Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Our common sense agenda featured in the Huffington Post

See the article by Dan Brown in today's Huffington Post about our common sense agenda for the next President.

Dan is regular contributor to the Post, a teacher at a DC charter school, who also formerly taught in NYC and has written a book about his experiences,
The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle. Clearly, he's on the ground and understands what his students, and fellow teachers, need to succeed. Excerpt from the Post:

When parents organize, it's hard to ignore. Chicago-based Parents United for Responsible Education and New York City-based Class Size Matters have jumped into presidential politics this week by releasing a compelling letter to the candidates. As far as education recommendations go this election cycle, it's is the best I've read.

The letter criticizes the deification of school choice as a panacea for low-performing students and warns against distorting the politically friendly term "accountability" into even more standardized testing. It offers four areas where the next president can help schools:

1. Safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors.

2. Smaller classes.

3. Adequate resources and teacher support to assure that all students receive a rich, well-rounded curriculum including the arts, physical education and project-based learning in a curriculum connected to their own lives and culture, with progress evaluated by high-quality, appropriate assessment tools that are primarily classroom-based.

4. More parental involvement. [T]he more involved parents are at the school level, the better the outcomes for students. And yet the top- down, corporate approach to school governance currently used in cities throughout the country such as Chicago and New York has consistently and systematically worked to eliminate the ability of parents to have a real voice in decision-making and thus to be true partners at the school and district level.

The organization's name, Common Sense Reforms, fits perfectly; their recommendations are no-brainers. ...I'll hold out hope that both candidates will take this issue seriously. This succinct letter from parents provides an achievable blueprint for helping our country's children. The discourse on education in presidential politics should be richer for it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Parents Getting Into the Mix On Improving Public Schools

Full article by ELIZABETH GREEN is here; excerpt below. Reprinted from the NY Sun's September 8, 2008 edition.

Senators Obama and McCain have a panel of education advisers each, and there is no shortage of school administrators, union bosses, business leaders, and policy wonks who would very much like to be in those ranks.

A new group is urging the presidential candidates to pay attention to another constituency as they craft their education platforms: parents.

Led by two parent organizers — one in New York City and one in Chicago — this group says it's parents, not the unions, not the CEOs, and not even many of the academics, who have the right idea of how to improve public schools.

"There's a complete disconnect between what we're being told by the politicians and the businesspeople about what we should want schools to do, and what parents want schools to do," the executive director of the Chicago-based Parents United for Responsible Education, Julie Woestehoff, said. "But frankly what parents want schools to do is better for their children. They know best."

In hope of narrowing the gap, Ms. Woestehoff's group is issuing a several-page manifesto outlining its ideas for how to improve schools. Among the top suggestions of the document, titled "Common Sense Educational Reforms," are easing overcrowding; lowering class sizes; offering a more well-rounded curriculum, and increasing parental involvement.

The letter is co-authored by the executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and has 75 signatures.

The prescriptions sharply contradict ideas recommended by two major groups this summer that were themselves at odds.

One of those groups, led by Chancellor Joel Klein, recommended tough accountability standards that would lead to the firing of bad teachers and the closing of failing schools; the other, called the Broader, Bolder Agenda, argued that accountability alone cannot dissolve the achievement gap — that additional investments in improving health care and after-school programs are required to do so.

The parents criticize both groups. They dismiss Mr. Klein's as offering only a beefed-up version of President Bush's unpopular No Child Left Behind law. Mr. Klein's prescriptions are "NCLB on steroids," the parents' letter says.

They also reject charter schools, which are embraced by Mr. Klein and his supporters as a means of giving opportunities to poor children. ...

The parents' statement also criticizes the Broader, Bolder Agenda's argument that schools alone cannot end the achievement gap.

"We cannot and we should not give up on schools being able to make a really transformational difference in kids' lives," Ms. Haimson said.

In addition to parent organizers from New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia, some teachers and academics signed the petition.

The director of a teacher training program for elementary schools at Columbia University's Teachers College, Celia Oyler, said she signed the petition because its concerns with standardized testing resonate with her experience.

"In New York City elementary schools, the pressure to raise children's standardized test scores has systematically stripped many of resources," Ms. Oyler said. "In too many classrooms, 'test prep' has become the curriculum."

