Over two thousand parents, kids, teachers, and just plain angry folk in the cavernous Brooklyn Tech auditorium and another thousand or so outside. The crowd, with signs and flyers and pins, black and brown and white, young and old, confronting the members of the Panel on Educational Priorities (PEP) and Department higher ups, almost all white.
For nine hours speaker after speaker confronted PEP Chair David Chang and Joel Klein. Impassioned pleas from current and former students, from parents, from teachers, from outside agencies who work with the school, electeds and Community Education Council (CEC) members.
Many of the speakers were community members, Afro-Americans, who accused the officials on the stage of racism to exuberant cheers from the immense crowd. More than nine hours later, after hundreds of speakers the mayoral appointees plus the Staten Island rep voted to close the nineteen schools.
Can a Mayor and a Chancellor survive growing accusations of racism?
Joel Klein’s favorite speech always refers to education as the civil right issue of the 21st century. His problem is that his marginalization of communities and parents increasingly looks like the powerful white man imposing his will on communities of color.
The Tuesday night, Wednesday morning PEP meeting was not an isolated meeting. The vote rubber stamping the decision to close schools only served to empower, to encourage an audience to organize for the next meeting, and the next meeting.
Arne Duncan is now ensconced in Washington and his “reforms” in Chicago have been carefully scrutinized(story here and analysis here).
A Chicago Tribune analysis of 2009 Illinois test data finds that six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched Renaissance 2010, “a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools,” little in the educational performance of the city’s school system has improved. Scores from elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at remade high schools are below the “already abysmal” city average.
Will Joel Klein’s “reforms” survive scrutiny?
Are his reforms thinly veiled efforts to diminish the power of teacher unions and his goal is the “charter-ization” of the school system?
His seemingly endless sequence of reorganizations is disorienting to schools and parents.
The current School Support Organization system offers a wide range of services to schools, at a price. For example one SSO has four levels of services: essential ($24,900), basic ($29,900, premium ($34,900) and elite ($59,000), with a very specific listing, sort of a Chinese menu, from which schools can choose.
Superintendents, the chief rating officer, until this year had no involvement in the schools they supervise.
If a school lands on the “persistently low achieving” list, who bears the blame? The teachers? the principal? the Support Organization? the Chancellor? the PEP?
On Tuesday night the audience certainly felt that they were being blamed for a school’s failure.
The Mayor and Chancellor fail to understand the power of race and the power of communities. If you live in East New York there’s a good chance that your parent or grandparents were born in South Carolina. You may very well travel to your ancestral home town for a reunion, and, the discussion will focus what’s happening in East New York.
The “word on the street” is that Joel Klein, that rich white guy, wants to close our schools and turn them over to “elite” charter schools.
Accuracy is unimportant. Perception is reality.
What started as discussions to improve low performing schools has become a civil rights movement, a struggle against powerful outsiders, white outsiders, who once again want to rob them of their schools and their children’s future.
Unless the Mayor begins to mend fences, and there is no indication that he sees any problem, this will end badly for the Mayor and the Chancellor, and, unfortunately it is the children in communities of color that will bear the scars.