Our Time Press

Education and Community

by  Stanley Kinard
These past few weeks, the news media has made several disparaging reports relative to the failure of the Department of Education.  Firs, it was reported in all the major daily newspapers that 81% of students failed the citywide history exam which represents a substantial drop since last year.  Overall, students are already below average in reading, science and math.  There is no subject area in which the majority of schools in the Black and Latino community are on par.  81% failing, however, is just absolutely outrageous and speaks to the overall failure of the policies of this new administration and mayoral control of schools.  They have spent millions on new curriculum and a Principal’s Institute; however, our children continue to fail at an even more alarming rate than ever before. 
It was also reported this week that the Department of Education is abandoning its effort to address the historical inequalities in school budget allocations.  They had attempted over the past 2 years to give more money to poor and failing schools by taking it from other school districts.  The mayor is now placing the blame for the inequality on the governor and the state.  It is true that the state Supreme Court mandated that billions of dollars in additional school aid be given to city schools and the governor has thus far refused to release the money.  The city administration, however, still has a responsibility to address this inequality by providing more resources for the communities that have been historically discriminated against.  While we need to put pressure on the governor, we must also put pressure on the mayor and chancellor to come up with other creative formulas to generate more revenue for these schools.  If we do nothing, we are only contributing to our children’s continued failure.
The mayor has boycotted all UFT events and forums and refuses to grant teachers a new contract.  This is the second year that teachers have functioned without a contract.  Teachers are also frustrated with all the new curriculum changes and feel very unappreciated.  They are forced to embrace methods of teaching that are unproven and to abandon methods that they know can work.  All this because of dictates from a chancellor that has absolutely no experience as an educator.   Teachers’ threats of a strike – as the mayor continues to resist efforts to negotiate – become more of a possibility.  Teachers could play a vital role in determining who the next mayor will be.  I trust that they will see that the current mayor is not a friend of education and is really not equipped to run the school system.  A good time to hold a strike is at the start of the new school year and right before the general election in November.
There has been a series of incidents this year regarding inappropriate sexual behavior between teachers and students.  There is also a growing number of elementary school-aged children engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior.  This past week, I was contacted by a mother whose 2nd- grade daughter was forcibly touched in her genital area by a male student in her class.  On several other occasions her daughter had been victimized by this same student as were other female students in their class.  I attended a meeting at the school because the mother didn’t feel she was receiving adequate support from the school regarding her daughter’s victimization.  It had been suggested that she had the option of transferring her daughter out of the school as a possible solution.  Rev.  Herbert Daughtry, along with several other parents attended this meeting.  What took place over the span of two hours was an in-depth discussion regarding the definition of sexual abuse.  The school felt that the child’s actions should not be labeled as sexual abuse but rather inappropriate behavior.  They explained that children go through a period of exploration and playful touching.  The mother of the daughter was resolute that to hit her 7-year-old’s genital area was an assault.  The grandmother of the young boy in question brought a semblance of order to the discussion when she expressed her deep pain.  She offered both an apology and support to the mother of the daughter.  The confidentiality of all parties involved must be protected, however, this kind of inappropriate sexual activity is a new phenomenon in our elementary schools.  We can blame TV, lack of parenting or sexually explicit music as the cause.  The fact remains: we have a problem that must be addressed.  We can’t cover this one up and act like it doesn’t exist.  New chancellor regulation, enforcement and mass parent education around this issue are required. 
The UFT has just released a chancellor’s report card to be graded by parents and  the community.  The categories to be graded involved his promise to reduce class size, improve school safety, alleviate overcrowding, encourage parent involvement, raise awareness of public education and negotiate a new contract.  I add to the list implementation of the Underground Railroad Curriculum. How do you grade the chancellor, A to F, in these categories?

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