Tuesday, August 18, 2009

(Revised) Organizing Parents: Harder Than Herding Cats (Much)

Updated Aug. 18, 10 PM

I was chastised on a number of issues related to my earlier posting of this piece and number one was my confusion regarding the exact position vis a vis mayoral control of the Parent Commission. A lot of information floating around was conjecture and rumor and it took a few comments, emails and phone calls to clarify some things. But that has been done before and I just plain forgot. And probably will again. The arteries are hardening faster than I thought. Pretty scary when my almost 92 year old dad remembers lots more than I do.

What's a CPAC?

This was a question asked by teacher Nicola DeMarco on the NYC Education Listserve, where NYC parent activists weigh in (the listserve is carefully monitored by Tweedles).

Parent commenter Benita, who has a vision for parent resistance, tell her story:

Officially, CPAC parents selected from the President Councils are there to represent the interests and concerns of parents' citywide to the Chancellor-- who in turn, is supposed to seek out and listen to their collective advice.

But Nick-- you are so ON POINT to question what CPAC really is.

The majority of parents and residents in NYC don't have a clue about it, or what purpose it really serves. In schools, many, many parents don't even know (or much care) that there are "Presidents" Councils and that as hierarchies go, they feed into CPAC.

I am a perfect example. I was at the end of my personal battle with the DoE, and graduating out as the PA president when I learned that there was even such a body as CPAC. I only learned about it when there was "in-fighting" between its representative panel members-- apparently, political/ego power plays pitting them against one another, were at hand. Not unusual. The co-President of the Manhattan High School Presidents Council (MHSPC) was appointed as "interim" Chair or temporary president of CPAC, and although I knew her well, I never ventured to one of CPAC's meetings. Participating in the MHSPC every month was enough of a waste of time for me. I got nothing from them that could be filtered down to positively affect, or help in any way, the parents in the failing high school I diligently went there to represent.

This last Spring when CPAC either could not, or would not come out in support of the Parent Commission on School Governance and Mayoral Control's written report of recommendations, and when they did NOT join the fight to end mayoral control, I dismissed this body as another useless waste of energy and time. It is just one more vehicle the DoE uses to point to "Parent Involvement" and claim it's alive and well.

Sometimes, I think a total boycott of every single DoE-designed parent involvement group, CEC, CDEC, District Leadership Team, Special Education Council, Citywide High School Council, SLT, parent committee and association ought to be enacted. Imagine what a planned citywide walk-out by parents-- joined by community protests of every different kind of education related council meeting-- would say to the DoE and the legislators who think we're satisfied with the "new" bill on school governance.

I think it would scare the superior pants off them. At some point, parents have to recognize their power. At some point, parents have to decide they've had enough and just STOP being the political pawns of an autocratic system who continues to wind them up, dictate the regulations they are to follow, and constantly sends them into a maze of endless meetings and time-spent-talking (and also reporting), that ultimately, has little to NO effect on improving public schools, children's learning, or stemming the government's push for privatization.

Having said that-- I am also now an outsider; a parent without a child currently in the system to protect, so being a radical is easier for me. I recognize it is not so easy for others and thus, sincerely applaud Muba and like-minded parent leaders, for their dedication to the process. Maybe the purpose of CPAC is to keep abreast of the "beast" from within. Maybe knowing the moves of the DoE from the inside, and then adding that knowledge to the community pressure from the outside, will eventually result in change.

Unless there is concerted effort to assume radical, non-violent actions as taught by those freedom fighters around the world who have successfully resisted dictators--- for our children and city's sake-- we can only hope that change will come.

- Benita

I like Benita's fighting spirit. But she does touch on the problem with trying to get parents organized into a force. They age out as their kids leave the school they go to and eventually the school system.

That is why I have always believed that over the long run a progressive movement of career teachers, who have the longest view (mine was 35 years) of the system, can have the most impact. But never without an alliance with parent activists. The problem in NYC has been that there has been no consistent parent group to work with. The Parent Commission did seem to be a start, but their mission was to lobby for changes in the governance bill, not to build a potent and sustained parent movement, something for which I and others have (unfairly) criticized them.

BloomKlein bought off many parents in their initial charge into the system.

Historical diversion
Search the ed notes blog for stories on "Martine Guerrier" as example #1. Martine was the former Brooklyn rep on the PEP (which replaced the old central board) appointed by Boro pres Mary Markowitz and I admired her for her willingness to question many of the early policies. We had numerous conversations and she seemed to be an ideal parent leader. But I could see her turning before my very eyes as Markowitz became more and more of a Bloomberg hack.

