Occupy the Education System: Students, Teachers and Parents Find New Spirit and Challenge the Attack on Public Schools
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Frascella said, “We're thinking of new ways that we can allow parents and students and teachers to have a voice in the decisions that are affecting our lives, our working conditions, addressing and combating this mayoral control. Mayoral control is really killing our city.”
She noted that Mayor Bloomberg renewed a $120 million contract with Verizon while 45,000 of its workers were on strike, and when the company was already involved in a scandal around fraudulent billing—in August, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called for the return of $800,000 to the city from Verizon.
“We don't have mayoral control in white suburbia, you only see policies like these in urban settings,” Frascella said.
It's not just the handing over of education department dollars to big corporations that led to the education actions, though. Standardized, high-stakes testing at the expense of real teaching time is also a major complaint. Jones told me that plans are now underway for high-stakes testing in arts and music. “There's urgency around making sure that every kid takes a music test but not that every kid has a music teacher,” he said. “The city has laid off 700 school aides. Meanwhile we have tens of millions of dollars wasted on technology consultants, and the DOE is hiring more data specialists, data consultants at very high salaries.”
And the drive toward more charter schools led the Grassroots Education Movement (of which Jones is a part) to create a documentary called The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, to push back against the seemingly endless flood of pro-charter-school media.
Jones pointed out that charter schools are pushed by people who have an agenda, like Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman and failed candidate for Manhattan borough president who now runs a multi-million-dollar charter school network. Moskowitz has her sights set on Brooklyn now. “This new charter school that Moskowitz is trying to build is backed by Goldman Sachs,” Jones noted. “You don’t have to work very hard to make the connections.”
“I think there’s certainly a critical mass of consciousness--a critical mass of people who through their direct experience with so-called education reform have come to figure out that this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Jones said.
Occupy the DOE
The Occupy the DOE movement sprang out of teachers' involvement with the encampment in Liberty Plaza. Frascella explained, “We were doing these grade-ins at OWS, where teachers would come together and just grade at Wall Street. And while we were grading we were thinking about ways we could bring the Occupy movement to education.”
The group held a meeting at one of their grade-ins and decided to take their movement to the PEP, and gathered supporters to join them.
And so on October 25 over 200 parents, teachers and students headed for the PEP meeting, unsure of what would happen, but determined to make their voices heard.
As the panel began, the cry of “mic check!” familiar to anyone who's attended an Occupy Wall Street event rang out. You can see what happened there in the video below:
Eventually, the panel, including Chancellor Walcott, left the room, while parents and teachers and students (including 8-year-old Adriana, who told the meeting about her crowded class of 28 students) continued to hold their teach-in on the state of New York's schools.
“The first speaker was prepared to be escorted out,” Frascella told me. “We were prepared to cooperate and to leave but to have enough people to keep the people's mic going. It was kind of the best-case scenario that the panel decided to leave and go upstairs and hold their meeting upstairs.”