Thursday, March 24, 2011

Budget Cuts Harm Poorest Schools

by Lilo and Gerard Leeds, co-founders of the Long Island-based Institute for Student Achievement and of CMP Media, a leading publisher of business-related media which is also based on Long Island. They are members of the Board of Directors of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants New Yorkers to believe that money isn't the issue when it comes to providing New York's schoolchildren with a top-notch education, and that New York spends too much to educate its children. Don't believe it. We know what makes schools successful: setting high standards for achievement and helping all students meet and exceed them; keeping class sizes manageable, with enough teachers and other staff to offer intensive instruction, guidance and support; giving staff and school leadership the opportunity to polish existing skills and develop new ones, and engaging families in the education process. All these elements of success require dedication, focus and resourcefulness on the part of students, teachers and administrators -- and they require money.

We have lived for many years in Great Neck. Our five children grew up here and went to Great Neck's outstanding public schools. Voters are justifiably proud of this school system, and consistently approve budgets that ensure our schools have the resources they need to continue to provide high-quality education. Great Neck, of course, is a well-to-do, prosperous community. In less advantaged, economically stressed communities on Long Island and throughout the state, educators and parents face dwindling resources and are forced to make choices that inevitably have an impact on student achievement. Public schools can and should level the playing field and offer all children an opportunity to succeed, but it is far more difficult -- if not impossible -- for poorer districts to do so.

That's why we provided financial support for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which was launched in 1993 to ensure that all schools in the state have the financial strength to offer students a good education. CFE led to a major court victory establishing that the state must increase support for New York City schools. And the legislature determined that other high-needs districts -- including Brentwood, Central Islio, and William Floyd on Long Island -- should also receive increased funding.

Cuomo's current budget proposal, with dramatic cuts in school funding across the state, represents nothing less than an abandonment of the state's legal, political and moral obligation to CFE -- and to thousands of our young New Yorkers. New York's tax surcharge on high-income earners, such as us, should be extended, and the revenue generated should be used to meet the obligations of the CFE settlement. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his conference are adamantly against extending the surcharge. Although the Senate majority members do support some restoration of education funding, their plan for how to pay for it is questionable. And while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and his members include a millionaire's tax in their budget, they don't restore sufficient school funding.

The fact is that struggling, resource-poor schools can be turned around. We founded the Institute for Student Achievement to provide funding and hands-on assistance to transform underperforming high schools into rigorous academic environments that prepare their students for college and careers. Our research-based, accountability-focused approach is working now in schools on Long Island, in New York City and across the country. ISA provides coaches for teachers and principals, college tours, parent outreach and other key ingredients, all of which cost money. The end result: greater achievement and more opportunity for students.

Our society needs to provide schools, from preschool to high school, with the resources they need to help all their students graduate and become productive, fulfilled adults. In the long run, we all benefit by investing in our schoolchildren; well-educated workers are the foundation of a strong, sustainable economy. Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature need to acknowledge this fact, and fund all our schools accordingly.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Extensive and Diverse Alliance for Equity

by Jan Resseger, United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
As ESEA reauthorization moves ahead in Congress, the extensive and diverse alliance of 153 groups that has come together, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), brings the vitally important principle of equity to the fore of that debate. [See their statement and the full list of groups.] The groups include:
  • American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
  • American Association of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • American Music Therapy Association
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Center on Education Policy
  • Children’s Aid Society
  • Church Women United
  • Coalition of Essential Schools
  • Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
  • Education Law Center
  • Episcopal Church
  • FairTest
  • Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
  • Governing Board of the National Council of Churches
  • Hmong National Development
  • Jobs with Justice
  • Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • National Alliance of Black School Educators
  • National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
  • National Council for Educating Black Children
  • National Council of Churches
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • National Education Association
  • National Indian Education Association
  • National Urban League
  • Organization of Chinese Americans
  • Public Education Network
  • Rainbow PUSH Coalition
  • Rethinking Schools
  • Rural School and Community Trust
  • Schott Foundation for Public Education
  • Southern Education Foundation
  • United Black Christians of the United Church of Christ
  • Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Statement on Opportunity to Learn Demonstrates Widespread Support for Equity

by Jan Resseger, United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries

On February 22, 2011, the Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA) released a major statement on the need for Congress to address Opportunity to Learn in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This means that the huge alliance of groups, now 153 organizations, that have signed-on to the 2004 Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind have released a new statement challenging inequity, despite that we know the recession has left Congress and the states short of money in this budget cycle.

These are such sad times, when it seems the whole conversation about improving public education in our nation’s poorest communities has been hijacked by a wave of attacks on collective bargaining for public servants. It is frightening to see many legislative bodies turn against public school teachers, the very people we entrust with nurturing the gifts of our children.
In this context in the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries, we are especially grateful to be able to partner with the Opportunity to Learn Campaign and also the FEA to continue to focus on school improvement that we know, if enacted, would support teachers, enrich our children’s lives and strengthen communities.

Since the fall of 2004, Justice & Witness Ministries has been privileged to work with FEA, and I have valued its persistent work—statements on the importance of less standardized testing and at the same time better designed tests—agreements on what needs to happen to build the capacity of our struggling schools instead of punishing them—statements supporting better ongoing education for teachers and more intentional engagement of parents and families—suggestions for school inspections by qualified experts to replace and make more human the concept of accountability for public schools, human institutions that cannot be fully evaluated by test scores and analysis of reams of data.

I am grateful that FEA has now formally opposed long-standing inequality of opportunity. Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond has best described the challenge: “To survive and prosper, our society must finally renounce its obstinate commitment to educational inequality and embrace full and ambitious opportunities to learn for all of our children.”

A teacher weeps for the future of Wisconsin schools

People across the country are speaking out to stop the devastating budget cuts and attacks on teachers that are turning public education, a critical underpinning for our democracy, into a battleground.  The OTL Campaign also wants to ensure that the voices of our nation’s classroom teachers are heard—those people entrusted with our children’s future, and by extension, with our nation’s future—about the impact of those attacks.  We urge you to read this Wisconsin teacher, who weeps for that future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tomorrow: Advocates rally in Albany!

Tomorrow, March 9th, parents, youth, advocates, teachers and community members from all over New York will converge in Albany to demand that the state protects its kids rather than its millionaires. The Opportunity to Learn Campaign applauds these leaders for having the courage to speak clearly about the injustice of Governor Cuomo’s proposed largest cut in education dollars in the state’s history. The critical urgency in these stakeholders’ voices is because New York’s public schools are failing at equity and failing to deliver children of low-income and children of color an opportunity to learn.

Check out our Facebook and Twitter for live updates during and following the event!