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Posted at 9:45 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Why aren't public school parents protesting?

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Rebecca Levey, a writer who maintains a blog called Beccarama. She has written for the Silicon Valley Moms Group, and her posts have been nationally syndicated by McClatchy/Tribune and appeared online in publications including the Miami Herald and The Chicago Sun Times. She is part of the Yahoo! Mother Board, a community of over 50 mom-bloggers, and is the social media editor for Mom Blog Magazine, the latest e-publication from the Mom Bloggers Club. She also does a weekly podcast called the Blogging Angels with three co-hosts to discuss women and social media. A longer version of this post appeared on Beccarama.


By Rebecca Levey
Why aren’t parents rioting in the streets?

This is the question an educator asked me Tuesday. A private school educator in New York City.

We were among over 200 people invited to Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters in Chelsea to have lunch and listen to the presentation for a brand new private school in Manhattan called Avenues -- The World School. I wasn’t invited to this lunch as an NYC blogger, I was invited as the co-president of the Parents’ Association of my daughters’ New York City public school and went there with my co-president.

It’s hard to explain this sort of event to people who have never been to a New York City media and money-filled event. This was not red carpet, this was not celebrity; this was the kind of event that shows you where real power lies in this world. Money. Bankers, publishers and more bankers. I haven’t been to something like this in more than 10 years, when I worked for a billionaire family here in New York City.

It made me sad. Does that sound strange? Here I was at an event where some of the top educators in the city were pitching their new school. I was sitting at a table with the new head of the lower school and the head of the entire school. These are serious people who have spent their life in education – in private, uber-privileged education.

Joel Klein, the city's ex-schools chancellor, was there too, and all I could think was that he’s got some nerve. You see, part of this school’s pitch was to show the incredible growing demographic of children under age 5 in the city and the dynamic increase in the number of families staying in the city rather than leaving when school-age hits.

Here's the irony: The statistics these people were using to sell their school were the same ones that public school parents have for the past four years been unsuccessfully trying to persuade the city's Department of Education (DOE) to recognize. As schools have become overcrowded and children are now wait-listed for their PUBLIC school, the DOE has shrugged and essentially said, 'You can always take your 5 year old on the subway to another school.'

The data this private school was using to show the need for more seats in Manhattan were actually culled by us independently of the DOE. And there was Joel Klein smiling away in the front as these numbers flashed on the screen.

After showing us the 30% increase in school age child growth, they offered this solution: Let’s create a school where the tuition, lunch, uniforms, bus service and other fees would total to about $50,000 for kindergarten (really -- that's what they said). A for-profit school costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The whole thing just left me sad.

When I saw that educator I spoke about in the beginning I knew she’d have a good perspective on the school. She had been involved in the creation of a new private school in Manhattan a few years back – and she still heads a large private preschool group. We talked about how all schools have these goals and lofty ambitions but at the end of the day any new school is going to take whomever can write a check.

What I wasn’t prepared for her to say was “I don’t understand why parents aren’t rioting in the streets.” And she meant it. And she was right.

The same day I went to this event to see the future school which will educate the most privileged children in New York City who already have every advantage imaginable Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the steepest cuts to education EVER in New York state. Most of it cutting the city’s education aid.

I sat in a room full of people eating petit fours and drinking wine who all earnestly talked about the dire state of education and how our children are falling behind in the world, so they were building a school that would service those for whom none of this was true.

And at the same time I thought about the teacher lay offs, crumbling buildings, slashed arts programs and lack of basic supplies that were about to become even more entrenched realities. The NYC public school system has 1.2 million children in it. That means there are at least 1.8 million parents I’m thinking who should storm Bloomberg’s office and Cuomo’s office and the White House and demand better.

But here’s the one thing that got me most of all. In that beautifully windowed room, with gorgeous centerpieces and ladies in Armani and men who have been running the world forever there was a lot of passion about education. There really was. That is what made me sad. Imagine if these resources and talents – and money – were being put towards public education. Not for charter schools, not for tiny little programs – but a serious discussion about what it’s going to take to change our school system.

I used to joke about a city where private school was not an option. How quickly would the schools change if those with the most power to change them had to be part of the system?

So WHY aren’t parents in the streets?

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 3, 2011; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  Avenues, Avenues The World School, Joel Klein, Mom Blog, barry diller, beccarama, manhattan private schools, new york city, new york city schools, private schools  
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Comments

Living in an affluent area of Texas surrounded by parents with advanced degrees and having a doctorate myself, I am just astounded by the failure of parents to respond to any number of education issues in our community - to name one - not enough history textbooks so students can take one home, but a gorgeous athletic complex! This is an area with two high schools and a total senior class of about 400. I had thought when we moved to this area that the parents, most of whom are working professionals or well paid salaried college grads, many times with wife/mother able to stay at home, I would see a real interest in the issues that affect the education of our children. It just didn't seem to be the case. I'd like some psychologist's take on this shortfall! I finally decided to monitor all things affecting my daughter and forget about the rest!

Posted by: TexasMom3 | February 3, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I can only guess it is the "not my child" syndrome. A recent survey I read had parents feeling good about their child's school. Why?

Let's put the media and politicians in perspective. If they all stood up and said "98% of our schools are doing well," who could they scare with that statement? Who would provide tax money for the other 2%? It is only when they tell us our kids are failing that they get money and a rally effort.

Colleges are screaming about youngsters needing remedial education. Does it concern anyone that our population with degrees has not diminished? If they told us the number of lower level college degrees were pretty much on par, who would care? Would you donate to a college or a political action group if they said "everything is normal"?

So given that viewpoint, who would be in the streets?

Posted by: jbeeler | February 3, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

"The NYC public school system has 1.2 million children in it. That means there are at least 1.8 million parents I’m thinking who should storm Bloomberg’s office . . ."

Does NYC have a "one child" policy?

That parent number seems a little high.

Posted by: gardyloo | February 3, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't know the answer as to why parents aren't protesting.
Personally, rather then lead a protest, I have spent the last almost 7 years carving a pathway between community and public education. As a group of citizens, we have been building relationships and understanding with our educational community that has led to significant change for all kids.
I agree, our efforts should be directed to where the majority of our nations children are educated, our public schools.

Posted by: thefadels | February 3, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

But parents ARE protesting. We don't have $2 million from Bill Gates to promote our work, as the producers of Waiting for Superman had for their PR campaign. But our voices are growing stronger. Feb. 7th is the kick-off for Parents Across America, a new network of activist parents across the nation. Join us there or at www.parentsacrossamerica,org.

Posted by: JWoestehoff | February 3, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Parents aren't protesting because they and their parents had conditions as bad or worse. As a baby boomer, I remember being told by my parents, "Only 30 in your class? With a small class you should be able to get help from the teacher if you need it." When my school and a few others were considering consolidation, the voters in one district turned it down because they would lose their football team. My elementary and high school had gyms but not auditoriums; one outspoken teacher told us an auditorium was suggested when the high school was built, but the public would only support a larger gym because they liked basketball games but couldn't imagine a large audience for the school play or concert. The state superintendent in a neighboring state told the paper that when the education graduates in his state failed their state exam, he recommended they move to our area: "They need teachers so badly they'll hire anybody." One of our textbooks--in 1965--talked of a concept as being as unbelievable as a trip to the moon, and the biology text was 10 years old. When I was in my teens, my mother taught at a school in a small town that had no public library. My sister-in-law taught in the African American section of the town (which was segregated by geography and custom, not by law); my mother once recognized her textbooks as the ones my mother's school had discarded the year before. Literally: she recognized the names of previous owners written in the book as students she had taught in the past few years.