Then came the day of the famous anti BloomKlein rally at St. Vartan's church on Feb. 28, 2007 (see videos here and here) where every anti-BloomKlein activist in the city gathered, including some leaders of the CPACs.

It was the first time I met Patrick Sullivan and Diane Ravitch. Leonie Haimson and her listserve played an extremely active role in getting people out. After pressing Leonie to start a blog for quite some time, she informed me that night the NYC Parent blog was a "go"- see Leonie's report in one of her first blog posts: Rally to Put the Public Back into Public Education. The idea that came out of that event was to organize a massive rally on May 1, 2007 to show the world, which had been praising BloomKlein, there was serious opposition.

But the UFT organized the Feb 28 event, which could have turned into a major springboard to oppose the mayor. The threat the May 1 rally threat brought Tweed to the table. But both Tweed and the UFT are never to be trusted and the rally was cancelled in exchange for crumbs and even these agreements were violated.

One of the shocks of that Feb. night was the announcement earlier in the day that BloomKlein had appointed Martine to a $150,000 a year post as "chief parent engagement officer." HELLO! Tweed had come up with what they hoped would make it seem they were listening to parents. (See my report Say It Ain't So Martine which led to a nasty email from NY Times ed reporter at the time, David Herzenhorn, who objected to my critique of his coverage of the appointment where he termed her "a persistent critic" to make it appear this appointment was a sign of BloomKlein's willingness to appoint critics.)
End historical diversion

The Grassroots Education Movement has the potential to work with parents and has begun doing so recently, especially in the black and Latin communities. GEM differs from ICE and TJC in the sense that, even though a group of progressive teachers, it is not a caucus in the UFT but is attempting to build a movement beyond the UFT by allying with parent and community groups. And student activists too. But GEM, only six months old, is still too new to judge. Human resources in terms of teacher/activists are in short supply, but GEM has attracted some new people to the work. And there's an awful lot of that to do. Come to the next GEM meeting on August 25 and join in the festivities (see the GEM blog for details).

In my hurry to post the earlier version of this piece, I also confused CPACs and CECs and Lisa Donlan and Leonie Haimson took me to task for this fundamental error. Blame it on the hot Rockaway sun. Or just plain carelessness and stupidity if you don't buy that excuse. Or those darn arteries again.

*CPAC Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council

On the DOE web site: The Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC) is comprised of presidents of the district presidents’ councils or their designees. CPAC consults with the district presidents’ councils to identify concerns, trends, and policy issues, and it advises the Chancellor on DOE policies. [and have all such concerns, trends, policy issues and advice given ignored and disparaged].

CECs replaced the elected district school boards abolished when the mayor was given control. Now they are known as advisory panels. (Lisa Donlan, an Ed Notes favorite, is president of CEC District One – Lower East Side.) Emphasis on "advisory." Meaning, no power. But that is mayor for life Michael Bloomberg's mantra: No power to anyone other than him. If you don't like what he is doing, then don't elect him – if you can come up with a few billion dollars of your own.


ed notes online said...

Patricia, Dorothy, Leonie, Lisa and others who have commented regarding the errors in yesterday's post:

My initial intent was to post Benita's interesting points on parent action and it got out of hand. It was an extremely careless post as I added a throwaway email by Sean on ICE mail who has been critical of the Parent commission. I had no right to even quote this email without further discussion and clarification with him and Lisa has been kind enough to have conversations with both he and I to set both of us straight.

I will attribute part of our confusion due to the variety of information and misinformation floating around about the work of the Commission and what its mission was, which we understand now was clearly not to organize a mass movement of parents but to address the governance law. I guess both Sean's and my frustration at the sense there is a vital need for such an organization that can work with progressive teachers. And we have been similarly frustrated as Dorothy is as to the role so often played by the UFT as we struggle within to organize teachers into a force that can work in partnership with such a parent group when and if it exists.

Rank and file teachers, in contrast to the UFT leadership, are so beset in the classrooms with useless and wasteful work due to the impact of mayoral control. Teacher activists (the relatively few there are) are also frustrated at the fact that the UFT misleads their colleagues from seeing this connection and instead praises the mayor. We believe there is a need for a strong movement to remove politics from education and we hope such a strong voice of a united parent and rank and file teacher movement will emerge and will include parent and teacher activists from all parts of the city.

All this is not an excuse for carelessnesss and ignorance.

One of the Many said...

This post was almost 2 years ago to the day! I'm shocked by how little has changed for the children in NYC public schools, how much worse things are at the present, but pleased that the allies are closer now to reaching critical mass in a resistance movement of teachers, parents and a lot more high school students. Ths work is exhausting and can make me old. . . real fast, so fast that two arduous, long years have gone by like a blink.
- Be