On The Eve Of The Next Public School War
We ought to be on the eve of the next public school war! Howard Schwach's Editor's Desk commentary of November 7 (Nobody Asked Me, But… School Edition) highlighted more of the dysfunction of mayoral control adding to The Wave's continued excellent expose of the abuse this one person rule has heaped onto our families. And abuses there are. Recent hearings of government committees set up to examine the effects of mayoral control, one initiated by New York City Public Advocate Betsey Gottbaum and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, and another New York State Senate select-committee on which sat State Senator Shirley Huntley, heard the anger of many parents. The loudest cries from parents were over the unresponsiveness of principals and other school authorities when pragmatic, instructional, or behavioral problems arose with their children, over the continued classroom overcrowding and over the ever present high pressure of constant testing.
The second loudest concern voiced was over the complete and total lack of parent participation in decision making on policies directly affecting their children. These complaints rose to a fever pitch with parents of children with special need.
But I can hear the Department of Education folks say, there are all these parental involvement mechanisms in every school and there is even a central office of parent engagement where parents meet the system and can find redress. Well, it turns out that these mechanisms are attempts to coop parents into falling in line with decisions made at Tweed or in the principal's office: they are not constituted to find redress for grievances or to solve program, learning or discipline problems. What is a parent to do?
I greatly admire Diane Ravitch, and have looked to her book, The Great School Wars, for many insights, but her solution of a mayoral appointed and controlled central board of education (The Future of School Governance in New York City), will not give our city's parents the power they need to fulfill their moral and legal responsibility to see to their children's education. Indeed, a mayoral appointed board would continue that existing relationship of parents to school policy making authority leaving parents just as powerless as before.
Parents all but a miniscule few wish to see their children grow healthy and happy through their schooling and be prepared for the world after school. But, I say, with mayoral control, even modified with a mayoral appointed board, our parents are and will remain prohibited from seeing to their love and responsibility.
So, the next school war ought to be fought, not for community control as it was forty years ago, but for parent control.
LEO J. FAHEY