Letter to the Presidential candidates about some common-sense but critical reforms

If you'd like to add your support to our letter to Obama and McCain, please send your name and affiliation to

Also, feel free to leave a comment on the blog!

An Urgent Message on Education to the Presidential Candidates from Public School Parents and other Stakeholders across the US

September 7, 2008

Dear Senators Obama and McCain:

We would like to congratulate you on your nominations for President. As public school parents and other stakeholders, we want to bring to your attention the critical need to improve the opportunities of millions of children throughout the country who attend markedly inferior schools that deny them an adequate chance to succeed.

We have read your education positions and believe that the concerns we raise and the proposals we suggest would help focus and strengthen your plans for improving our nation's schools.

In recent weeks, two different statements have been released by advocates, academics and elected officials, with very different perspectives about how to improve our nation's public schools, particularly for poor and minority students.

The first statement by the Education Equality Project called for even more high stakes testing, merit pay for teachers, competition, and charter schools, and pointed to the teachers unions as the major obstacles in achieving success.

We would call this approach NCLB on steroids. Rather than improving our schools, more high stakes testing and merit pay based on standardized test scores will likely further punish our neediest students, diminishing their educational experience and leading to even more teacher turnover, test prep, narrowing of the curriculum, and less time and effort given to authentic learning in their schools. It will also contribute to more test score inflation, meaning that student scores will no longer provide reliable evidence of their actual level of achievement.

The other new coalition of academics and advocates argued for "a bolder, broader approach" to education. They say that although some educational programs should be supported, without major investments in health care and reducing poverty, it is wrong to ask schools alone to significantly narrow the achievement gap between ethnic and racial groups or improve outcomes for our neediest students.

Although we believe that as a society we should be doing more to expand healthcare and reduce income inequality, we also believe that this perspective significantly understates the potential for dramatic improvements, particularly in those schools that most minority and high-poverty students attend, and the need for critical reforms to enhance their chance of success.

The following are the improvements that we believe are necessary and would change the lives of literally millions of children throughout our country.

1. Safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors: Many of our students, particularly in urban areas, attend overcrowded schools in near third world conditions, contributing to a variety of disciplinary problems that make it difficult for them to learn, leading to more violence and higher dropout rates. In addition to less crowding, these schools often require many more guidance counselors; in many, there is only one counselor for six hundred or more students.

2. Smaller classes: Despite the abundant research that conclusively demonstrates that smaller classes can significantly narrow the achievement gap, poor and minority students continue to attend schools with much larger classes on average than those in wealthier districts, and thus are deprived of the individual attention they need to succeed. Small classes in all grades K-12 have been linked to more classroom engagement, more time on task, higher levels of achievement, and lower dropout rates. Moreover, in national surveys, educators throughout the country overwhelming say that reducing class size would be the most effective way to improve the quality of teaching in our public schools.

3. Adequate resources and teacher support to assure that all students receive a rich, well-rounded curriculum including the arts, physical education and project-based learning in a curriculum connected to their own lives and culture, with progress evaluated by high-quality, appropriate assessment tools that are primarily classroom-based.

4. More parental involvement: Studies show that the more involved parents are at the school level, the better the outcomes for students. And yet the top- down, corporate approach to school governance currently used in cities throughout the country such as Chicago and New York has consistently and systematically worked to eliminate the ability of parents to have a real voice in decision-making and thus to be true partners at the school and district level.

Competition, including charter schools and vouchers, has not and will not lead to a significantly better or more equitable public school system, just as it has not brought us better access to health care. In fact, the continued proliferation of charter and other schools requiring interviews and/or application processes risks creating wider disparities between the haves and have-nots; and what is often advertised as increased parental choice actually means the ability of such schools to exclude our neediest students. The last thing our nation needs is a "trickle down" educational system.

As a nation we have an overarching moral imperative to provide all our children with the same educational opportunities that our more advantaged public and private school students take for granted, including the right to attend a safe and uncrowded school with smaller class sizes, a rich, high-quality curriculum, and more parental involvement.

Until these goals have been achieved, we cannot and should not give up on the potential of schools to transform lives.

We urge you to recognize this imperative, and if elected president, do everything in your power to ensure that every child who grows up in this country has the opportunity to attend the sort of school he or she needs for a better chance to learn and succeed.


