Education re-imagined

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New Yorkers have given Mayor Michael Bloomberg a mandate to improve education for our children for another four years. You’d think that after the battle to restore mayoral control of the schools and endless pre-election political jousting, people would be tired of the subject, but the intensity of Education Voters’ community dialogues show that this is clearly not the case.

This fall, in neighborhoods across the city, these conversations brought out passionate groups of parents, educators, clergy, students, seniors and others. Education Voters asked them to imagine how to transform education. What works? What doesn’t? How can we achieve excellence in public schools?

Discussions were urgent and thoughtful. The keen and diverse observations and suggestions make it clear that New Yorkers want to be part of developing the solutions to education reform as partners with the city’s leaders.

Participants eagerly engaged the facts on the ground, in their local school buildings. They demonstrated the practical need for a serious role for parents and community in improving the performance of their children’s schools.The political issue of governance impacts the lives of everyday New Yorkers far less than the quality of their kids’ education in their local schools.

The importance of a meaningful role for all citizens in a robust democracy was evident in the last presidential campaign. Where could this be more critical than in that most democratic of American institutions, the public school?

Education Voters dialogues have been even-handed and determined. For many participants, especially those with a low income and immigrants, education is the key to success and student performance is paramount.

The top themes that emerged were curriculum and instruction, teacher and principal quality, overcrowding, parental involvement, school safety and after-school programs. Some acknowledged that preparing students for tests has value, but a wide consensus believed it is overemphasized and holds back a broader educational experience.

The well-established achievement divide that reflects social ills in economically underprivileged ethnic communities was also of grave concern at every neighborhood forum, especially for Blacks and Latinos.

The common theme across dialogues is that New Yorkers have opinions and suggestions about their schools and they not only want to be heard, but want to be partners with the Mayor and City Council in improving the schools. We will only really control our schools when we pursue an ongoing discussion that takes the measure of the schools at the given moment in time and the progress being made to improve them. Every stakeholder %u2013 parents, students, educators, employers, and elected officials %u2013 must be in a position to help protect the investment in our schools.

This is as critical to those in power who would take on reform as to those who want to see it. Communities need to be heard if there is to be wide acceptance of any reform program.

Glynda Carr is the executive director of Education Voters of New York.

Updated 3:40 pm, October 19, 2011
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