TLD Interview: Education Advocate Lisa Donlan

In the past several weeks, the Lower East Side has become a main battleground in the struggle for New York City’s public schools.  Parents have staged protests, called news conferences and come out in force for public meetings to speak out about the expansion plans of the Girls Prep Charter School. In the middle of the debate is Lisa Donlan, the president of District 1’s Community Education Council. I sat down with her recently for a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the neighborhood’s schools. From her perspective, the Girls Prep controversy has exposed (but not for the first time) the perils of centralized control of the city’s schools in the hands of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There are 32 Community Education Councils (CEC’s) in New York City, each aligned with a school district overseeing a neighborhood’s public elementary and middle schools. According to the Department of Education’s web site, the CEC’s “responsibilities include: approving school zoning lines, holding hearings on the capital plan, evaluating community superintendents, and providing input on other important policy issues.”  But, as a practical matter, Donlan says, the councils were made impotent by the 2002 state law transferring control of the schools from the Board of Education to Bloomberg:

(CEC’s are) granted very few rights and responsibilities compared with, say, a school board, which any non-urban, non mayoral-controlled district would have. You pay your taxes, you elect people who make decisions about the schools. That’s direct representation. One of my biggest issues is that this is, to me, a very racist and classist setup for urban school districts. In Scarsdale, this is not happening. This is not what’s happening in most of the country. There’s this shock doctrine that says, ‘failing urban schools are the fault of local control and we need to centralize it and put it into the hands of the mayor, who can make these tough decisions.’ I think there’s something implicitly racist and classist in that, and colonial, in that thought process.

Earlier this month, the CEC passed a resolution calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to deny the Girls Prep request to expand its middle school in District 1. They argued the DOE had badly underestimated the impact of three proposed expansion scenarios on other neighborhood schools. But Donlan is not optimistic the council’s opinion will matter very much. Like many parent advocates, she contends the local superintendents have almost no influence with the decision-makers at the DOE. State legislators have insisted this year’s law renewing mayoral control guaranteed parents a stronger voice. But Donlan says:

The mayor and Chancellor (Joel Klein) have made it very clear that they don’t think parents have any role in this level of decision-making, so they’ve done everything they can to thwart the law… Not only do we have no levers of power but we don’t even have the ability to get information to empower ourselves. There is no transparency. The rhetoric of transparency and accountability is absolutely Orwellian.

Back in 2005, Bloomberg boasted he had “boldly and systematically overhauled and streamlined the management structure of the schools,” eliminating “the patronage-infested community school boards.” But Donlan rejects the notion that District 1 schools needed “saving.”

To say that schools were a mess is inaccurate. Schools are a mess today. To say there’s been progress? I really don’t see the progress that he’s been pointing to. Show me the progress you’re talking about. Is it in the over-inflated, dumbed-down test scores that have become the whole carrot and stick of an entire system? Have the least performing schools improved incrementally? That may be true. I’m not completely sure. By closing all kinds of schools and pushing the most at-risk kids and the least prepared kids into these mega-schools that you then close one by one – I’m not sure that’s progress. I think this is the illusion of progress. I certainly think we’ve lowered the bar. I think District 1 is a wonderful response to the mythologizing or demonizing of the past. I can tell you that every time you can find examples of corruption or inefficiency in government anywhere, you don’t close the system down. You work on improving it. You just don’t demolish everything and say we’re starting over and then call that progress.

Donlan and other opponents of mayoral control have a new ally. Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate-elect, is calling on the mayor to take parental concerns more seriously. More pointedly, in an interview with WNBC, de Blasio said he was ” suspicious of the math and reading tests that City Hall cites as proof that schools are getting better.”  Donlan is equally skeptical. But what concerns her most is the dismantling of programs and policies in District 1 schools that were beginning to bear fruit.

We had this incredible admissions policy that was very forward thinking. I think that had it been allowed to continue it would have continued to bring about more progress. When the parents took over the school board 20 years ago with a particular vision, the District 1 schools were 31st out of 32 test scores published in the New York Times. When it was dismantled in 2003 they were in the top half, clearly making their way up. Were there plenty of schools that were still struggling? Yes. Would time have continued to bring about progress in those schools? Possibly.

