A battle is going on across the country for the soul of public education.
I went to public schools in the Bronx. They provided a pretty good education. The public school system has experienced ups and downs since then--but basic principles have remained intact: that every child deserves a good, free education, that teachers with experience are cherished, that parents should be invited into the educational process to work with teachers and administrators for the good of their children, that politicians and other outsiders have no business meddling with our educational system.
Today’s assault on public education is led by politicians across the country. Here in New York, Mayor Bloomberg and his advisers have far-reaching control over public schools. The mayor’s motives may be good but he is not an educator. And his main goals now appear to be to save money by eliminating veteran teachers [they get higher salaries than their juniors] and breaking the power of the teachers union.
Listening to members of the Bloomberg team talk, one might get the idea that the union members are horrible people who value their salaries more than the children they teach. As a reporter who has covered the public schools for many decades, I find that notion absurd. I also confess to a bias based on my life experience. I had three aunts who were teachers and I remember how dedicated they were to the kids and how they pursued courses to improve their ability to teach. And how they never lost their sensitivity to children nor their love of the teaching profession.
City Hall’s actions are somewhat sneaky: helping charter schools in their competition with public schools, without letting citizens know about it. The Independent Budget Office has just disclosed that, in the last year, charter schools received $649 more per student than regular public schools. The Daily News reports that charter schools are getting a windfall increase of 9 percent in New York City even as public schools are cut by more than 4 percent. Clearly the point seems to be: help the charter schools by starving the public schools.
The people of New York have not voted for such a policy. Do the taxpayers count for nothing?
Leonie Haimson, a parent leader, is angry at the way matters are unfolding. “Parents count for nothing in the way our leaders are handling the educational issues,” she told me. “We’ve been completely left out of major educational policy decisions.” Recently, she attended a Congressional hearing on education and, she says, “four parents testified and not one was for public schools.”
Haimson and other parents are organizing a group called Parents Across America, “to represent mothers and fathers in many school districts across this country. I don’t think it benefits our kids to create a system where there are so few incentives to make teaching a life’s work.
It’s interesting that this debate is not going on in Scarsdale or on Long Island. They’re looking to get rid of senior teachers in our most congested urban areas. The twin objectives are solely to destroy unions and save money.”
What is so sad, as this debate continues, is that our political leaders seem to place so little value on the wisdom of experienced teachers. Good teachers are essential to educating our most valuable resource, our children. The politicians seem to think that saving money is more important than saving children.