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THE CAMPAIGN FOR NEW YORK SCHOOLS

5/7/00

Along with PCT Secretary and Grievance Chair Judith Alexanderson, I spent an evening recently talking to a group of community activists from various progressive organizations about the state of education in New York and what could be done to make all of our schools the kinds of places that decent people would want them to be. This meeting was part of what is being called The Campaign for New York Schools sponsored by Citizen Action of New York and ACORN with the support of the state’s teacher unions.

It’s very difficult to find anyone who is against improving the public schools. It is often impossible, however, to build agreement as to what the improvements should be. To combat the divisiveness that often characterizes attempts to build coalitions for school improvement, The Campaign for New York Schools has cleverly constructed a short list of goals that every well-intended person, whether from the political left, right or center, could enthusiastically support.

The Campaign, as it’s being dubbed, has four stunningly simple planks around which it will try to mobilize the citizens of our state, four common sense ideas which are almost self-evidently correct. They are:

All children deserve small class sizes - Once a hotly debated idea, there is a growing consensus based on credible research that small class sizes are a crucial part of any school improvement plan, particularly in the elementary grades.

All children deserve to be taught by a qualified teacher and school leader - This is not only a concern in our state’s urban centers but is a growing area of concern as a growing teacher shortage develops throughout New York and the nation.

All children deserve a safe, clean structurally sound and technologically up-to-date school building - Too many students in our state attend school in buildings that are falling apart and which pose serious health hazards to those who work and study there.

All children deserve the benefits of Universal Pre-kindergarten -High quality early learning experiences have been shown to have a major impact on school readiness, maturation, socialization and later school performance. A just society must, therefore, provide this benefit to all of its children, not just those of the affluent.

The elegant simplicity of the goals coupled with the righteousness of the cause will hopefully serve to make possible the kind of political coalition necessary to achieve these objectives for the children of our state. I am looking forward to playing a role in building this coalition and would love to hear from readers of this column who would like to join me. We have an opportunity for union teachers and support personnel, parent activists, board of education members and other concerned citizens of almost ever political persuasion to join together in the common cause so that no child in our state misses the opportunity for a quality education.

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