Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Why Aren’t Parents Rioting in the Streets?
February 2, 2011 by Rebecca Levey
Image by infomatique via Flickr
This is the question an educator asked me yesterday. 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 Schools. 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’ NYC public school and went there with my Co-President. To be honest, it’s hard to explain this sort of even t to people who have never been to a NYC media and money filled event. This was not red carpet, this was not celebrity – this was the kind of thing that reminds you where the real power lies in this world. Money. Bankers, publishers and mostly bankers. I haven’t been to something like this in more than 10 years – since I worked for a billionaire family here in NYC. It made me sad.
That sounds weird right? Here I was at an event where some of the top educators in NYC were pitching their new school. I happened to be sitting at the table with the new head of their lower school and their head of the entire school. These are serious people who have spent their life in education – in private, uber-privileged education. Joel Klein, our ex-Chancellor was there and all I could think was he’s got some nerve. You see, part of this school’s pitch was to show the incredible growing demographic of children under 5 in the city and the dynamic increase in the number of families staying in the city rather than leaving when school-age hits. The irony to watching these men use these numbers to sell their school hit my co-president and me in the face. For the last 4 years public school parents have been trying desperately for the Department of Education (DOE) to recognize this fact but they staunchly denied it. As schools have become overcrowded and people are now waitlisted for their PUBLIC school the DOE has shrugged and said you can always take your 5 year old on the subway to another school. Those numbers this school was using to show the need for more seats in Manhattan? Those were our numbers – the ones we culled independently of the DOE – the ones that they finally admitted were true after years of arguing. And there was Joel Klein smiling away in the front as these numbers flashed on the screen.
So after they show us the 30% increase in school age child growth what do you think their answer is? Let’s create a school where the tuition will be $50,000 for kindergarten (yes you read that right.) A for-profit school costing 100s of millions of dollars. I won’t go into the curriculum goals or the giant presentation of what the building will look like when it’s completely renovated, etc. The whole thing just left me sick. And sad. I keep coming back to the fact that it made 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 herself 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 NYC who already have every advantage imaginable Governor 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. And I’m not going to talk here about unions – I know. Trust me I know. I used to joke about imagining a city where private school was not an option – how quickly the schools would change if those with the most power to change them had to be part of the system. Now I’m not joking. The inequality is so gross and glaring and this event just focused that to such a sharp degree that I almost feel like it’s hopeless. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at Egypt this week – now read this article in Think Progress about the greater income inequality in the US. Then ask yourself – WHY aren’t parents rioting in the streets?