Monday, April 1, 2013

Proposed Innovation Schools: Separate and Unequal ... by Peter Knowlton

I attended the New Bedford School Committee meeting Wednesday night on Innovation Schools. I don't live in New Bedford but I've been a resident of and worked in Southeastern Mass. most of my life, and my children and now grandchildren attended Dartmouth and New Bedford public schools.
As one of the cultural, political and economic engines of the region, what happens in New Bedford crosses borders. I know many of the individuals working on or opposed to the current proposals.
Innovation Schools are designed to provide a structure and environment that provides greater individual attention and focus between educators and students, and a richer learning experience. The key basic elements are smaller class size and additional resources provided to the teachers and the students. As I listened to the testimony, it became clear, to me anyway, that the proponents are completely tone deaf to those whose life's work is spent figuring out ways to better educate our children. Overwhelmingly, teachers and their union spoke out in opposition to the proposals. A few lucky students will get a learning experience 90 percent of the student population (those with class sizes of 20-30 students) won't get, and that is not acceptable.
The proponents of these two schools have structured the proposal to avoid meaningful teacher input. This kind of anti-democratic antiquated thinking simply invites life-long resentment and animosity among teachers for these schools ... if they are adopted by the School Committee. Why would you want that?
The powerful, varied and numerous statements by the vast majority of teachers who spoke at the meeting clearly welcome and embrace innovation. They just don't think it should be for a few schools, but for all schools. Smaller class sizes ... for all; more autonomy within each school to develop creative programs ... for all; more attention and resources devoted to non-English speakers and to developing a more multi-lingual environment ... for all; more music and art opportunities ... for all.
Ronald Reagan and the present-day neo-liberal politics accelerated and broadened the great tax shift from the wealthy and their corporations onto the rest of us. Budgets have been slashed because of the financial sector's and government's mismanagement, manipulation and theft of our economy. The resulting half a loaf is better than none "we can't afford it for everyone" mentality is setting up a separate educational experience that is anti-democratic, bad public policy, and will further this nation's spiral into mediocrity. As selection for these schools is based on a lottery, it reinforces the idea that luck, not effort, is how you succeed. We cannot afford a casino mentality for education.
Because one of the Innovation Schools is dual-language immersion in English and Spanish, there is great interest among the Spanish-speaking community, evidenced by the many who spoke at the meeting. Yet, there was no simultaneous translation provided and, as one speaker stated, he was unable to understand any of the English speakers, who were 95 percent of the speakers and of whom 75 percent were opposed to the schools. This demonstrated to me the continuing insensitivity and inability of the administration to embrace the largest population of this area's most recent immigrants. The administration considers proposals to further marginalize the Spanish-speaking immigrant population by separation (because it costs less?) instead of providing the resources necessary to integrate non-English speaking populations into all schools.
The School Committee should reject these proposals and come up with different proposals that encourage innovation and creative and critical thinking in all New Bedford schools. They should reject the premise that separate could ever possibly be equal, and embrace all its residents by making a special effort in all schools to accommodate the needs of the most exploited and ignored immigrant populations. Only by inclusion can democracy flourish.

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