Working Together for
Imagine NASA excluding its
rocket scientists when planning a mission to Mars, or a hospital not consulting
doctors when drawing up plans to build a new intensive care facility. It’s a good bet that problems will
arise down the road.
The same holds true for education.
The most successful administrators are those wise enough to listen and respond
to the concerns and suggestions of educators who work with kids daily and know
Judging by recent events, this
is a lesson that the Department of Education sometimes takes to heart, but
on other occasions manages to ignore.
A positive example:
last year when the mayor announced plans to target third-graders in his attempt
to end social promotion—the policy of advancing students to the next grade even
if they have not mastered key academic knowledge and skills—he did so
without first consulting front-line educators.
in a firestorm of criticism as concerned parents and education experts questioned
the fairness and effectiveness of the policy. Over time, the plan was changed,
including adding resources for struggling students, the creation of an appeals
process and the establishment of protocols to guide educators making these
critical decisions about kids’ lives.
One might have
expected a similar negative reaction when, at the beginning of this school
year, the mayor announced that he would expand the no social promotion policy
to fifth-graders. But this time the public reaction was muted—and generally supportive—because
the administration had learned a lesson. It listened to educators and made
sure that the plan, which was announced at the start of the school year, included
immediate additional supports and resources to improve students’ prospects
for success and was not based solely on one standardized test.
Now for the negative
example: starting this summer, parent groups and teachers began hearing from
principals that—despite additional money
from the state this year—many of our schools were receiving large cuts
in their budgets.
The Department of Education
at first professed that there were no cuts, then said it was a question of
a fairer allocation among schools, then said it was waiting for more state
Now after adding more than
$100 million at various intervals, the Department has said that schools will
be getting at least as much money as they got last year. But with the new budgeting process, few of us can figure out
where the money is going.
Some of our largest
high schools are even more overcrowded than last year, with thousands of
classes that exceed our contract’s class-size
limits, including high school science classes with 45 students and physical
education classes with 60 students or more. Tutoring, SAT prep and remediation
classes have been cut, high school electives have been put on hold, and advanced
placement and after-school programs have been canceled. Tweed may be spending
the money on good programs, but at what cost to these important needs?
lack of candor has fostered an atmosphere of mistrust and a sense in both
teachers and parents that their issues and their kids are a lower priority
than meeting some budget goal, or policy objective such as small schools
or new coaches/parent coordinators, even when the city rolled over a budget
surplus of nearly $2 billion.
everywhere have learned—the hard way, in some
cases—that even in industries using unskilled workers, involving employees
in decision-making boosts morale and productivity. If the Department of Education
wants to succeed, this is a lesson Tweed needs to keep relearning.#
Randi Weingarten is President,