SOME PERSPECTIVES ON PUBLIC EDUCATION: Updated

Akinlabi E. A. Mackall                                                                July 2010

On the Public Education Front:

There must be an end to the dictatorial Mayoral Control system of governance in NYC and NYS. We, in the “Education for Liberation (EFL) Movement”, call for the establishment of a PEOPLES BOARD OF EDUCATION, that is, a truly democratic, human rights based governance structure in which power to set priorities and to determine policy wrests squarely with parents and members of the local community (ies). We demand a public education system which is excellent, equitable and liberatory for all of it students. The public school system we envision must also be unionized, respectful and supportive of all categories of its workers. Again, parent and community empowerment are reflected at every level of the public school system we envision. Finally, our school system will operate within paradigms in which adults take responsibility for (1) impacting student attitudes and behavior as well as student learning; and (2) creating school environments that are safe, nurturing, affirming, and academically challenging to students.

The following issues, recommendations and perspectives offer insights regarding   the path-breaking work on public education currently being done within the EFL Movement:

People Empowering Governance & Legislation …We call for:

  • Establishment of a Peoples’ Human Rights Tribunal on Public Education
  • Establishment of a Peoples’ Board of Education (PBE)
  • Legislation supporting a Peoples’ Referendum to End Mayoral Control & to establish Home Rule in NYC (under City Council??) with Peoples Board of Education (PBE) as the mechanism (before 2015)
  • Organized, independent, yet funded, parent empowerment and elected representation from the school level to the citywide level (e.g., school-based councils, community board councils, city wide parents union and a Board of Education with a parent-elected majority of representatives).
  • School closings are generally not acceptable. Instead, we call for parent and community control in decisions regarding “program re-designs” or “school restructurings”. Changes should be reflective of inclusive processes and the empowering visions (concerning curriculum, instruction and pedagogy; parental & community involvement; as well as teacher, student, principal and school staff involvement) expressed throughout this document.

Curriculum, Instruction & Pedagogy

  • Culturally Relevant Curriculum: Formally incorporate African American, Latino/a-, Asian- and Indigenous History and Cultural Studies into the Pre-K-16 (elementary, middle, secondary school and CUNY/SUNY) public education curricula.[1]
  • Make student competencies in Black, Latino/a, Asian and Indigenous Peoples’ History (ies) and Cultural Studies mandatory for H.S. graduation.
  • Integrate Social Justice Curricula with Culturally Relevant Curricula
  • Revamp NYC & NYS instructional practices to emphasize culturally competent[2], student-centered pedagogy[3]. There is a nexus between a student’s cultural reference points (e.g., her/his sense of self, sense of community, values and motivations) and a teacher’s capacity to utilize those references to help ignite student learning. Teachers who recognize, respect and work at connecting with their students, are on the way to cultural competency.

Teacher (principal & administrator) Recruitment, Training and Retention

  • Reverse the discriminatory practices which have led to major losses of Black & Latina/o teachers (e.g., NYC under Bloomberg).
  • Fund African, Latino and Asian Ancestry Teacher recruitment and training programs for local students, school staff, para-professionals, teaching aides, retirees, and other motivated community members.
  • Fund “New-teacher” training programs which value cultural competency and require a 6-month to 1-year student-teaching apprenticeship or residency (before assuming lead teacher responsibilities).
  • Develop at least one special high school for teaching in each borough of NYC and each NYS district
  • Design and fund “new-teacher” training practices and “veteran teacher” professional development practices which embrace cultural competency and student-centered pedagogy.
  • Fund leadership and administration institutes which recruit and prepare culturally competent educators to become able (respectful, strong, reflective, consensus-building) school principals and BoE administrators.

