I think we reformers should be taking some lessons from Occupy Wall Street. NY Superintendent John King agrees, saying during a recent visit to Buffalo (the third-poorest big city in the nation), when asked about the high number of chronically failing schools:
"That's a death sentence for the community -- a community can't survive with failing schools. People ought to be outraged. People ought to be camping out in parks over the performance of their schools."
Here's a Buffalo News editorial about this:
Show some outrage
Community needs to come together to improve Buffalo's failing schools
Updated: October 21, 2011, 7:06 AM
Maybe it's time for Buffalo residents to borrow the tactic of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Occupy Our Schools in an effort to improve the dismal academic achievement and embarrassingly low graduation rate.
Protesters can get tents and march down to the nearest school in the third-poorest big city in the nation prepared to shout, sing and generally make a spectacle of themselves. Chants along the lines of "fighting for the rights of our kids" would be appropriate.
It's really not just the kids who are failing; the adults are failing the kids.
State Education Commissioner John B. King was in town the other day and wondered aloud why people aren't outraged. He's right.
Thirteen of Buffalo's schools, nearly one in four, have been designated as persistently lowest-achieving. In the next several weeks, more of the city's schools will receive the designation.
"That's a death sentence for the community—a community can't survive with failing schools," King told The News. He also suggested that people ought to be camping out in parks over the performance of their schools.
For one example of the problem, take a look at Lafayette High School—one of the persistently lowest-achieving schools. The school was eligible for turnaround funds this year and last year, but did not qualify either time. If the School Board doesn't submit an acceptable turnaround plan for the school by Jan. 1, the commissioner says he will revoke the school's registration and recommend that the Board of Regents close it. The students, most of whom are not native English speakers, would face the disruption of being reassigned to other schools around the city.
Why not march on those failing schools and demand that common core standards be achieved?
King used an apt analogy—the slowly cooked frog—to describe the reaction to the gradual decline in education in Buffalo. According to that story, if a frog is placed in hot water it will jump out; but if it is placed in cool water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the threat and will be gradually cooked to death.
The School Board, management and labor all bear some responsibility. It's time for parents, other residents and leaders of the business and philanthropic communities to raise their voices the way the Occupy movement is protesting economic inequality.
Such outrage is long overdue when it comes to our failing educational system, and it's not just in Buffalo. Poorer school districts everywhere are facing an uphill battle to educate our young people.
Leaving many of our youngest at the bottom of the heap, unable to properly read, write or do arithmetic, will eventually drag our country down. It certainly will be the case here in Buffalo, where the bioinformatics, medical and technology fields will all need well-educated workers to continue growing.
A well-prepared work force will attract more employers, which will create more jobs that will keep young people from moving away to find work. But it needs to start with a successful school system. Perhaps the appointment by King of a "distinguished educator" to assist Buffalo, and later the hiring of a new superintendent will signal the beginning of change.
But in the meantime, it's not too late to show some outrage.
Finally, here's a comment from Hannya Boulos, Executive Director of Buffalo ReformED, which is fighting for a Parent Trigger in Buffalo:
Our district has seriously mishandled the turnaround process, and now is facing a deadline of Jan 1st to get adequate plans into the State to secure additional funding at our most needy schools. In response to this, and other issues, we worked with parents to organize a boycott of our schools last May. The result of that boycott was a series of stakeholder meetings that did little more than give lip-service to parental involvement.
In response to the upcoming deadline of Jan 1, John King recently visited Buffalo, and voiced serious concern about the state of our schools, he also lamented the fact that our community was not "outraged" by the situation. The Buffalo News Editorial Board jumped on board, demanding that the community step up and play a part in fixing our schools, or show some outrage with a protest or march. These responses frustrate me, not because they outline the degree of urgency with which we must approach the situation in Buffalo, but because they assume that our community is not outraged.
Protests and marches will get us nowhere until parents are made full partners in reform – as a community we learned that last year. And as a community organizer, I find it wasteful to engage parents in these tactics if their time spent doesn't translate into tangible results for their kids. Parents are the only stakeholders who put the needs of students first, and until that reality is addressed, decisions will continually be made that negatively impact students. Instead of throwing around the terms "community" and "parental involvement" let's work to change the paradigm, and give parents a REAL seat at the table – that's why we're fighting for a parent trigger!