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NYC schools are under attack
New York City is well known for being a multicultural oasis. As Rebecca Haleva writes for the The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA): "Not one culture dominates the others, they all blend together to create something that is more than the addition of its parts. NYC is a place where everyone is accepted."
As utopian as that sounds, it’s not true. Despite its reputation for being open-minded and accepting, New York has a not-so-well-kept secret: there is a lot of bigotry here. In addition to being one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, New York City is also home to an organization called the Department of Education. This school system is famously one of the most segregated in the nation. This is in part due to the fact that neighborhoods are extremely segregated, and also due to many parents enrolling their children in schools outside of their neighborhoods.
It’s also a well-known fact that NYC schools are both separately and inequitably funded, due to the reliance on property taxes which vary by zip code. Listen to former Governor Andrew Cuomo on this in 2018, back when he was running for office: "The way we fund education through the property tax system, by definition is going to be unfair." Once he was elected governor, Cuomo “argued that districts around the state don’t properly fund schools with large numbers of low-income students, and has suggested the state should approve local district budgets and even establish a new funding formula to direct money to needy schools. Neither of those proposals have been implemented,” according to Chalkbeat’s Alex Zimmerman. (More about current fair funding proposals here.)
So we have some children in the greatest city in the world swimming in opportunities while other children struggle to make their way in overcrowded, underfunded schools. The problem is, there are plenty of people who honestly prefer to keep it that way. Rather than work together to ensure that the same opportunities are offered to all students, and fighting for the resources students need to be ready to take advantage of those opportunities, there are entire groups of parents working tirelessly to keep our outdated and racist system operating exactly as has been.
Current Chancellor David Banks tweeted about angry white parents in 2018. More recently, Chalkbeat’s Christina Veiga provided a brief overview of recent integration efforts, citing right-wing parent group PLACE (Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education) as an influential group that backed Mayor Eric Adams as well as numerous conservative city council members and election board members.
Not long after the election, NYCDOE nixed the plan to develop a city-wide culturally relevant curriculum, and there has been no talk of any replacement initiative. In the past year, PLACE members have successfully infiltrated School Leadership Teams (SLTs) and voted in right-wing policy & lawmakers to make sure teachers are not doing anything inflammatory like talking about skin color or affirming gender identity. Not content with book bans & rallies for racist tests, PLACE wants to bring down the public school system entirely:
PLACE actively courted Moms for Liberty in a effort to expand their influence and further their anti-public education agenda. And it worked.
As a result of the 2023 spring CEC elections, “the group’s preferred candidates will make up nearly 40% of the Community Education Council members across the five boroughs” including founding member Maud Maron, featured above.
And as teacher Jonathon Halabi points out here and here, PLACE-endorsed candidates were so strategically backed that they effectively consolidated power, marginalized Black and Latine families, and are trying to convince everyone that these elections are somehow a mandate on their platform of “merit-based” policies such as the continuation of standardized testing as the sole means of selecting students for merit-based programs such as G&T and specialized high schools.
The agenda they don’t explicitly name on their website is more sinister. They seek to eliminate restorative justice, social-emotional learning (SEL) gender-affirming inclusivity, and “race-based” instruction”(i.e. Black History). They regularly use CEC meetings, rallies, and social media to attack and denigrate anyone who opposes their agenda. They are unapologetically anti-woke, (i.e. anti-Black) and pro-high stakes testing (i.e. anti-equity). Moms for Liberty, labeled an extremist antigovernment organization has caught notice of their ascendancy, and the implications, if they should officially converge, could leave us vulnerable to the kind of attacks on education we’re seeing in other states.
The book bans could become a reality in NYC. Censorship, suppression, and control of educational materials and experiences. Oppression of trans and LGBTQ students. Coordinated, targeted harassment of educators and increased segregation and marginalization of racialized children, their families, and their communities.
Bigoted, racist, classist & transphobic, these parent groups and their political allies have already too big an influence on our diverse & wonderful city. Calling back to the first paragraph: NYC is not and has never been that utopian melting pot nor should it be. This is not the 1950’s, and assimilation is not the goal. But unless we want our city defined by hate & bigotry, now is the time to fight back. Public schools are the backbone of our society. We need to be prepared to provide each generation with a safe & equitable education. We cannot allow destructive elements to compromise that mission.
Now is the time to show up at PTA and CEC meetings and at the voting booths to ensure that equity-minded parents and politicians are put in positions of leadership. Now is the time to vocalize opposition to the insidious culture of testing which overshadows any curriculum or best practices we might implement. Now is also the time to push back against deficit narratives about our city’s children, anti-semitic tropes about unions, and racist ideologies that blame families for structural inadequacies in the system. It’s important to resist and correct narratives promoting right-wing hysteria and propaganda. And it’s IMPERATIVE to create structures that support the integration, improvement, and edification of our public schools.