Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lisa Donlon Testimony at City Council on Mayoral Control

I. A. My name is Lisa Donlan and I am currently President of the CEC in Dist One, where I have served as an officer over the last 3 years.

During that time I have tried to untangle the issues that derive from the actual governance structure of mayoral control, those that follow from the letter of the law vs the sprit of the law or those that stem from the values and style of the present administration and their interpretation, or misinterpretation of the law.

At the same time I have been working to try and protect the gains made in the District One schools by my community school board over 15 years ago against the numerous roadblocks that mayoral control has created to that progress.

In the short time available to me to speak to you today, I would like to leave you with 3 thoughts:
1. Governance alone can not provide a solution to the structural inequities and failings endemic to NYC public schools. It is the underlying values that direct education reform that should be examined.
2. Democratic participation, discussion and debate are necessary to determine the core set of values that direct that education reform.
3 An example of how local control that worked in District One

1.Mayoral Control and accountability were enacted as a response to a system that had failed many of our public school students who suffer from great inequities and neglect.
Given the societal forces of poverty, racism and deprivation that shape the lives of so many of our children both in and out of school, I ask you, how much progress have we made to better serve these kids after 7 years of MC and accountability?
Have we narrowed the achievement gap?
Do we graduate more than half of our kids?
Are parents involved in their children’s education?
The Chancellor has said so but I could also point you to numerous sources that would refute those claims.

2. The strength of democracy is that our core values are not dictated but are debated.
centralization of power under mayoral control by the current administration has created a system that disconnects communities, deprofessionalizes teachers and discourages parents, especially low income parents, parents of color, from participating in the debates on education policies and budget.
This is particularly troublesome given the research that shows a high correlation between parent involvement and academic success.

3. More than 15 years ago, a coalition of parents and political activists in District One took back the local school board by reinvigorating the political process, driving parents to the polls for school board elections. By engaging the community around issues of equity in education, the district school board successfully instituted a host of policies that brought about real improvements in the local schools. Those policies, ranging from full day pre-k in all of our schools, to removing the catchment areas that were reinforcing the patterns of housing segregation in our schools, implemented a set of community values that are still in effect today.
That school board policy, designed to reduce racial isolation in our gentrifying neighborhood, has just been replaced by the DoE with a one-size-fits-all citywide policy that fails to accommodate the values, history and demography of our community. Despite centralized control that continually threatens these reforms and the progress they have led to, parents and educators in District One continue to fight to maintain academic, racial, ethnic and economic diversity in our district schools.

To be successful in this fight, we need more than just opportunities for input- we need the possibility to engage in practices of shared decision making of the policies that shape and affect our local school community, much the way local control allowed.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Frederick Douglass

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