Dear Neighbors,

I hope some of you will be able to attend Sat 6/11 report back and dialogue with the interim superintendent and RTA president.  But beyond that event, and for this first "discussion" item, please provide your thoughts, critiques, identify where clarification may be needed and most importantly how we can collaborate among already existing projects and efforts.   The following are intended to be brief, but substantive descriptions of these 8 principles many of you may have heard us referring as the basis for organizing CETF's work. 

 

To eliminate racism and establish cultural equity; require that all educators, and strongly encourage that all other stakeholders gain cultural knowledge and understanding by participating in relevant learning opportunities

      We met an important short-term goal this year when the federally funded Teaching American History project for Kindergarten through Grade 2 professional development was improved to include leadership from Dr. Susan Goodwin, a nationally recognized expert in culturally competent and relevant curriculum and pedagogy.  Current active initiatives include a study group focused on anti-racism work in education and planning for a proposal to require meaningful, ongoing professional development aimed at addressing institutional and individual racism in schools.  Clearly there is much work to be done on many levels - including challenges to state and federal level policies and funding priorities -- in order to achieve educational equity in histories, cultures, and contributions of traditionally omitted and marginalized groups.

 

To establish and sustain relevant, broad-based, parent, student and community involvement

      There is no doubt that parent, student and community voices have demanded to be heard with more intensity over the past year than in recent memory.  There are some short-term victories from our collective efforts:  Mayor Duffy was unable to take control of the schools as he stated he would do before the Fall 2010 school year; the communities of School 2 and School 6 rallied to protect their unique and cohesive positions as neighborhood anchors with valuable programs serving children. We believe there is near consensus among RCSD families that a strong and stable organization is needed to represent us effectively over the long run.  An active initiative to build an autonomous district-wide parent and community organization -- that is stable over time (rather than emerging in response to the latest crisis) -- is underway, recruiting RCSD families and communty members to  build a democratic and sustainable structure.

 

To demand and support measurable accountability regarding the expectations of excellence for all stakeholders

      The Community Education Task Force was formed in response to the anti-democratic call for the elimination of the RCSD Board of Education and centralization of control of city schools under the mayor.  Had mayoral control been imposed, we would have lost a critical mechanism for accountability in our schools.  At the same time, we acknowledge the very real accountability crisis heightened by the "perfect storm" of an autocratic and corporatist superintendent (Jean-Claude Brizard), a weak and uncritical school board, and the global financial collapse and ongoing political exploitation of the crisis by political and business power-players.  Tangible demands for accountability run throughout CETF's work, from holding the line against mayoral control, to repeated collaboration with the New York State Committee on Open Government to argue successfully for the release of suppressed and redacted audits and to pressure the School Board to follow laws regarding open meetings,  to our current demands for an open and democratic superintendent search and selection process.  Our decision to run three of our core parent-activist members as the "Community Education Task Force Slate for Educational Change" -- with these fundmental principles for change as the platform -- is a direct response to the lack of responsiveness to our children's needs and the absence of accountability exhibited by the current school board.

To increase local control, and reject any further attempts to privatize the public school system

      The drive to privatize public education is real, and it is being pushed in all urban districts across the U.S.  We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the impact of efforts a) to extract profit from pre-K-12 public school systems; and b) to socially engineer a two-tiered system split between those being prepared for creative, high-skilled professions and those destined to remain outside the formal economy or to toil in insecure poverty jobs or in prison. CETF is actively working to educate and encourage dialogue about privatization its implications for public education.  A forum featuring two area experts on charter schools was held in May, and plans are underway for more public discussion and the development of multi-media approaches to increase our collective knowledge.

To implement and sustain methodologies that produce widespread, broad-based civic and political engagement of all stakeholders

Civic education and participation undergirds all of the work CETF is trying to accomplish – vibrant spaces for authentic, decentralized democratic participation are powerful antidotes to both the authoritarian tendency of mayoral control and to the push for ever increasing inequality inherent in privatization of our public spheres.
Members of CETF are reaching out to engage students, families and staffs together in efforts to expand neighborhood-school connections around addressing community needs.  We believe a good public education system ought to encourage the development of competent and engaged citizens.


To Reform the standardized testing process so that it reflects accurate measures of appropriate knowledge gained by students, especially development of grade-level or above basic reading, writing and math skills
 
The pressure to prepare and drill students for standardized tests is worsening as a result of state and federal policies and conditions for funding.  CETF continues to collaborate with members of the Coalition for Justice in Education to educate the public and lobby for evidence-based methods of evaluating students.  The move toward “value-added performance measures” of teachers is expected to exacerbate problems with over-emphasis on standardized tests.  A public forum with Vice Chancellor Milton Cofield is scheduled this month to address concerns about the new teacher performance evaluation regulations that he recently voted for

 

To define and develop authentic alternative approaches, initiatives, programs and schools, especially for our most challenged students.

One of the most egregious characteristics of the so-called “reform” agenda embodied in “No Child Left Behind,” “Race To The Top,” and in state mandated formulae for overhauling “failing” schools is the constant chaos produced by the never-ending cycle of phasing down, closing, re-opening “new schools” over and over.  We want to see the replication of successful approaches -- based on evidence and based on real experience – in all of our public schools.  We know very well that one size does not fit all, and alternative approaches are needed to meet the needs of all of our students.  Efforts are underway to enumerate and describe the specific programs and approaches that ought to be replicated.  We will present a position and engage commissioners through the Board of Education’s Excellence In Student Achievement Committee.

 

To develop initiatives, models, programs and legislation that successfully address the overwhelmingly and devastating effects of concentrated poverty among RCSD students

Some have argued that before we solve the problem of poverty we will be unable to address the urban education crisis.  On the other hand, some of the so-called “reformers” push aside the role of poverty, accusing social critics and education experts working to address poverty of “making excuses” and underestimating the capacities of poor children. We believe the impact of poverty in our schools is real and it is devastating AND that every child has the capacity to learn and excel if his or her needs are met.  Therefore our work must include multiple fronts:  fighting against poverty, mitigating its effects with extra supports and flexible approaches to meeting individual needs that are not being met outside the classroom, and ensuring teaching approaches inside classrooms match each child’s learning needs comprehensively and with rigor.  CETF is leading an effort to monitor and advocate for living wage jobs for city families through the multi-year schools Facilities Modernization Project, the largest public works project in Rochester history.  Members regularly attend FMP meetings and are developing a proposal for stronger hiring practices.  Additionally, work is being done to add resources to the “yellow book” which is a county level resource guide for families with children and youth.

CETF contact: Ricardo Adams 585 615-1626

 

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