Re: Mayoral Control and New Governance of New York City Public Schools

The Council of the City of New York
Education Committee
Eva Moskowitz, Chair

Special Hearing

Mayoral Control and New Governance of New York City Public Schools

February 28, 2002

Testimony of Elizabeth Carson
Parent, Community School District 2
Co-Founder, NYC HOLD Honest Open Logical Debate on Math Reform

Madame Chair and members of the New York City Council Education Committee:

I am a parent of one child who has attended public elementary schools in Manhattan Community School Districts 1 and 2. This is his 4th year at School of the Future, a District 2 middle/high school He attended private school for pre-kindergarten through the early elementary grades.

Throughout my son's school career, I have strived to support and contribute to the quality of the educational environment at his school. I have served as a PA President, PA Vice President, School Leadership Team Chair, PA Fundraising Chair, Parents/Presidents Council representative and executive board member, school representative to the Title I/PCEN Parents Advisory Council, and to the United Parents Association. I have helped school administrators write grants, given school tours, and been a school press agent. I launched a successful after school program, which brought together a community based organization, parents, school staff, and local artists. I've produced and directed school performances and street festivals. I've regularly attended, and testified often, at local School Board 2 meetings, and on special occasions, at the Central Board. I have participated in school-based, district -wide and city- wide study groups. I've served on C-30 and C-37 committees. I've participated in Campaign for Fiscal Equity public engagement sessions, and I've founded NYC HOLD, a coalition of parents educators mathematicians and scientists working to improve mathematics education in NYC schools.

Mayoral Control
I support mayoral participation in school governance, mayoral hands on engagement in the NYC public school system. I believe the mayor should be responsible to a degree of accountability, for the successes and failures of the schools in our system. I understand that mayoral governance must have "teeth" so to speak. For a mayor to improve the business of education and to be held accountable for the outcome of his efforts to restructure, streamline, make more efficient and provide for a clear through-line of accountability, his authority to hire and fire a Chancellor may well be a requisite.

I look forward to hearing Mayor Bloomberg's ideas on city schools governance and I look forward to hearing the recommendations of Speaker Silver's Task Force to the NY State Assembly.

Overarching Goal -Key Roles
A successful education governance system must first and foremost reflect at every level one central overarching goal: the provision of optimum support and resources to enable the work of the classroom teacher, and to support a partnership with parents in this work For make no mistake, these two constituents are the most important participants in the education of our children. (Of course, as children advance through the grades, they themselves assume a progressively greater responsibility for the quality of their own education.)

Supporting Roles
All the rest of the players in public education have important but secondary, supportive roles: school and district level administrators; all those who work in the NYC BOE departments currently defined under the headings of Control, External Relations, Funded and Community Resources, Instruction, Program Development and Operations; and elected and appointed officials at the city and state levels, who are involved, in sometimes mysterious ways and with varying and complexly interconnected responsibilities for education administration, policy and funding

It is a great and sad irony that classroom teachers and parents have the least voice if any voice at all in these various decisions and policies that affect them most - that impact most dramatically their ability to provide for the education of our children.

Participation of Educators
I will not presume to articulate for classroom teachers the restrictions, the degree of disrespect and outright oppression they regularly endure in our present system. I would advise the Education Committee however, as well as other advisory and governing bodies to consider in a new governance, remedy for these unacceptable and totally counterproductive working conditions which affect our city's perhaps most influential citizens - those who spend hours daily with our children, who are charged with the responsibility for their formative educations and in a broader sense hold the responsibility for shaping the future of our country.

Participation of Parents
A successful system of governance would support, nurture and sustain appropriate forms of parental participation, involvement and engagement; and would provide for a clearly defined system of accountability to parents for the equitable delivery of at the very least a sound basic education for all our city's children.

We are very, very far from these goals.

I submit to you that parents want first and foremost, to support their child's school, they want to continue and extend the good work of the classroom teacher at home, to participate in the academic and enrichment activities at school, and to help build a community.

I do not believe many parents are desirous of, or have the time to run their child's school, and do not find reasonable or appropriate the responsibilities currently mandated for School Leadership Teams - to research, develop and draft annual school Comprehensive Education Plans, and to make detailed budgetary decisions.

I believe parents see the importance, in fact see the necessity, for participation in dialogues to inform decisions and policy, to affect an educational delivery to reflect their values, standards and experiences; and that involvement in an advisory capacity has the potential to accomplish this. Parents want the opportunity to invest in their child's school, to contribute to gradual improvements and to participate in the continuing evolution of education reform.

Parents should have at their disposal, the means to hold their child's school accountable in the event the school cannot, or will not, deliver an acceptable quality of instruction. This requires a responsive and efficient system wherein parents can express concerns, seek redress of grievances and effectively participate in solutions.

Parents should have at their disposal, in the event a school cannot or will not deliver quality instruction, alternative and viable school options. I submit to you that provision of diverse and equitable school choice is critical to an effective accountability system; it is a fundamental requisite in order to enlist the education establishment's interest and commitment to providing the educational services that parents and the community desire. The community's values and standards should drive educational delivery, not ideology, special interests, funding and research opportunities, or political advantage.

Parents have strong grounds to reject the present paternalistic stance of the education establishment: a "we know what's best for your child" attitude. In the wake of a series of failed, ideologically driven educational reforms, most notably Whole Language where phonics instruction was excised to the detriment of a generation of children, and the current constructivist math reform where the absence of mathematical rigor and instruction in the standard rules and procedures is effectively eliminating students' opportunities for future math-based academic pursuits and careers, I submit too often the education establishment does not know best.

A sound effective governance system in NYC would require building the capacity of the present systems of parent involvement and engagement, ie Parents Associations, School Leadership Teams, District Leadership Teams, President's Councils, CPAC, Title I/Parents Advisory Councils, and the United Parents Association. All these systems, though often peopled with well-intentioned and hard working parents, are not working nearly well enough. The participation and leadership of these organizations is unfortunately not representative of their respective parent communities, in far too many cases; and for a variety of reasons ranging from the inability of parents to participate because of work responsibilities, language and/or cultural barriers, to more insidious barriers created by school and district officials, and often times enabled by "insider" groups of parents.

Much much more effort must be put into ensuring these organizations provide the free and open distribution of information, promote democratic public discourse and conscientiously ascertain and represent parents' experiences, needs and viewpoints through meetings, forums, surveys and creative outreach.

The various parent organizations and councils, must be allowed to function, free from the exploitation, control and oppression of the education establishment.

Community School Boards
I have seen first hand the absolute and deliberate failure of a community school board to represent, or advocate for, parents' educational values and standards; a disregard for public dialogue and an aggressive protection of the status quo.

However, I see great potential to build the capacity of community school boards, and I am opposed to their elimination. Elected school boards provide a vehicle for direct civic engagement. School Boards can choose to represent their constituencies and can effectively hold the district administration accountable. They can require provision of a broad spectrum of information necessary to adequately inform and justify education policy. School Boards can choose to provide the community with important information, can choose to provide the community with the means for public discourse, and can facilitate democratic decision making and policy setting, through the promotion of inclusive and representative involvement within the school communities and district-wide, among teachers, administrators, parents and the community at large.

Thank You

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