Parents Battle for a Say in Educational Policy

When the Mayor took control of the city’s schools, he promised to make them better.

Whether he kept that promise is debatable. But whether he has made parents part of the improvement process is not. They are definitely excluded. And that’s a shame.

The recent meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy made that clear. Critics of the plan to close down 19 public schools screamed in frustration as the panel heard arguments for and against the school closings, which are emotionally draining for many families.

The critics and the audience knew the die was cast. The Mayor controls the panel and, amid boos and a deafening chorus of "Save Our Schools!" the panel members, after a nine-hour hearing that lasted until 3 A.M., voted 9 to 4 to shut down the schools. No Mayoral appointee cast a dissenting vote.

Patrick Sullivan, representing Manhattan, who had dissented from many past decisions, asked the Mayor’s appointees to explain why they approved the plan to close the schools for poor performance. He asked: "Is there anyone who will defend this?"All but one of the Mayor’s people remained silent.

It was a stacked deck. That’s the essence of mayoral control as it’s now practiced---no dissent, no criticism. Even if the schools have been improved----and many parents don’t think they have----there’s nothing democratic about the way this is being done.

It’s easy to understand the frustration and anger of the parents. But they are learning a practical lesson in how a supposedly democratic process can be distorted to suppress opposition.

The Mayor himself could benefit from some education. He could use a crash course in the values of democracy. The educational policy panel is not there just to ratify decisions already made.

There should be honest and vigorous debate on controversial issues. And all points of view should be respected. If Mayor Bloomberg could be persuaded that this is the right way to handle educational policies, he might still get an A in the course.

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