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director, Class Size Matters

New York, NY

Julie Woestehoff
Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education

Chicago, IL

Louisa Acosta
New York City public school teacher
New York, NY

Ann Agranoff
Teacher, Queensborough Community College
Mother, former PTA president of the Renaissance Charter School

New York, NY

Gary L. Anderson
Professor, Steinhardt School of Education at New York University

New York, NY

Kathleen R. Anderson
Chicago, IL

Diane Aoki
Parent and teacher activist


Jaime S. Austria
Parent and Member, New York City Opera and American Ballet Theater Orchestras

New York, NY

Wanda S. Ballentine
Former English teacher

Eagan, MN

Beth Bernett
PA co-president, School Leadership Team member, co-chair Multiple Assessment Commit
School of the Future,
New York, NY

Doris Porto (Brosnan)
Doctoral Candidate International Educational Development
Teachers College, Columbia University

New York
, NY

Ann Chitwood
Business owner, former teacher and voter

Brooklyn, NY

Deirdre Cipolla
Parent, P.S. 187

New York
, NY

Richard Cornelius

, NH

Sabrina Craig
Local School Council Parent Representative
Drummond Montessori Magnet School
Chicago, IL

Cathy Dale
Local School Council Candidate
Member of Board, PURE

Chicago, IL

John de Beck
Vice President, San Diego Board of Education

San Diego, CA

David Demnitz
Teacher, Dobbs Ferry; parent, District 2

New York, NY

Annette Evans
Parent, NYC Lab Middle School, District 2

New York, NY

Pete Farruggio, PhD.
22 years of bilingual teaching experience in low income schools
Assistant Professor,
College of Education, Univ of Texas Pan American
Edinburg, TX

Victoria Franzese
PTA Recording Secretary, PS 334

New York, NY

Karen Eve Friedland
Teaching Artist, parent

Brooklyn, NY

Lavinia Galatis
Community Education Council Vice President, District 30

Queens, New York

Arthur Goldstein
ESL Teacher, Francis Lewis High School
Adjunct Lecturer, Queens College

New York

Martin Halacy
Lake View High School Teacher (Chicago Public Schools - 32 years)
LSC Member 1989-93

Chicago, IL

Patricia Hamilton
Schmid School LSC Chairperson
Chicago, IL

Britt Hamre
Asst. Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University

New York, NY

Roxanne Hill

Brooklyn, NY

Dr. Susan Hirsch
Loyola University Chicago
Former LSC parent member, Whitney Young H.S.

Chicago, IL

Lawrence M. Hoffman, Ph.D
Milwaukee, WI

Diane Kaese
Active parent, NYC public and private schools

New York, NY

Rachel Kaplan
Parent, teacher, Bank Street Head Start East

New York, NY

Jennifer Krueger
Parent, PS 290 and Salk School of Science

New York, NY

Bryna Levin
Midtown West, PS 212 and East Side Middle

New York, NY

Jane Ludlam
Parent, District 3, MS 54/Booker T. Washington Middle School

New York, NY

Deborah Meier
senior scholar, New York University
former principal of K-12 public schools in NYC
MacArthur Fellow

Belkis Morales-Bermeo
Parent, District 24 and 30

Queens, NY

Yvette Moustaffa
Parent, District 21

Brooklyn, NY

Celia Oyler, Ph.D.
Director Elementary Inclusive Program
Curriculum and Teaching
Teachers College, Columbia University

New York, NY

Lynne Phillips
Former PTA co-President PS84
Manhattan NYC pre-school teacher 20 years

New York, NY

Nella Pramberger
Parent, PS 6, Manhattan

New York, NY

Ellen Raider
Independent Commission on Public Education
New York, NY

Derek R. Randel
Stopping School Violence LLC

Dr. Judith Reed
Education Department,
Keene State College
Keene, NH

Karen Gray Ruelle
Parent, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School

New York, NY

Nancy Sall, Ed.D.
Lecturer, Teachers College, Columbia University
Parent, Nyack Public Schools, Nyack NY

Tina Schiller
Parent, PS 234 Overcrowding Committee

New York, NY

Jondi Whitis

Brooklyn, NY

George Wood
Principal, Federal Hocking Middle and High School

Stewart, OH

Julie Woodward
Teacher, Bronx and United Federation of Teachers delegate

New York, NY

Neal Wrightson
Director, Children's Community School

Pasadena, CA

Katherine Zezula
Education student, University of Michigan/Flint

Swartz Creek, MI