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From the Grassroots
Grassroots Education Movement email@example.com
The release of the 2010 New York State test scores exposed the failures of Mayor Bloomberg’s and Joel Klein’s education reforms. While they bragged about closing the achievement gap, it was actually widening. A deceptive focus on high-stakes testing has undermined public education and led our education system astray, with all signs pointing to this being their intention all along. From limiting and, in many cases, ignoring parental and community input in decisions to hand out large contracts to private corporations, the current administration has done great harm to the public schools. The entire public education system is in great danger of being swallowed up by the forces of privatization.
High Stakes Testing, Mayor Bloomberg, and the Dismantling of Public Education
Fall into the Gap:
A GEM Coal
To Eva Moskowitz, a former city council member who rose to prominence via hearings decrying the perfidy of public school teachers. After losing her bid for Manhattan Borough President, she became CEO of a chain of non-union charters, paying herself $380,000, 50% higher than the Chancellor who she tells which schools to close, which spaces she needs, and offers various and sundry advice on the undermining and privatization of public schools. She enthusiastically supported Klein’s 8-page contract proposal, which essentially ignored every gain working people had made during the twentieth century.
A GEM Diamond
To Karen Lewis, whose election as president of the Chicago Teachers Union, along with her entire Caucus of Rank & File Educators has raised the hopes of teachers seeking true education and union reform nationwide. In the few short months since her election, Lewis and two and a half year old CORE have become eloquent spokespersons and representatives for a new teacher voice, combining a strong defense of teachers rights along with building strong alliances with parents, communities and students.
This administration created and promoted an agenda built on high-stakes testing and accountability standards rooted in illusionary and corporate competitive practices. The public was told students were improving; that the achievement gap was narrowing; that closing neighborhood public schools and replacing them with small schools or charter schools was the magic bullet; that teachers, principals, schools and students should have their merit and livelihoods tied to standardized tests; that tests results were the only proof of learning. They wove a web of lies and spun it as truth, all based on an inflated stream of manipulated statistics, bunk correlations, and highpriced PR packaged to pull at our heart strings while pitting education workers against each other, the public against teachers, and neighbor against neighbor. The truth is that today the self-proclaimed Education Mayor cannot use test scores to show that children in New York City are faring any better since he took control of the schools.
Inform, Support, Inspire: Promoting Policies for a Fully Funded and Effective Public School System
GEMNYC: WHO WE ARE
continued on page 4
GEM at AFT Convention Seattle- July 2010
The Grassroots Education Movement (GEMNYC) educates, organizes, and mobilizes educators, parents, students and communities to defend public education. Too many current corporate and government policies seek to underfund, undermine and privatize our public school system. GEM advocates around issues dealing with the equality and quality of public educational services as well as the rights of teachers and school workers. These issues include the incessant push for charter schools, the attack on union rights, the focus on high-stakes standardized testing, school closures, and the failure to address the racism and inequality that exists within our schools. As the attacks on public education and teachers grow more vicious, the collective organization of those who directly face these attacks at the grassroots level becomes all the more essential, and in fact constitutes the most effective potential resistance. GEM advocates for a positive vision of education reform by building alliances with other activist groups and organizing and helping coordinate the struggle at the grassroots school and community level, with a focus on school-level organizing. Join us. See our meeting schedule on Page 4. Contact GEM: GEMNYC@gmail.com Blog: http://grassrootseducationmovement.blogspot.com
Access to a high quality public education is not something that should not be won in a lottery — it is a most basic human and civil right. Yet, in May, the Legislature voted to raise the charter school cap, allowing 460 charters in the state, 200 in the five boroughs. 125 will already be open this September. What do these charter schools really represent? Are they the innovation and reform we need in education as our president and his education secretary so frequently proclaim? In each newsletter, we will explore the issue: Are charter schools improving education? Or are they destabilizing, threatening and hindering the public education of our children? By privatizing and outsourcing public education, are charter schools dividing communities in New York City and around the country? Read on to discover the myths and truths about charter schools. Then, please join our fight to improve and preserve public education for all. Charter School Myth #1: Charter Schools Are Public
Truth: “Public” means open to all members of a community. Charter schools conduct lotteries to select students. They do not accept just any student who wishes to register during the school year (as public schools do). Charter schools currently only educate less than three percent of our city’s children, yet the mayor and chancellor grant them superior attention and power to do as they please. While the lottery is supposedly conducted blind, many charter schools have been found to counsel out students who present behavioral challenges or need services such as counseling, ESL, small class sizes, occupational or physical therapy. East New York Preparatory discharged 48% of their students just before state exams last year. KIPP, Harlem Success Academy, and Harlem Children’s Zone (all charter school chains) have been found guilty of the same practice. What kind of school gets rid of students in need? Not a public school. In addition, many charter schools require parents to sign contracts in order for their children to be enrolled. These contracts often include basic behavioral and uniform codes, but can also include strict requirements about volunteer hours and participation in meetings/workshops. If parents cannot live up to their end of this bargain, their children will no longer be allowed to attend the school. These are not the practices of public schools. While it would be optimal to have parents in school volunteering, to make it a strict mandate infantilises parents. The great genius of our public school system is that it is inclusive—regardless of your family’s situation, you are guaranteed access to a free education. Truth: According to the NY State Charter Act of 1998, a charter school is defined, not as a public entity, but as an “education corporation.” Furthermore, the law states that charter schools are exempt from all state and local laws, rules, regulations and policies typically applying to public and private schools. Should the education of our children be outsourced to private corporations who are free from regulation and oversight? Our nation’s current financial crisis is due, in part, to these same practices. Truth: Charter schools are not governed democratically, often limiting the input and voice of parents, students and teachers. If our children are to grow up to be functional members of our democracy, they need to be witnesses to and participants in the democratic process. Significant documentation exists about the authoritarian practices charter
