Dear Commons Community,
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times today, Alane Salierno Mason, laments what she has to do in order for her children to have a basic education in a New York City public school.
“I’m not talking about making cupcakes for the bake sale to pay for field trips. At the school my children attend in Upper Manhattan, the PTA pays for professional development for teachers, to help them meet the demands of the new common-core curriculum (an underfunded mandate if there ever was one). Parents have also set up a 501(c)3 nonprofit group to raise money for in-school “enhancement” programs. Without it, the elementary school would have no art (though there are just 15 weeks of instruction, once a week, for most classes). There would be no science classes for the youngest children. Nor would we have a Junior Great Books literacy program for third and fourth graders. Middle school students would miss out on any exposure to a second language, as well as the 14 days of cross-curricular writing provided by the nonprofit Teachers and Writers Collaborative. And there would be no prep course for eighth graders taking the high school admissions test.
To pay for all this, parents raised $185,000 last year.”
Mason describes a situation that exists in too many NYC public schools today. No art, very limited science, underfunded mandates, and very little enrichment UNLESS the parents pay for them. What happens in those schools where parents cannot afford to raise $185,000? Their children’s educations suffer.
Those who have led the NYC Department of Education for the past twelve years will laud the smallest gains on standardized test scores, increases in graduations rates (even though there haven’t been meaningful increases in college readiness), and the fact that the schools are better managed because of data-driven instruction. Since mayoral control, essentially what we have are too many public schools that have become humorless places focused narrowly on test preparation and management of instruction. Fun, excitement for learning, and reflected practice have been pushed aside unless parents step up to provide for them. It is a sad state of affairs that hopefully will come to an end under new leadership in 2014 when a new mayor is elected. Lastly, this is not a uniquely New York City issue but is playing out in many of our great urban areas including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles.