4 May

When parents unite in opposition to how a billion-dollar school system is operated, and the results it gets, that’s pretty stark. So often issues surrounding education are discussed and debated in the abstract, but that completely misses the mark. When you’re a parent, the only thing that matters is that your kid obtain a good education, period.  Everything else is secondary, because you don’t get a do-over.

The parents’ group acknowledges readily that individual teachers aren’t the problem, and that they “love good teachers”, and it cites a 1947 teachers’ strike that won pay raises, closing schools in the process.

I wish these parents well, because their urgent concern for their kids’ futures is palpable. It also underscores something we’ve discussed here over the past couple of months.  For years, the big battles have been waged between powerful constituencies; e.g., the teachers’ union battling the school administration on issues such as pay, benefits, student behavior, and implementation of health insurance changes. The administration itself holds the pursestrings and the bully pulpit.  Forgotten time and time again in all of these disputes has been the parents, whose only concern is that their kids get a good education in a competent system.

This is why people seek out private schools – secular and parochial.  This is why people seek out charter schools.  This is why people leave, or choose not to move to, the city. No parent needs this headache.

So, the parents have united, and with one voice, and one act of boycott, will make the teachers’ union and the administration realize that this is a three-party issue, not just a bilateral one. It proves that a group of people with similar interests and goals must unite and take specific actions in unity. This is, frankly, why unions and collective bargaining are extraordinarily important rights.

The News article explains that schools superintendent James Williams admitted to the parents’ union that structural issues exist that contribute to the school system’s failure. He wants a longer school year, a longer school day, and mandatory pre-K and kindergarten.  Fantastic.

But procedurally, it’s heartening that the true and most important stakeholders – the customers, the people who depend on these schools, are uniting and speaking with one voice to protect their interests against two very powerful belligerents.

11 Responses to “Unite”

  1. Fat Tony May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    At what point does it finally become obvious that large-scale urban education systems are failures. They are unmanageable. You end up with one size fits all policies that leave no room for discretion and when you’re dealing with children, discretion is absolutely needed. I have friends with children in Buffalo Schools who have gotten caught up in their disciplinary merry-go round that took the kid out of school for two weeks. In a suburban district, the transgression at most would have been a day of in-school suspension. But BPS has this ridiculous hearing process that takes a week or to convene and the kids sits at home the whole time.

    This is just one example of how you can’t manage these districts from a downtown Ivory Tower. I don’t know if the district should be divided up into multiple districts but we need a major systematic change.

    And you can blame Williams (and he deserves some) and you can blame Rumore (and he deserves some too) but the institutional problems are well beyond personalities.

  2. Jesse May 4, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I find it interesting that Alan can realize it’s broken, understand why people want out of the public schools, but then doesn’t take the next logical step: eliminating the crappy public school system for something better!

    Forcing everyone living in a geographic area to contribute to monolithic school systems whether they attend or not only hurts the poor.

    Tax credits for education are the way out.  Happily, many parts of the country are figuring that out.  Unhappily, it’ll take another few decades for NYS…

  3. Hank May 4, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    This isn’t just a NY problem–it’s an AMERICAN problem.

    Recently, a video came out of a school in Charlotte where a teacher stood by while one student beat the hell out of another in the classroom. When confronted by the media about this (cell phone) video, he made it clear:
    “The law says I can only use physical force on a student if he is threatening ME with force. If I break up a fight, I can be sued and lose my job”. Gotta wonder who thought THAT was a good policy.

    School systems are fairly chock full of liberals, as is most of Academia. The touchy-feely crap that many liberals espouse have denuded the teachers of their ability to maintain order in the schools. If you’re over 50 and went to a Buffalo Public School, you may very well have had your ass paddled in school. Teachers would bounce your head off the blackboard for being a wise ass. Teachers routinely broke up fights between students. And you always thought twice before being the aggressor in a fight in the school or on its property.

    I always thought a cage match (pay per view) between Williams and Rumore could bring in some money for the schools. Williams has been as good a superintendent as Rumore and the freakin UNION will let him.

    Many teachers down south belong to the NEA or the AFT, but there’s no collective bargaining, and no unions. Things seem to go along pretty well without them.