Charter Schools: Myths and Truths
schools use when it comes to discipline, conduct, and even instruction. For example, at Harlem Success Academies, kindergartners are put through a two-week “boot camp,” in which they learn how to walk, sit and eat in silence. Social skills are often overlooked, as charter schools push their students to achieve higher and higher marks on state-mandated assessments. KIPP schools have been accused of micro-managing students and even resorting to public humiliation as a form of punishment. Should schools only be focused on telling children to do as they are told, to the exclusion of learning to question, to challenge ideas, and most importantly to think for themselves? Most charter schools appear preoccupied, not with meeting the needs of their students, but rather, pushing their students to meet the needs of the school (high-test scores for good publicity), an “adult needs before children” mentality.
In Our Next Issue:
Charter School Myth #2: Charter Schools serve the same student populations as public schools.
ATTEND GEM MEETINGS: SEPT. 28: IMPACT OF TESTING, OCT. 26: SCHOOL CLOSINGS
Parents, Teachers Rally at Twenty Schools
June 4th, 2010 — A perfect spring morning. Over 25 public schools were buzzing with unusual energy. A boisterous mix of parents, staff and students gathered in front of their schools to speak out against the devastating attacks on public schools. The nearly 1000 protesters were opposing massive budget cuts, charter school invasions, school closings and a testing regime gone mad. The coordinated actions of the schools involved will lead to the growth of future organizing efforts and the continued city-wide fight for a just and equitable school system. While the independent voices and goals of each school community were maintained, all of the protests were united as they built parent-teacher-student cooperation and trust. Protesters held signs with slogans such as “Banks Bailed Out, Schools Sold Out” and led chants, “Mike the Mayor, Public School Slayer.” Nearly 2000 petitions directed to the mayor were signed as many passersby joined the protesters in demanding immediate reinstatement of funds cut from school budgets for the 2010-2011 school year. The June 4th day of action culminated workshops a core of active parents and school system emerges, the kind of at 4pm, when 100 people descended teachers began to form. Meanwhile, grassroots, collaborative organizing on the Tweed Courthouse (DOE head- for the few months leading up to June that took place on June 4th needs to be quarters) for a spirited rally which at4th, staff members at PS 24 gathered improved upon and replicated. tracted print and press coverage (ABC, during lunch every other week to Channel 5). Chambers Street drivers read articles and discuss the many honked their horns and shouted words important issues affecting schools and of support as a variety of speakers public education in general. It was addressed the crowd. At some schools, this group of educators that originally the June 4th actions turned into “Fight came up with the idea for the June 4th Back Fridays” as schools continued protests. The parents who had been protesting through the close of the working on the K-2 testing issue were school year. already interested and involved in educational politics and were eager to On June 4th, PS 24 in Sunset Park help promote the protest. Brooklyn had one of the largest turnouts of both staff and parents. PS Parents of PS 24 students felt valued The citywide, schools-based collabo24’s success was due, in large part, to as part of the school community. The their sustained school-based parent 150 parents that had attended the three ration that made June 4th so successful should to be repeated in order to and teacher organizing, staff politiforums already knew that they were keep building the city-wide movement cal education groups, and meaningful being taken seriously as partners in to put control of our schools in the inclusion of parents in their organizing their children’s education and that hands of those who have the most at efforts. their participation was a priority of stake: the parents, the students and the the school community. After hearing Throughout the 2009-2010 school teachers and other parents speak about educators. Growing and strengthening this movement by drawing on both year, a group of parents and teachers resisting policies and decisions that our collective anger and frustration at worked together on a campaign were harmful to students, the parents what we see, as well as our committo inform their school community were eager and ready to mobilize ment to building the kind of education about the DOE’s plan to introduce when there was a call to action. system that we as parents, students standardized testing into K-2 classrooms. Several forums with The issue based, collaborative organiz- and educators know is possible, will depend upon genuinely unifying these various workshops co-led by staff ing and educating work that occurred groups through collaborative, respectand parents were held in an effort at PS 24 is an important model for to establish an on-going dialogue building a base of active and informed ful dialogue and hands on action. about the problems with high stakes parents and staff, as well as a for Organizing groups on June 4th testing and the possibilities of identifying and nurturing new leaders. NYCORE: www.nycore.org alternative assessments. PS 24 is in As the community of parents, school CAPE: capeducation.blogspot.com a predominantly Latino immigrant workers and students actively building GEM: http://grassrootseducationmovement. blogspot.com/, plus independent teacher and parneighborhood and all of the workshops the resistance to the assault on public ent activists. were conducted in Spanish and education grows, and, as a coherFor assistance in organizing in your school work English to make participation possible ent vision for a democratically run, with the GEM/CAPE school organizing commitfor all of the families. Through these liberating and equitably funded public tee: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Profile of a GEM member: Sam Coleman
Why are you teaching? I love kids and I find being a part of their lives and their families lives extremely rewarding. I also believe that education is a nerve center, a place in our society through which power flows in all directions. I want to interrupt and redirect that power through my teaching and organizing in order to change the many inequitable structures that exist.