Donlan also points to the district’s commitment to universal Pre-K, which has made a tremendous difference to poor, working families. Small classes and an emphasis on art and music programs, were also major factors in the district’s improving fortunes, as well, she said. This past October, a state report found District 1 was the “most improved” school district in all of New York City.

During the summer, explaining his determination to increase the number of charter schools in New York City, Bloomberg said, “you give me competition, I’ll show you progress.” His comments were detailed in the New York Times:

It is the charter schools that will get the public to demand that the rest of them come up,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It’s the charter schools that let parents vote with their feet and tell us what the parents think about the quality of the education, of the schools. And I can tell you, one of the reasons that the public schools in the city have gotten better is because the charter schools exist and give parents an alternative and let parents see that you can do something better.

Donlan says the notion of parental choice has always been an important principle in District 1. All parents can choose which school to send their children, a policy that has encouraged innovation and diversity in teaching approaches and educational programs. So, in theory, she’s not opposed to the mayor’s ideas about competition in the city’s schools. The problem, she told me, is that the deck is stacked against traditional public schools:

Philosophically we believe in choice. So philosophically I believe that the charter model makes sense in this district of choice where we’ve always aligned with the same goals that the New York Charter Law delineates: innovation, creating capacity in the teaching staff, providing increased educational opportunities for at-risk students and choice… Where the rubber hits the road is in the implementation… and whether or not those schools are meeting (expectations) and how that is measured. I would maintain that the charter schools are not carrying their share of the burden in terms of ELL’s (English Language Learners) and students with disabilities, including Special Education students .

Charter schools are publicly financed but privately operated. Donlan believes this decreases transparency and accountability. And she shares the concerns, expressed by some parents, that charter schools could one day destroy the public school system.

Private management, which is disconnected from any sort of democratic input is very problematic. And I see a fine line between private management that is today not for profit in New York City, but in New York state is allowed to be for profit, so I do buy into the doomsday scenario of the dismantling of the public schools for a private management system, and then we no longer have the public service. If that is indeed the end game or the consequence or even the unintended consequence of having management that is disconnected from a larger community then I’m philosophically opposed.

In October, we visited Girls Prep and spoke with the school’s founder, Miriam Raccah. She told us Girls Prep is “relentlessly focused on achievement,” and in recent weeks she has repeatedly argued that charter schools deserve the same resources as traditional public schools. In followup stories (here and here), it became clear Donlan and Raccah disagree on almost everything. On one issue, however, they are aligned. Like the downtown political establishment, and parents across the neighborhood, they’re dismayed the DOE has failed to accommodate the space requirements of all schools. Girls Prep, for example, shares a building on Houston Street with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94. Many critics of the Education Department are convinced it’s not a lack of money or incompetent management causing the space crunch – but a deliberate strategy.

At a recent Education Council meeting, DOE official Ross Holden seemed to suggest charter schools could grow by pushing out “failing neighborhood schools.” And he made it clear a $200 million charter school construction fund was no magic bullet. While Holden denied making the argument that charter schools could grow at the expense of existing neighborhood schools in a later conversation with Donlan, the remarks played into many parents’ worst fears. Donlan says more than 80-percent of the schools in District 1 share a building with another school. If the State Legislature raises the charter cap, as Bloomberg hopes they’ll do, the space crunch will become even more acute. Donlan told me the Girls Prep dilemma is not the only illustration of the problem – only the most recent example:

Is there some space in our schools that could be used more efficiently? Yes. Is there enough room to sustain another middle school- three sections of four grades? – no. What would have to be given up to create that is something that’s already quite rare… It’s about who gives up what to whom. It’s not just ‘oh there’s space let’s use it better.’ It’s about giving up occupational therapy rooms, giving up rooms to do speech or guidance counseling. It’s rooms for art, music, dance, after school.

Donlan says she’s been begging for more schools for five years. The Lower East Side makes up the fastest growing district in the city. Young families are moving into certain sections of District 1 (the Grand Street co-ops, for example) in large numbers. Alluding to the school overcrowding crisis on the West Side, Donlan warns, “don’t make us the next Tribeca.” Building that case, she says, has been made far more difficult by the renewal of mayoral control:

There is nothing that replaces democracy. Having levers of power around decision making that affects our community is essential…. Mayoral control is the opposite of democracy. It’s politicized, it’s not transparent and it’s not accountable.

