Seven Things I Do Not Understand About The NYC Department Of Education

Learning in Trailers

How can it be acceptable for children, teens or any human being to learn or spend hours in a leaky, moldy trailer/portable classroom that has outlasted its due date? Check in with your gut — on any level.

  • Emotional: what does it feel like for a student learning in a box separated from the actual school building?  How does such an environment contribute to a youth’s self-esteem?
  • Physical appearance: what’s it like to listen and learn within the four walls of crumbling, physically inappropriate tin box that’s more than 10 years old?
  • Educational stimulation: does such a setting inspire learning?

The Challenge of Simply Getting To And From School

Why can’t DOE issue free Metro Cards for all students traveling round-trip to school via public transportation?  It appears DOE is more passionate, interested in the distance between home and school than it is in creating one less hurdle for parents/guardians to jump over. According to the staff at The Office of Pupil Transport, they do not use MapQuest or Google Maps to calculate distance; the office uses a system created by the Department of City Planning. Every representative with whom I spoke at D.C.P. empathized with me and my frustration with this policy; I got nowhere.  Common sense tells us to make it easier – not more difficult – for students to get to school.

Libraries Are Unimportant

All students, but especially: the economically disadvantaged, those living in shelters, with non-English-speaking parents, with special needs or some combination of both situations do not necessarily have a home computer. School libraries are (relatively) quiet, usually provide some form of current technology, contain books, and sometimes (though less and less frequently) are staffed by an actual librarian.  Common sense tells us to keep these very important rooms open and available to our children.

Specialty Rooms

Libraries aren’t the only rooms in traditional public schools that are deemed unimportant. Any room where a large or small group of young people can learn or be exposed to music, art, science, technology, dance/physical activity; “Save Rooms” (where kids who are disruptive/experiencing emotional stress can cool off) guidance offices; Nurses’ offices; college offices; and many more rooms are now usable space for co-locations, according to the DOE. Seven schools in one building apparently provide the most efficient use of space for our children.  Forget the concept that seven additional resources could conceivably enrich, educate and round out a childhood.

Choice vs. Choice = Whose Choice?

The “School Choice” mantra/commercial that’s all the rage continues to mesmerize our city. The ATM theory of a great school on and/or in every corner has meant “choice” for some.  But who’s doing the choosing (and for whom)? Parents, guardians and students want/choose:

  • An end to school closures,
  • Fewer co-locations (charter as well as non-charter)
  • Less standardized testing, more funding for arts programs
  • Healthier school lunches
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Increased after-school programming
  • Veto power over sharing our children’s personal, educational data
  • Increased wrap-around services
  • Equal representation on the Panel For Education Policy
  • C.E.C. veto power(s)

Parents have made their choices clear for over a decade. Review the list.  How many parent choices have been honored?

Small Class Sizes

It’s common sense.  Teachers can more effectively do their jobs with manageable class sizes.  With 30-35 students – some with disabilities needing need extra help — crammed into a room, how will all of them excel?
  According to Class Size Matters a non-profit organization that monitors and advocates for smaller class sizes in New York and nationwide, “Reducing class size is one of the few educational strategies shown to increase learning for all students, yielding a host of cognitive and non-cognitive benefits. Throughout the nation, schools have seen sharp increases in class size in recent years.”

Class sizes of 35-38 students in schools located in disenfranchised communities, with high concentrations of Black and Latino families and/or in impoverished areas means less personalized attention for those who need it most. It is such a simple concept; I don’t understand why it’s ignored.

Infantilizing Parents

To infantilize is to “treat (someone) as a child or in a way that denies their maturity in age or experience.”

A decade ago, as a new mother, if someone told me I would be: reading an Educational Impact Statement, learning about the infamous “Blue Book,” or sitting through lengthy hearings where my testimony would be “heard” and ignored, I would have laughed at the lunacy of the idea.

When I began my journey as a parent-advocate, yes, I was a novice, an infant, immature about the way the system works (or doesn’t work). I’ve logged a few years under my belt and, though I’m still a novice, I’m not inexperienced, nor can I be fooled. I may not have any power or choice, but I still know my child better than the DOE does, and I suspect millions and millions of other parents do too.

I don’t understand how adults can treat other adults, the one’s they serve, as if they are stupid, as if they haven’t been listening all these years, but they do.  Again and again.