Sixth year classroom teacher in a Spanish/English dual language program at PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Testing continued, from page 1
According to their widely touted tests, the achievement gaps amongst our neediest students are wider than they were in 2003. Neither the tests themselves, nor the revelation about the way the numbers were manipulated provide any real clue about how or what students have been learning or what is happening inside classrooms. We do know that the DOE has spent untold millions on testing. We know students’ futures are being based on these tests. And, we know teachers, schools, and administrators are being judged by these same test results. If BloomKlein subscribed to the same merit based philosophies they have for our schools, students and teachers, they would be out of their jobs. It seems that accountability standards and practices are only meant for those at the bottom — to keep them compliant and complacent in a system that was reformed to mirror the free-market system ideology of privilege and subordination. We call on our state legislators immediately to end Mayoral Control. We call for the termination of Joel Klein as schools’ Chancellor. And, we call on education chair of the City Council, Councilman Robert Jackson, Public Advocate Bill diBlassio, and Comptroller John Lu to open an investigation as to how these lies were spun into truth at the expense of our children and millions in taxpayer dollars. Finally, we demand an end to the charade that is high stakes testing. We should be investing the millions that are wasted on testing and accountability into what is proven to work: smaller class sizes, increased student and family services and intervention, professional development, and incentives to professionalize and retain qualified, experienced teachers. We can no longer stand by and watch our children fall through the cracks created by the devastating policies of Mayor Bloomberg. The time is now for parents and teachers to rise up and say, “Enough!” to the BloomKlein education deform agenda.
Why activism- how involved, Why are you a part of NYCORE and GEM? I got involved in organized activism after I had been teaching for two years. The goals I mentioned before cannot be met by working alone, and I find that by working with both NYCORE and GEM I am able to reach more people and I have a community of like minded teachers that I can think, act and create change with. What do you do in your school beyond the classroom? Educational roles, organizing? I am the UFT delegate at my school and I am on the school leadership team. Through both of these roles I have been able to help mobilize the staff and parents to organize against the use of standardized tests in K-2 classrooms, and I began hosting bi-weekly voluntary lunch meetings for staff to get together and read about and discuss issues in education. Both of these efforts paid off when my school turned out 100 people on a Friday morning to protest the budget cuts. In what ways are you active outside the school environment? Outside of school I am active with both GEM and NYCoRE. Much of my work with NYCoRE involves running political education workshops for teachers, and through GEM I help plan actions, coordinate outreach among teachers and write leaflets to get the word out about things that are going on in education. Can you name a positive school reform enacted so far and if not which one would you like to see most? I got involved in activism, in part, because in my first few years I watched testing become more and more of the focus of education, while funding and class size were ignored. I watched privatization, through things like charter schools and vouchers, become the elite’s silver bullet to fix all that was wrong in education. In my mind the entire “reform” charade is built on the illusory foundation of standardized testing as a way to create accountability. The first change that I would like to see is a complete over-hall of the way we assess students, and the way we hold ourselves as educators and the politicians and the wealthy accountable for what goes on in schools in poor communities and communities of color in our society.
Upcoming GEM Meeting Dates
How is high-stakes testing being used to dismantle/undermine public education and what we can do about it? What do the changes in test scores really mean for parents and teachers? An open panel and follow-up analysis and discussion focusing on solutions. September 28, 4:30-7pm CUNY Grad Center 34th St. & 5th Ave. Rm 5414 (Bring id) Oct. 26: Help build a movement to stop school closures. 4:30-7, CUNY, Rm 5409. Nov: Addressing the ATR Issue. Join the GEM ATR Committee: email@example.com