ask them their thoughts on all the new curriculum changes and testing. Find out how closing schools and co-locating ten schools in one building is affecting their children’s education. Ask them how to fix education and if poverty matters. Give them the “company” line that “poverty is just an excuse”, lets see their reaction to that! Ask them if the lack of healthcare or a pathway to citizenship affects their children’s education.
Finally, make time to sit down with the most important group of all, the real experts, our students. Have lunch with them, taste the food, find out their thoughts on school, what they want, what they need. Do they like all the test prep, less creative-arts classes, less physical education, less after-school programs, What do they think of their teachers, their principals, all the school faculty? Talk to the children who had their community schools closed or lost space to fancy new charters, investigate what has been the impact of Bloomberg’s policies on these innocent children. Ask our students how education can be improved, talk to high school students about the limited choice of courses due to budget cuts, find out how our younger elementary children have gone from playing and enjoying school to being drilled for tests on a daily basis, discuss with our middle school children how much stress they have from the constant practice for their ELA and Math exams. The main question for all our children has to be, is the obsession with bubbling in the correct answer making your educational experience better?
We don’t think this is too much to request. Visit schools, talk to the stakeholders, and let these conversations dictate your educational policies and choice for chancellor, not the experts who are lined up at your door, but have never spent a day in our schools. This is our only wish, Mr. Mayor Elect, we only hope you take our advice. As one of the few, if not the only organized group of actual rank and file educators that are actively working in public schools we are more than happy to open our doors to you.