A letter from a NYC public school

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Michael Mulgrew and the Unity Caucus:

What do you think are the best ways to make positive change? 

Certainly, change does not happen because a few people in positions of power decide that they know what is best. In a democracy, positive reforms happen because all stakeholders have a voice and work towards developing common understandings. Yet, you do not want to hear from us: the parents, teachers and communities, and you demean our voices of opposition.

A true reformer does not believe that he/she holds all of the answers, a true reformer engages all stakeholders in the process of change. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one such example of reformer. In his letter from Birmingham, he outlines the process through which true reforms can happen, and he, along with all those who suffered inequities, was willing to risk everything to reform the injustices:

“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.” 

The latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation. Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott, we are asking to engage in good faith negotiation.

Our own children and students are suffering under the inequities of standardized testing as it minimizes their education. Teachers are being forced to teach their students what to think instead of how to think because of the transformation in the relationship caused by the high stakes nature of these tests.  National and state researchers can find no value-added model to account for a direct correlation between student achievement and teacher effectiveness. We do not follow an archaic ideology that teachers hold knowledge and children receive the knowledge. Rather, we are now in an age that has made tremendous gains in cognitive research. The injustice of not being able to or allowed to use what we know about how children learn best is being duped by compliance based reform.

Children must endure classroom management styles of compliance rather than engagement. Teachers fear that they may stop wanting to work with students who have poor attendance rates or who struggle and receive related services. We do not want to be punished for working with students who need us the most. Most teachers came into the profession in the largest urban school district knowing the challenges because they wanted to make a difference.

Closing schools has an explosive effect, demoralizing  the neighborhoods where they are the center of their community. It is an injustice to the children. It is all too brutal. With any ounce of doubt, you must go back to the question of  how positive reforms are enacted. Our faith in our leaders hangs in the balance- you are either our leaders or their leaders. The corporate interests of this educational reform are no secret. But as the leaders of this city, you are either our leaders or theirs.

In good faith, we hope to negotiate.


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