  4. Ward May 4, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    The tenor of this is remarkably similar to remarks delivered this morning by (gasp!) Carl Paladino. You might check YNN for the video.

  5. Ethan May 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    The problem isn’t that schools aren’t succeeding; they’re actually rather good at what they’re intended to do.  The problem is that the American public education system was not in fact designed to educate everyone, it was not designed to provide equal opportunity, and it was not designed to produce good, active citizens.  Rather, it was designed to sort, to categorize, to label, and to provide for the needs of the Industrial Revolution during which time it was conceived and promoted.  In short: the real aim of our system is to produce people smart enough to do their jobs but not smart enough to think critically or question authority.  And it’s doing that rather well.

    Against School, by J.T. Gatto

    Sir Ken Robinson/RSA Animation

    So to say there are ‘structural issues’ is a vast understatement.  Williams, Rumore, the parents AND the kids are all the victims of luminaries like G. Stanley Hall, James Bryant Conant & Alexander Inglis, and their conceptualization of the role & purpose of a public education system.

    However, the conclusion to draw from this is not necessarily that a public education is always a problem, or that the only solution is charters, parochial and/or private educations systems running in parallel.  Frankly, all of those options further stratify our kids and diminish equal access to opportunity.  The only real recourse is a wholesale rethinking of the very aim of a public education system, followed by the implementation of such reforms as will lead to achieving those aims.  

    Sadly, our country is too poorly educated, too busy watching Dancing With The Stars, and too culturally & politically polarized for a fruitful dialog along those lines.

  6. Brian May 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I suggest everyone interested read http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_united_states_is_destroying_her_education_system_20110410/

  7. Christopher Byrd May 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Ethan for superintendent!

  8. Brian Castner May 4, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    @ Ethan – everything you say can be true, but parents in Clarence, Amherst or even many big cities around the nation are not lining up in protest against 150 year systemic failure. In other words, the Buffalo school system is a special kind of bad, and while complete revolution may be nice, isn’t there an intermediate step of increasing the amount of learning taking place.

    Also, remember it is in no individual parent’s interest to reduce stratification and increase equal access of opportunity. Every parent (if they are paying attention) looks out for their own child. Usually at this point the comment thread devolves into name calling about where everyone of us chose to send our children. To head that off at the pass, I’ll note that none of us sent them to PS #Awful, where many of these parents are stuck sending theirs. So, once again, focus on the performance of the lowest level, and improving that – left behind kids do no better simply because there are a couple bright kids in a class to bring up the overall standardized test score.

    Oh, one more thing. If I were a parent with children in the BPS, I would be angry about 3 numbers: $7K – the average amount spent per pupil in California (a comparable unionized big state), $11K – the national average, and $22K – the average spent in Buffalo. Where does the money go?

  9. Christopher Byrd May 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    That’s hook Brian…the money.

    Instead of trying to fix the district inside of the constrains of how it is currently set up, the BPS needs to throw out the current structure and build a new district.

  10. Brian May 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Brian C.:  it goes to innumerable “administrators,” generally people with education degrees who at least were bright enough to realize they can’t teach, so they become administrators with the power to make teachers use the methods they, themselves, found useless.

  11. Ethan May 4, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Chris- thanks… um, maybe? That is one thankless job around here anyway…

    Brian- well… 

    “parents in Clarence, Amherst or even many big cities around the nation are not lining up in protest against 150 year systemic failure”

    no, they are- they just don’t know it.  and because they don’t, they keep generating solutions–and problems–that are really distractions from true reform, all the while providing grist for the corporatists who’d like to make sure our schools continue to meet their needs. 

    As well: “it is in no individual parent’s interest to reduce stratification and increase equal access of opportunity.” is entirely untrue, oh-anti-communitarian thinker.  If your neighbor’s house is on fire, you have a problem and if your neighbor’s kid is uneducated, you also do.  I understand what you mean by pointing out that the vast majority of parents strive to get their kids into the best educational environment they can, often with little or no power in that struggle; absolutely.  But it is evidently in every individual parent’s interest that the votery as a whole isn’t a bunch of morans [sic].

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