Student Issues

  • Student Empowerment Now: Students should be encouraged to organize at the school, district, borough and citywide levels to address education issues.
  • NYC Metro card Allowance: Students must have free transportation.
  • Education Achievement Gap(EAG)[4]: EAG is really reflective of  government’s failure to treat all of its public school students well. Educational equity is missing. Simply put, there is a “gap” or difference in the quantity and quality of educational services dispensed to students. Students who are Black and Latina/o and indigenous generally receive lesser quantities and lower quality of services; even within the same public school system. In the NYC & NYS (and most other US) public school systems, the gap is huge. The disparity or gap in the delivery of services to students is reflected in student achievement and in student behavior. Ironically, large groupings of students who do not fare well, are stigmatized and labeled as “underachievers”. A more accurate label would be “under receivers”. Society’s educational and governance institutions are responsible for addressing the needs of its students / children. Again, the students are not responsible. As minors, they are “at the mercy of the system”. They can be “beneficiaries” or they can be “victims”. However, society, with the use of its media, has mis-framed the whole achievement gap problem. Virtually all of us think of the problem as one of student performance rather than one of the public school system’s performance. At once, society, has managed to sidestep responsibility and cast the blame on children– its most vulnerable victims. Money, physical resources (e.g., books, supplies, equipment, facilities), teacher quality are commonly identified examples of the way school systems discriminate against its own students. However, SISDS[5] investigations of the EAG in NYC have revealed that the most glaring and debilitating commission by / omission of the public education system has been its mishandling of student affective issues, that is, student attitudes and behavior.
  • Fundamental system change: In the view of investigators at SISDS, fundamental system change is the solution. The thoroughly unsatisfactory educational lives of most Black, Latina/o and Indigenous students must be transformed; and the personal futures of all students must become liberating and empowering. Such change requires paradigm shifts in direction and focus of the educational system. Toward that goal, SISDS has identified the following five areas on which to focus “fundamental system change work”: They are: (1) early childhood through high school concentration on (the previously cited array of) student affective factors; (2) school administrator, teacher, staff and parental affective factors; (3) enlightened teacher and administrator recruitment and training / preparation—especially in cultural competency, student-centered  pedagogy; as well as in actual instruction and classroom management skills; (4) the inclusion of culturally relevant, social justice, community & planet sustaining curricula; and of course, (5) a thoroughly empowering, democratic governance structure.

School Facilities Issues

  • Eliminate police presence and metal detectors in public schools
  • Make schools “community centers” by implementing a variety “extended day” and “weekend” programs for pre-schoolers through adult ed students

Charter Schools

  • Lifting of Charter School Cap is especially bad policy in “mayor-controlled” NYC for reasons cited (below).
  • Charter schools have not been used for their originally stated purpose: of being less bureaucratically-hindered schools to test and model useful innovations and effective educational practices for expanded use in the overall school system. This has not happened nationally, in NYS or in NYC.
  • Charters are now being used locally and federally to privatize public education. In NYC they are a divisive, diversionary tool. Some parents, frustrated with a failing school system, fight to get in, others fight because a charter school has been forced into (invaded) their child’s building; taking precious spaces like classrooms, labs and libraries.
  • Huge percentages of time, money and human energy are wasted on this project; which has had great hype and, at best, mixed academic results. At the same time, no answers are even sought by Bloomberg to address the disastrous academic, affective and behavioral problems besetting most public school students.

General Federal Education Policy

  • Arne Duncan’s / Obama’s “Race To The Top” Funds & “Blueprint for Reform” Educational Act are wrong headed in that they compound the  worst of NCLB; and even “break new reactionary ground”:
    • Continued inappropriate usage of / emphasis on high stakes testing to evaluate “student learning and achievement”
    • Charter school proliferation is presented to the public as the obvious / best / most direct solution to “failing public schools” in “poor” (especially urban) communities. When “privatization” of the public school system seems to really be the result / goal.
    • Teacher bashing / blaming is leading to the undermining of hard won education worker rights (e.g., teacher tenure is linked in new contracts in key cities –DC– to student performance on high stakes tests). This is part of what is referred to as “teacher accountability”; which is corporate speak, intended to diminish education workers power and erode (eventually bust) their unions.[6] If teachers (and parents and students) can be blamed, then the fundamental reason for failure, capitalism and the global capitalist (neo liberal) agenda, remain unnamed.
  • Specifically, capitalism and the capitalist agenda, does not need or want an equitable, student-empowering public education system. A highly stratified, racially & financially unequal system, under “one-man/woman” authoritarian control (e.g., NYC, DC, etc.) is just fine.
  • The publicly dispensed notion of a “social compact” between government and its citizenry is rife with misrepresentations on the education front as it is on the health care, criminal justice, employment, economic, finance and political fronts.[7]