 

17 comments to TLD Interview: Education Advocate Lisa Donlan

  • Mario Pierre

    Charter school operators are private contractors offering education as a merchandise. This is called PRIVATIZATION. It is a form of OUTSOURCING to private operators. Using Public Funds to finance Charters is a backdoor way to implement Vouchers, a concept which communities nationwide rejected. Funds are siphoned off the Public Schools that could have been used to enhance their programs. The whole charter school business goes against the recommendations of the authors of the 1983 Report, A Nation-At-Risk, which called on public officials to work with Public Schools systems around the nation to support and help them improve. The privateers are rather undermining Public Education in order to find justification to close Public Schools down as failing schools.

  • A. Evans

    We are all better for having well-informed, articulate and caring education advocates like Lisa Donlan. Her voice, along with other local advocates, need to be considered in any decisions affecting neighborhood schools.

  • Correction: District 1 was not the most improved school district in NYC; but in the entire state! We should do more to emulate their success, which has been the result of small classes, preK and all the other programs Lisa cited. Congrats to her and D1 parents and teachers who have worked so hard to preserve a culture of excellence and caring in the midst of the destructive chaos brought by the Bloomberg/Klein administration.

  • Gary

    No, Lisa Donlan is a reason why parents should have limited input into decisions concerning our schools. She is a political activist who cares more about her own agenda than helping our kids. The improvements in our schools over the past 8 years can be attributed to the actions taken by Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klien. Mayoral control is the best thing that could have happened to our schools, and Lisa Donlan fought against it. She talks about choice but wants all schools to be the same. She opposes G&T programs and Charter schools. She is opposed to single-sex schools. She wants racial and socio-economic quotas for admissions to our schools. She wants to make our schools like they were in the 80’s and 90’s; a disaster. Go back to the 60’s Donlan. You’re not wanted here!

  • Lisa Donlan

    Gary,
    Please show us just what improvements in our schools are attributable to Klein and Bloomberg’s actions and to the governance structure of Mayoral Control.
    How do you explain that the most improvement was made in District One schools from 2002-2009 as compared with every other district in the state if centralization and standardization are the hallmark of mayoral control?
    Just what actions brought MORE benefit to District One children?
    For the improvement stats see DoE charts here:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/20954070/New-York-City-School-Performance-October-2009
    I have never stated, anywhere, anytime, including in this article, that I want all schools to be the same, that I oppose G and T, or single sex or Charter schools.
    On the contrary, I support offering a wide variety of a pedagogies, and believe that there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all ways to educate students and tomorrow’s citizens ands leaders.
    I do believe in diverse and heterogeneous school communities, by which all schools serve all of the children of a community, such that no child or group of children be excluded by race, income, academic ability, language status, ethnicity or address.
    In that vein, I would not support any unconstitutional use of public resources to benefit one group at the exclusion of others.
    I have supported the former district admissions policy that starts with parent and family choice but aimed to decrease racial isolation by controlling the lotteries in popular, or oversubscribed, schools to arrive at increased diversity in a community undergoing tremendous gentrification.
    Since the dismantling of the policy by the centralized DoE under Mayoral control, I have championed the adoption of different controlled choice models that substitute other possible markers, such as socioeconomic status, as a way to improve families’ equity of access to schools as well as to increase the diversity of schools’ populations.
    The issues and problems of racism, inequity and segregation are complex and difficult and there are no easy solutions. Admissions policies that try to address these conditions deserve our thoughtful study and consideration. Currently hundreds of schools districts across this nation rely on various controlled choice admissions models that measure family income, parents level of education, geography, lingusitic ability and race and ethnicity to try to address these injustices.
    I feel strongly that District One, a richly diverse community with a strong history of social justice, owes our children the very education we can provide.
    In my mind, diverse learning communities that offer fair and equal access to resources to all students in our neighborhood is a goal worth fighting for.
    I applaud your reaching out on this blog to start a dialogue on these difficult and complex issues. They are important enough to merit many wide reaching community conversations.
    I would encourage you to drop the personal attacks since they do nothing to advance the discussion or to improve our schools, and instead hope you will find more constructive ways to engage on this vital topic that rely on facts and data rather than vitriol and name-calling.
    Anyone who wants to reach out to me and the entire Community Education Council for District One off line is welcome to do so at: cec1@schools.nyc.gov for more information or to discuss ways to address these issues together.
    Lisa

