Education at Columbia Forum
was the theme of this year’s David Dinkins Leadership and Public
Policy Forum at Columbia University. Educators and civic leaders
engaged in spirited exchanges about “Urban Education: Making New
York City Public Schools Work for the Community.” People stressed
the need for money, accountability, parent and community involvement,
and standards, as well as the instability created by high superintendent
Forty-eight million children attend US public schools, and the
100 largest school districts educate one quarter of them. These
students represent the future of our country, yet a panel on public
interest in public education sensed a lack of real national commitment.
Stanley Litow, head of IBM Corporate Community Relations, noted
we “begin and end every decade talking about a crisis in the schools.”
Nothing changes except language: the “goals” of the 80’s have
become the “standards” of the 90’s. He deplored corporations,
which depend on schools for their futures and contribute only
one percent to the education budget.
Dr. Roscoe Brown, director of the Center for Urban Education Policy
at CUNY, said if the first constitutional convention were held
today, it would include education in the Bill of Rights. He suggested
that politicians, who make important decisions about funding,
spend one year in a school.
Professor Henry Levin, director of the National Center for the
Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, stressed
that a “democratic society has to be fair, equitable, and cohesive.”
The only common institution that all citizens experience is schools,
where they learn to work together and use civil discourse.
Angry at the inequities they see in New York City public schools
and what some described as “secret apartheid,” a panel of child
advocates addressed community activism.
The Institute for Education and Social Policy is attempting to
“invigorate public will” through independent, community-based
organizations. Poor schools are ignored by their districts, the
Institute’s Norman Fructer maintained, and the system will focus
on poorly performing schools only in response to constant, organized
New York ACORN, a 19-year old membership-based association of
low-income people focuses on organizing and advocating for change
in social policy. Education is high on its agenda. Executive Director
Bertha Lewis described a system where “racism is funded.” She
advocated partnering of high-performing schools with lower-performing
ones, and independent parent unions.
Margie McHugh of the New York Immigrant Coalition explained that
over 50 percent of city students are from immigrant families and
20 percent are English Language Learners (ELL). Latinos have the
highest dropout rate, and 30 percent of ELLs leave school. These
astounding numbers are not considered by policy makers in “demographic
Michael Rebell of The Campaign for Fiscal Equity explained that
the recent State Supreme Court decision decreeing that New York
City get its fair share of state education funds and Governor
Pataki’s appeal have invigorated the public and the media. The
decision provides hope and puts “constitutional muscle behind
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