Immediate Finance Issues

  • Equitable reapportionment of Education funds including Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) money to reflect actual student and worker needs
  • Reversal of Bloomberg policy of “anti affirmative action” for vendors with annual sales below $5 million

_________________________________________

NOTE: Comments are informed by Mr. Mackall’s work in Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence (BNYEE), Coalition for Public Education / Coalición por la Educación Publica (CPE-CEP), New York Coalition for Neighborhood School Control (NYCNSC) & Service Education Economic Development Science (S.E.E.D.S.), Inc.

Key Web Links: www.bnyee.com www.forpubliced.blogspot.com


[1] NYS already has had legislation and policy directives in place (i.e., 1989 Task Force on Minorities: Equity and Excellence Report, 1997 Freedom Trails Act and 2001 Amistad Commission ) yet its governors, legislature and board of regents have all failed to exercise the necessary political will, educational insight and ethical integrity to follow through.

[2] Here cultural competency refers to: a) an educator’s knowledge of her/his students’ community (ies), cultural milieu(s) and social mores; and (b) the ability to successfully apply that knowledge in school-wide, classroom and individual settings. Cultural competency can offer richly layered benefits to students, both affectively and cognitively. Culturally competent educators are far more likely to respect and to gain the respect of their students. Such educators are better able to “connect” with their students; that is, to engage, motivate, challenge, inspire and educate them.

[3] Student-centered pedagogy focuses on active participation by students with their teachers in planning, implementing and assessing of their “learning” assignments. Practices can include students developing portfolios of their work; independent and/or cooperative learning initiatives; peer tutoring. Teacher evaluations of student achievement are largely based on the student’s actual work products and effort. A key principle is that the student’s authentic experiences and her/his subsequent reflections add learning depth to many academic pursuits. Furthermore, student-centered approaches help reinforce in students that they are essentially “active” (as opposed to passive) participants in their own learning..

[4] In general parlance, the so called “achievement gap” has come to mean “the significant disparity in academic performance / achievement between the vast majority of Black and Latina/o students on the one hand, and White and Asian students, on the other hand”. SISDS however, argues that student performance differences are more reflections of disparate delivery of services and resources. If and when public institutions and officials provide both accurate assessments of the educational (pedagogical, curricular and affective) needs of Black and Latina/o students and a high quality delivery of the services and resources which address those needs, the differences in student performance / achievement will cease to exist.

In the SISDS frame of reference, the “educational achievement gap (EAG)” refers to significant quantitative and qualitative disparities in the delivery of effective educational services and resources to students within the same public school system. Specifically, SISDS has found that throughout NYC that the Black and Latina/o student populations generally receive lower quantities and quality of public educational services and resources than their white and Asian student counterparts.  SISDS has identified “US society” and especially its designated public sector institutions and officials as responsible for providing “effective educational services and resources” to all its students. This is, of course, the case for NY State and NY City as well.

[5] S.E.E.D.S. Institute for Self-Determination & Sustainability (SISDS)

[6] The confusion caused by corporate speak is not “on accident”. It is purposeful. A central idea in the neo liberal privatization of public education is to reap profit from worker salaries and benefits through givebacks, “re-allocations” and other rip-offs.

[7] Only through revolutionary work, that is, resolute, coordinated; and grassroots organizing on these key fronts, can the power of the people be fully realized.

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