  • Jim

    ‘I have never stated, anywhere, anytime, including in this article, that I want all schools to be the same, that I oppose G and T, or single sex or Charter schools.
    On the contrary, I support offering a wide variety of a pedagogies, and believe that there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all ways to educate students and tomorrow’s citizens ands leaders.’
    Well if you don’t oppose G & T, single sex and charter schools that must mean you are either in favor of them or indifferent. I don’t think you could be indifferent to any education issue so I am going to assume you are in favor of all. So can you please tell us what steps you intend to take to ensure that girls prep is allowed to expand into a middle school, as so many parents in our community would like to see. Can you tell us what step you are taking to provide the choice of an all boys middle school for district 1? What are you doing to expand G & T places in D1? I think there is currently only one elementary school in district 1 that has such a program. I look forward to you answers.

  • Lisa Donlan

    Well Jim, I am happy to oblige!
    I appoligize in advance if my posts are too long- there are just so many issues and facts that need to be laid out in order to have a constructive dailogue.
    If only things worked the way you imply!
    If only the CEC, or any body (like a community school board, for instance) were empowered to make decisions or even recommendations about the kinds of schools the community needs!
    Under mayoral control the Chancellor and the PEP (the majority is appointed by the Mayor) are the sole decision makers of which schools open and which schools close. The community of parents, teachers and administrators those schools will serve has no input on the kinds of schools operating in a community.
    Like the decisions to close schools, the process to open new schools derives solely from Tweed, in the Office of Portfolio Planning. The OPP (formerly the Office of New Schools) runs a sort of a free-market style start-up design process that has led to the creation of hundreds of new schools over the past 8 years, of which nearly 100 are charter schools.
    In the process, folks are invited to put together proposals, walk through various steps and pitches at the DoE and then are given the green light to start a new school without any consideration or input from the community the schools will serve, or even a thought as to the physical plant and facility they will need to be housed in.
    This was indded the case 5 years ago when Girls Prep was sent to “incubate,” starting with Kindergarten classes, for 2 years in the free space offered by Chancellor Klein to the charter founder at PS 15, even though there was not enough room for both schools to operate at capacity in the building.
    5 years and a building move later, GPCS is less than half district students. Even the current K class that is mandated to take district students first pulled in only a small percentage of district girls, so I am not sure who in our community supports the expansion you mention.
    At the same time Manhattan Charter School was authorized by the DoE to “incubate” for 2 years at the PS 142 building. 5 years and many space related issues later, that school is still expanding in the PS 142 building.
    Ross Global Academy Charter School was designed to serve students on the Lower East Side by its charter. About 6 months before the programmed was to start, the RGA founders came to the CEC looking for space. When we pointed out that Ross was recruiting students to begin in 5th grade in the very first year that district students were articulating from elementary school after 5th grade, creating an unfortunate missed opportunity for all, the folks at Ross told us they had been told by DoE NOT to come talk to the community to get input on the program design!
    Tompkins Square Middle School went through the whole New School creation process, from soup to nuts. The result, a High Schoo that would have scaffolded off of the current 6-8th grade program was given the green light. But then the DoE made clear there was no space in the community for the new 9-12th grade program, and invited the school to open in Brooklyn, despite the clear premise of shared faculty and resources between the two schools.
    The CEC has been asking since September 2009 for data regarding midle school enrollment trends in our district- and I have lots of emails to prove it. Yet to date we have no coherent data from the DoE, except for figures that suggest that more MS seats are projected each year than we then have MS students to fill those seats, in most of the dozen or so available local Middle School programs.
    In light of the lack of data, the CEC has recently designed a survey (we have had issues with the translated versions the DoE has supplied, so it has not been fully launched yet) to try to answer the kind of questions your post raises-
    Do we need more local middle schools?
    How happy are parents and students with the kinds of choices available to them?
    What kind of middle school programs would people in the community like to see?
    What can we do to better support the schools and students in our community now?
    When we had a democratic means of self governance- an elected school board that hired and deployed the superintendent who ran a staffed district and was accountable to the board and the community- many of the schools with the highest demand today – East Village Community, Children’s Workshop, Shuang Wen Academy, Earth School, Neighborhood School, Tompkins Square and NEST- were started by parents, community members and educators.
    The whole point of the CEC resolution referenced in the article above regarding Girls Prep‘s request to expand is that there has been no needs assessment of any kind undertaken to explore the kinds of schools we need, which schools or programs should be expanded, how our coomunity space and resources can best serve the community.
    Only the needs of the powerful and connected, the media moguls and the hedge fund operators, the folks with lobbying groups and a plotitcal agenda seem to be on the DoE radar.
    You are right about one thing- that I am not indifferent to these issues.
    I, Lisa Donlan, the individual (as opposed to a representative of the CEC) certainly have a vision for our community that I have articulated many times over. In my vision, all community schools, using a variety of pedagogical approaches would serve all kinds of children equally and well.
    Parents and students would have the opportunity to tour and visit all the schools in order to make the best choice for the child. A form of controlled choice admission plan would encourage the schools to reach out to and embrace every kind of learner so that each school fully reflected our diverse and vibrant community. Children and families by working and learning and playing together in a school community would learn to value and appreciate each other, breaking down the constructs, myths and fears that are so often used to keep us apart.
    More resources would be dedicated to providing smaller classes and enrichment programs likeart, m usic, movement, theater, science, and social studies, field trips and projects, research and laboratories, and less would be spent on administering, prepping for and gathering data on standardized high stakes test in only math and ELA.
    In the world I am hoping to build, with greater local community control, such a vision would be the topic of a democratic process, and we, as a community, would vigorously explore and debate how our community resources could best provide the best possible education to our children.
    But until we can take back control of our community schools my personal ideas and visions are only so much noise, unsolicited input, with no venue for expression.
    The CEC has no opportunity to weigh in on or determine what happens in our community schools which is why there is no formal CEC position beyond our mission statement on these matters.
    I would be curious to know why you believe G and T programs should be expanded- from the data I have seen there has not been enough demand from qualified applicants to launch a second local program, despite several attempts by the DoE to do so.
    As I have stated before I believe that all kinds of learners learn best when given the opportunity to learn from each other. All of our schools should be celebrating the many gifts and talents of all our children with out separating out, tracking or isolating kids that could benefit from working together.
    Why do you want to see single sex schools, more tracking by ability and the increased racial and economic isolation charters and G and T programs under the DoE have brought to NYC public schools?

