By Amadi Ajamu

The miseducation of Black children has increasingly become a burning issue in New York City. A community gathering of concerned elected officials, educators, parents, community activists and organizations came together on Saturday. They hammered out a strategy toward mobilization of parents, educators and youth activists across the city pushing for community input into the quality of education.

Nayaba Arinde, journalist and host of the “Back to Basics” podcast / radio show, chaired an open discussion held at Sistas’ Place coffeehouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The panel included Assemblyman Charles Barron; Bernard Gassaway, Ed.D.; Omowale Clay, spokesman for the December 12th Movement; and NYC Councilwoman Inez Barron.

It was a lively and intense discussion on a variety of ways our children are being destabilized and under attack in public schools. Their analysis included charter school takeover of resources, police intimidation, teaching to test, lack of truth in the curriculum on history and culture, and the single-test admission criteria for specialized high schools, among other issues..

Assemblyman Barron has a Bill (A10427A) in the Assembly entitled, “An Act to amend the education law, in relation to admission to the specialized high schools in the City of New York,” which was approved in the Education Committee.

“There are 1.1 million children in NYC public schools and nearly 70 percent of them are Black,” Barron declared. “We have to impact the public schools. One of the things we have to change is the specialized high schools. I personally don’t believe in elitist specialized high schools. I think all of our children are special and all the schools are special. These specialized schools just have more resources. We should move toward a more egalitarian system. Equal access, equal opportunity, equal resources for everyone. This is why I supported Chancellor Carranza on specialized high schools.”

“We have 5000 applicants every year for these schools and NYC is the only school system that uses a single test as the only criteria for admission. All other schools in the nation have multiple measures for admission into specialized schools. They look at what the student has done all year, their GPA, their development. Not a single test that requires eighth-graders to go to expensive private cram schools because the curriculum doesn’t include any of the material. Our children are less than 10% of the specialized high school student population while Asians are 51%,” he continued.

Dr. Bernard Gassaway said, “The system is designed to fail our children. There are 17 members of the New York State Board of Regents. It is more diverse now than it’s ever been. But they’re not doing anything demonstrably to change the system. So, you put people who look like us on the Board of Regents, but then they begin to conform to the ways of the people who are perpetuating the demise of our children. It’s clear the policies are what’s destroying our children and you are the policy-making board. You were put on that board to represent us, but yet you’re failing to do that. The problem is that they’re not being called out on that.”

NYC Council Member Inez Barron added, “We have the power to raise our voices, to organize and to reach out to our Assembly members and senators to tell them what we want them to do. We have to tell them to support the Bill (A10427A) and advocate for it in the Rules Committee and the Senate. The state controls education and the Hecht Calandra Bill (1972) is what said that this one test is what determines which students will get into specialized high schools. We have to be mindful of the fact that just because both Houses in Albany are the same party, there’s not much difference when we look at the budget. It’s a sin and a shame that some think the test should remain.”

A woman with her young son were in the audience: “I homeschool my son because I just don’t want him in public schools. Have we ever considered a class-action lawsuit? These conditions are affecting all of our children.”

Assemblyman Barron replied: “Lawsuits have been sought on several issues through the years. What we’re doing now is pushing this bill to change the education laws at the state level. We all must contact our state legislators and demand their support for the bills being passed through the Assembly and the Senate. We should also pressure Governor Cuomo, as well as the NYC Council and Mayor de Blasio to demand the release of $1.5 billion allocated to NYC public schools in the NYS budget and funding for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. We have to make our presence felt in Albany consistently. We have to remove some of the officials who do not work in our interest. We need an ‘education for liberation’ movement.”