Running (and organizing) for our schools

Running (and organizing) for our schools

What a blast! Last Sunday, hundreds of kids, parents, and teachers from more tha

What a blast! Last Sunday, hundreds of kids, parents, and teachers from more than three dozen schools came out for the Fifth Annual Brooklyn PTA 5k Run for Schools. Donations are still coming in, but we already know that the race raised more than $10,000 for the first time!

The Brooklyn PTA 5k isn’t only a fundraiser – it’s also a way to build relationships between parents, students, and educators to work together on critical issues facing our public schools. This year was no exception. My office has been working closely with some of the parents and schools involved on two key issues: budget cuts and high-stakes testing.

A big win: stopping cuts to teachers For the past five years, New York City has reduced the general education teaching force through attrition, as part of City budget cuts. In March, my office released a report that blew the whistle on the result: rapidly increasing class sizes at New York City public schools. The number of first, second, and third graders in classes with 30 or more students has grown ten-fold since 2009. Our report got the issue into the New York Times and put pressure on the mayor to reverse course on his plan to cut another 2,750 general education teachers in the next budget.

We learned today that we made progress. In the Fiscal Year 2013 Executive Budget proposal, released today, the mayor has put money back into the classrooms to ensure that we don’t lose more teachers this year, and even to add back some that were lost. (Unfortunately, while there was good news for our schools, there was bad news for most everything else: child care, after-school programs, libraries, 20 fire companies, even most of the shelter beds for runaway homeless youth; so we still have a lot of organizing to do on the budget, before the Council votes in June). This will make a real difference in our schools.

Organizing against (and opting out of) high stakes tests As state-wide testing becomes more pervasive in our schools, it is becoming more and more clear that the increased focus on high-stakes testing is failing too many of our kids.

As local parents Lisa Cowan and Coleen Mingo write in this great op-ed in the Daily News, “If your kids are anything like our kids [I know mine are], they’ve learned more about pressure and bureaucracy than math and English.” They also cite a 2011 National Academy of Science report that found: “There are little to no positive effects of these [high-stakes testing] systems overall on student learning and educational progress, and there is widespread teaching to the test and gaming of the systems that reflects a wasteful use of resources and leads to inaccurate or inflated measures of performance.”

Tests should be part of the equation, but should not be prioritized over everything else – including peer, principal, and parent feedback – in evaluating our kids, our teachers, and our schools.

So local parents are organizing to push back – through ParentVoicesNY and Time Out From Testing. Please consider signing this petition organized by public school parents calling for a more sane use of tests, so we can judge teachers and schools fairly – and so our students can focus on developing their creativity, their critical-thinking skills, and their knowledge of the world, rather than on more test prep.

And some students are in for even more testing this year. Pearson Publishing, a for-profit corporation with a $32 million contract from New York State will be giving additional testing with “field questions,” so they can develop their tests for future years. These tests don’t matter for students’ records, but they will take more instructional time. Many parents are opting-out of the field tests (which you can do without any educational consequence), and asking their principals to use the time for instruction instead. ParentVoicesNY and Time Out From Testing have more information, as well as a sample letter to send to your principal.

Thanks again to so many of you who came out to the Brooklyn PTA 5k last Sunday. It was a beautiful day to be in Prospect Park, and a great way to raise the money and build the relationships we need to make our public schools great places for all our kids to learn.