I am now the age to be the grandparent of today's students, who are at least the third generation to receive a poor education. Why don't the parents protest? Because the majority of them don't know that education should be better, and because in some cases it IS better today (25 students instead of 35, up-to-date books even if there aren't enough for the students to take home, etc.).

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 3, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

This article sums up the problem we have in education:

Many (most?) citizens in our country who are passionate about education for their own children are not concerned with other people's children. I'm a member of the middle class and so I would say that the same thing goes for this group of people, as most of us have many options regarding the education of our children. I am being totally honest when I say that among my extended family and friends, I know of very few people who were dissatisfied with their children's school. All those people made changes.

Many years ago I watched a program about education in the Dominican Republic. A social worker described a government program that sent nurses into the homes of all newborn babies. The American moderator asked, "How can you afford to do that?"

The man's answer went something like this?
"We can't afford NOT to do it. We don't have the money for special education and other programs that the United States has so we must make certain we catch these learning problems early."

Well, the U.S. cannot afford to ignore these problems any more either. We need to find a way to offer a quality education to all our children, and that begins at birth.

As to the question, "Why aren't the parents rioting?" my guess is that many are so caught up in daily life that they might not know what is going on.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 3, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I moved to an affluent area where people pay high taxes and volunteer a lot. I volunteer in a lower income area, but most people could care less. People who earn less or work temporary jobs work more hours and can't volunteer or they will be fired.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | February 3, 2011 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't you get it? Public schools have to fail. Politicians in BOTH parties are starving the beast to crack open the golden egg of education dollars for their campaign donors: (h/t http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/12/to-starve-beast-we-must-drown-children.html)

"In April, 1999, the Wall Street financiers at Merrill Lynch published a 193 page “In-depth Report” titled “The Book of Knowledge, Investing in the Growing Education and Training Industry.” Early in the report they noted: “The K-12 market is the largest segment of the education industry with approximately $360 billion spent annually or over $6,500 per year per child. Despite the size, the K-12 market is the most problematic to invest in today. Entrenched bureaucracies and personal and political interests contribute to the challenges facing this sector.”

The very same oligarchs who tanked the world economy are using their public mandate to invest in the public education industry.

Posted by: jcgrim | February 3, 2011 11:24 PM | Report abuse

These people's primary obligation is to their own children; this is the very 'parental responsibility' and 'parent participation' about which we complain is absent from public schools. These parents DO contribute to public schools: if they are homeowners/business owners most states take more of their tax dollars than from less affluent/poor folks. If anything this proves the 'tax the rich' approach will never work to solve the resource issues public schools have; there's not enough 'rich' people to tax to the point where you'd have enough 'resources' to support public schools as you feel they should.
The last statement of the article is very insidious: so who would force these people of power to put their students in public schools? Another insidious undercurrent I sense is that these people are all silver-spooned inheritors of wealth who did not work hard and toil to achieve what they have. Most affluent people in this country are such, thus they choose to do what's best for their children based on what they've earned. Maybe public school advocates should seek the advice from parents such as these about what they want in a school, and demand the same from their elected officials. Public bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient; the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) collects about $11,000/student in revenue, yet only about $7,600 makes it to each school site. The District is structured to serve about 750,000+ students, and now had barely 680,000, and of course they haven't eliminated bureaucracy and infrastructure accordingly which has led to their horrendous budget issues.
Folks who decry the 'privatization' of public schools are missing the real point: public schools NEED to 'privitize' those operations that are inefficient and unproductive that hinder the service we provide parents and students. If you're collecting $11,000 in revenue then $10,000 should be at the school site. These affluent parents would not tolerate anything less, which is why they choose to fund and build schools that respond to their needs. The only recourse poor/working class families have to affect such change is to vote out school board members/other elected officials, or as so many urban parents do when given the chance enroll their child in a charter school.
Indeed we should address the question of passion to everyone else who isn't doing what they should for our children.

Posted by: pdexiii | February 5, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

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