  • Jim

    Well, in spite of your response to Gary above, it sounds as though you are in fact opposed to G & T programs and all-girls/boys schools. So why not have the guts/honesty to say so? And if you are in favor of them, then I repeat my question, what are you going to do to promote them? Please try to answer in 100 words or less.

  • ed

    We’re pleased that readers are chiming in on this topic. Parents in our neighborhood are very passionate about what’s going on in the public schools – we intend to cover education issues extensively in the year ahead – and we hope this space will become a forum for parents on the LES to engage in a meaningful conversation. Having said that, it seems like a good time to review our comment policy.
    Our comments are moderated. People in our community have strong opinions – nothing wrong with that. However, comments that are abusive, that include personal attacks or unsubstantiated accusations will very likely not be published. Our goal is to keep the conversation respectful and constructive. You can see the complete policy here: http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/about.html
    We do our best to make sure everyone has a chance to express their point of view. A few months ago, we posted a story featuring extensive comments from Girls Prep founder Miriam Raccah. Lisa Donlan spoke her mind. We’ll continue to reach out to other people in the community on education issues. We strongly encourage story ideas from our readers, and accept op-ed submissions. To submit an idea or an article, email us at: tips@thelodownny.com.

  • Lisa Donlan

    Jim,
    I appologize if my answers are too long or too nuanced
    to be clear.
    My vision for improving schools is based on increasing equity and diversity in our existing community schools and dedicating resources for smaller classes and more enrichment to educate the whole child- all of them!
    My gripe with mayoral control is that no stakeholders in the community have any input around the values or decisions that affect the education of our children.
    We do not even have access to the information that could allow us to work on our own towards these goals.
    The limited data I have seen, however, has shown that G and T programs and charter schools have significantly contributed to increased segregation by class, race and ability in our public schools.
    Why do you support that, as well as separating kids out by gender?
    Lisa

