2001-02-03 / Columnists

Chatting With Chapey

by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey

by Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey

What Makes A Sound Basic Education?

In a Manhattan State Supreme Court, Judge Leland De Grasse's ruling that New York City public schools lacked adequate funding to afford their students a sound basic education has stirred a debate.  Parents, teachers, legislators, administrators, youngsters and even Mayor Guiliani were engaging in conversations about "What makes up a sound basic education in the world of the 21st Century?"

According to Judge De Grasse, a sound basic education states that every student should be able to vote and to serve as a juror.  Such civic engagement demands the ability to evaluate complex issues, to absorb new facts and concepts and to have the skills and abilities to communicate such facts and concepts to others in addition to being able to deal with complex issues that require verbal reasoning, math, science and socialization skills.

Sustained employment requires skills and competencies that would prepare a student to succeed in college or in the current labor market in jobs that would require merely an entry-level capacity.

On street corners and in living rooms New Yorkers are struggling with the answer to such questions as "Does New York City manage its funds well?" and "Does New York City fund its local public schools adequately?"

Back in 1993, a group led by Michael Rebell formed a coalition of citizens calling the movement "The Campaign for Fiscal Equity" (CFE). Eventually the CFE brought the state to court charging that New York City's public schools lacked adequate funding and eventually found its way to Manhattans State Supreme Court before Judge Leland De Grasse.

Among the findings of Judge De Grasse that helped him to frame his decision were: New York City has 75 percent of New York States minority children and 84 percent are enrolled in the city's public schools.  Large numbers of these children live in poverty and are at risk.  Present state aid formulas shortchanged schools in spending less on education than those of other localities around the state.  Judge De Grasse found that the vast majority of New York City's at risk children do not receive the intervention services they need and "are placed in schools lacking basic resources necessary for a sound basic
education."  New York City therefore has failed to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education according to the judge.

The court calls for the reorganization of schooling and funding to provide "the foundational skills that students need to become productive citizens capable of civic engagement and sustaining competitive employment." According to the De Grasse decision, a sound basic education must ensure the resources necessary to provide qualified teachers, administrators, appropriate class size, suitable curricula, materials, books, technology, adequate school buildings, resources for special needs children and a safe orderly environment.

A target date of September 15, 2001 has been set up to permit the reforming school financing and governance and to redress the constitutional and regulatory violations set forth in the decision.

Meanwhile the debate will continue at conferences, local meetings in town
halls, in school buildings and in legislative chambers. Just what is a sound basic education will be the subject of these debates in the months to come.

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