What 20/20’s Vision Didn’t See
Recently, the ABC News program “20/20” devoted an hour-long broadcast to the subject of public education. In a segment called “Stupid in America,” commentator John Stossel purported to analyze what’s wrong with our nation’s public schools, choosing to focus, in part, on New York City. But instead of a thoughtful, objective analysis of one of society’s most urgent challenges, he presented a simplistic, erroneous and demonizing assault on teachers’ unions, blaming them for all that ails the public schools.
It’s unfortunate Mr. Stossel didn’t look a little closer because what he would have found here in New York City is a group of dedicated educators who work hard every day to provide the best possible education to our public school children. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and judge. The real challenge—and reward—comes from rolling up your sleeves and working to help kids achieve.
Had Mr. Stossel looked closer, he also would have found that, even while we have our differences, the United Federation of Teachers and the city’s Department of Education are working together to improve education in the nation’s largest public school system and we are producing real results.
Earlier this month, for example, new tutoring sessions for struggling students were implemented in our schools. After 2 1/2 years of an often difficult and contentious contract negotiation, the UFT and the DOE came to a contract compromise that reconfigured the school day to include four 37-1/2-minute tutoring sessions. The UFT wanted a uniform 6-hour-50-minute day, spreading additional time across the school day for all students, but the negotiated settlement included the additional tutoring sessions for struggling students.
Implementing such a change in a school system so large is a challenge, and it has understandably caused some anxiety for students, parents and educators. As the department fields these parent concerns, teachers will do everything they can to make the tutoring sessions effective and meaningful for struggling students. We hope the department will work with parents and teachers to address issues that arise during implementation and will show flexibility in allowing individual schools to craft solutions that work best for their students.
Educating 1.1 million school children in a city like New York is a multifaceted challenge. Tens of thousands of our students are mired in poverty. Thousands more have limited or nonexistent English speaking skills. Even with crime at record lows, many live in neighborhoods where violence and despair are daily parts of their lives. Underlying these challenges is the chronic under-funding by the state of our city’s schools. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit resulted in a landmark decision affirming that our city’s schools were not getting their fair share from the state and the city. We must end this gross inequity to give our kids the resources they deserve.
Many of the reforms the UFT would like to see implemented in our schools require a state investment and, with a $2 billion state budget surplus, now is the time to invest. We want every child in the city to have access to full day pre-kindergarten to give them the running start they need to compete. We want to reduce class size so every child can get focused, individual attention. And we want to increase opportunities for career and technical education. Not every child will go to college. We need to give them options for their future so they can contribute to society and lead productive, happy and healthy lives. We also need more money to build schools, science labs, gyms and playgrounds.
Our world is changing rapidly. Preparing children to compete in an increasingly global economy is an enormous challenge faced by all schools, public, private and parochial. Certainly public education can be improved, but it is far too important a topic to be co-opted by politicians or treated superficially as in Mr. Stossel’s brand of simplistic and derogatory finger-pointing.
Solving problems and making improvements require thoughtful discussion, open minds and hard work. It requires parties that don’t always agree with one another to come together and work out solutions. If Mr. Stossel had approached the subject of education with that in mind, he would have seen those ideals at work right here in New York City.#