  • Zeb

    Ms. Donlan:
    You claim to support diversity but I have my doubts. Gender separated education is an option that many want to see as a choice in a diverse educational system. Obviously there is an ongoing debate about the efficacy of such programs, but why not offer it as a choice?
    On another note, it seems you have admitted you are against G and T programs (based on their “contribution to increased segregation”). This is interesting since in an earlier comment you seem to applaud NEST as an example of what parent power can accomplish. Leaving that aside, it seems you favor an approach where every school admits every kind of student in exactly the same ratio.
    This certainly sounds noble, but this kind of simplistic utopian vision ignores reality and will mean that no school can specialize. That means that we can’t give special attention and use appropriate teaching techniques for children based on who they are. Every school becomes a “jack of all trades, master of none.” Would you have the Alpine Autism teaching method used in the same classroom with a gifted Math student doing calculus in the sixth grade? Of course not. Given that is a reductio ad absurdum, but even in a milder form it is simply unfair to children. We need to do our best for all kids. And that means setting up schools that specialize in who they are.
    And some of the kids are gifted and talented in particularly academic areas. The admission process for the very few G&T schools takes no account of race or income (leaving aside historical accusations against NEST). We can’t let those kinds of special children coast along in a academically heterogeneous school — with their innate gifts wasted.
    Or do you feel that any old school can appropriately engage the G&T kids? If you really think so, you might want to consider why parents fight to get their children into the G&T schools. It isn’t to avoid racial or economic diversity. It’s because they want their kids in a challenging environment.
    Thanks for your service, and please consider opening your mind up to a more complicated model that puts children first.

  • Zeb

    Ms. Donlan:
    One other thing, from the admittedly limited amount I know of the history of NEST, it was established by the centralized administration of Harold Levy despite the lack of support of the “democratically elected school board.”
    Few would dispute that NEST is an incredible school (check out how it ranks in the US News and World Report list of top American High Schools). But I kind of wonder if you’re being a bit hypocritical in listing it as a triumph of your approach of academic diversity within a school.
    Similarly, you cam’t really think of Shuang Wen as a model of racial diversity? It is 83% Asian (according to InsideSchools.org).
    It seems you support NEST and Shuang Wen and I applaud you for that. But perhaps their success should make you reconsider your positions on quite a few things.

  • Lisa Donlan

    Zeb,
    I look forward to responding to your post and questions when I find ample time in the next day or two.
    However, before I would appreciate your pointing to the reason you say: “This is interesting since in an earlier comment you seem to applaud NEST as an example of what parent power can accomplish.”
    thanks,
    Lisa
    PS Is there a reason people writing these blog posts are choosing to do so anonymously?
    Why not stand tall and own your beliefs and identity?

  • Corinna Lindenberg

    To Gary and all:
    Please tell me one possible reason Lisa Donlan could have as her “own personal agenda” which she puts first?
    Her kids are done!
    She is not applying for the Chancellor’s position (even though I think she should) or any other venue that she could possibly profit from, intellectually or financially.
    So my question to you all:
    What drives Lisa Donlan other then to bring equality to all children?
    There is no other reason!!!
    Segregation into gifted and non-gifted is not part of that repertoire, I believe, by design of the quest. When NEST+m is a successful model of parent input (or better savior) that is independent of the school model itself but of ‘successful’ parents making noise and save their school. Same with Shuang Wen.
    You can applaud the method of reaching a parent goal without supporting the inner reasons or philosophy.
    Parents want good education, all parents want good education for their children. We do live in the melting pot and can greatly learn from each other when we find a good balance of kids that are supported from home/ kids that are not supported from home and kids with special needs. If you give a child a 1-12 ratio with an engaged teacher and informed parent ANY such child (except with severe learning disabilities) will seem gifted after a while. They would all shine and outsmart us in no time. We as parents are the ones that can make this happen or NOT.
    And so far these postings don’t make me optimistic that we all want to reach that same goal. A lot of parents just want to find out that their child is the golden child and better than the others.
    These people find no support from me.
    I have two golden children in two public schools full of other golden children.
    I feel so lucky since it seems these days will pass soon that parents can find those choices here.

  • Lisa Donlan

    Zeb,
    I am guessing you were referring to this passage:
    “When we had a democratic means of self governance- an elected school board that hired and deployed the superintendent who ran a staffed district and was accountable to the board and the community- many of the schools with the highest demand today – East Village Community, Children’s Workshop, Shuang Wen Academy, Earth School, Neighborhood School, Tompkins Square and NEST- were started by parents, community members and educators.”
    when you wrote:
    “On another note, it seems you have admitted you are against G and T programs (based on their “contribution to increased segregation”). This is interesting since in an earlier comment you seem to applaud NEST as an example of what parent power can accomplish.”
    I think Corinna helped point out that because I was pointing to NEST among a long list of “homegrown” new and innovative schools that were developed under a democratic school board that used lively and vigorous debate ( in contrast to the new schools and charters that have been parachuted into our community school buildings with no discussion under mayoral control) , it does not make me a necessary proponent of the DoE’s ( or NEST’s former ) segregatory admissions policies.
    For more on this sidebar topic I urge you to read:
    NEST+m: An AllegoryThe “Stuyvesant of the East” has become one of the most sought-after public schools in the city. It got that way by leaving much of the public out. http://nymag.com/news/features/31272/
    Leaving aside a discussion on the merits of G and T versus heterogeneously mixed and learner-differentiated general education classes, the way the DoE measures for “gifts and talents” are highly suspect for a number of reasons, any of which I’d be happy to discuss with you any time.
    In the meantime you may want to take a look here if you want some of the basic facts that demonstrate how G and T programs, as designed and implemented by the DoE, have largely acted as a sorting hat by class and race, in a school system already quite polarized.
    :
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/nyregion/30gifted.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/19/nyregion/19gifted.html?_r=1
    This Mayor and Chancellor started many of their reforms based on accusations that many “successful” schools and communities were failing the hardest to teach students, relying heavily on the rhetoric of civil rights and reform.
    Somewhere along the way we have ended up with more gifted and talented programs, specialized and selective small schools and increasing numbers of charter schools that sort out the most at risk students- the most poor students, the English Language Learners and the students with the most restrictive disabilities.
    These “reforms” are creating a separate, but not equal, parallel education system that leaves out the most at risk students .

  • Lisa Donlan

    Zeb
    I will happily say it again- although I believe I have been more than clear- the diversity I support is based on equitable and fair access and admissions to schools such that all schools serve all kinds of kids well by reaching and growing all of their gifts and talents.
    It is my belief that by encouraging the creation of diverse learning communities of students ( as measured by academic and linguistic ability, gender, race, ethnicity and economics, etc) we can actually begin to break down and overcome these rather arbitrary constructs that too often keep us apart, in strife, misunderstanding and inequality.
    I can see how this rather perverse form of intellectual judo might confuse you or others-
    attempting to use the very constructs we hope to deconstruct to create a diverse learning environment so that children and their families have the opportunity to get to know each other fully, breaking down the constructs and barriers that separate us to move to a deeper richer understanding of each other .
    I had no idea that social justice was a relic of the 1960’s- if that is so I will gladly take Gary’s offer for a one ticket on that time machine back!
    Keep in mind that as I am turning 50 in a few weeks, I was quite literally a “child” of the 60 ’s!
    Maybe because I spent my formative years in college towns, raised on a steady diet of candle light peace marches, fasting on Hiroshima Day and Coalition for Peace pizza parties in my living room, I exude an old hippie aura?
    But, you can rest assured that the “controlled choice” admissions policy I have been championing for the last few years only suggests that we begin to narrow the economic gaps in our local schools by controlling choice enough so that no school would serve a population above or below an acceptable rate of poverty ( tbd, but I am suggesting 10 – 15% above or below the district Title One average).
    This is the model currently used in the Cambridge Public schools and I think it merits consideration.
    For a brief discussion on school districts using socioeconomics to increase equity in admissions, please follow this link to an article in USA today
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-11-02-busing02_ST_N.htm
    I have lots of research on this topic and would like nothing more than to discuss it fully, along with many other points raised in comments on this blog.
    Why don’t you come to a CEC meeting and open up this dialogue with the Council?
    We would be happy to work with you to plan a forum on these issues to discuss them with experts and community members.

  • Gary

    Zeb,
    The main problem here is language. When most people talk about choice they mean different alternatives; I get green, you want blue, he can have yellow. Lisa Donlan follows the Henry Ford model; you can have any color you want so long as it’s black! Choice is her favorite word, but she wants all choices to be the same.
    And Lisa, I want equality for our children just as much as you claim to. The difference between you and me is that I want to set the bar high and raise everyone up to that level. You favor the tired old socialist model; equality by reducing everyone to the same level of mediocrity.