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A system that does not work for our children

This column was originally published in Spanish in El Diario.

The Center for Immigrant Families (CIF) joins others across the city and nation who are working for justice and equity in our public schools-one of our last remaining universal public goods in the United States. Public education is a human right, not a luxury, and our schools should nurture the development and learning of every child. As parents, caregivers, and concerned community members, we want schools that reflect, respect, serve our communities — and that draw upon the rich resources within our communities as sources of learning and support.

Mayoral control and the system we have now does not support this vision.

Instead, under Mayor Bloomberg, a top-down, business model has been imposed on an educational system that promotes high-stakes and punitive testing. These tests not only cause enormous stress, but also prevent meaningful learning and critical thinking. Today, only 3 percent of our children’s school day is spent on physical or creative activities.

Our children need art, physical education, and enrichment activities, not test prep. Despite what has been proven to be disastrous for young children, the mayor wants to test children in grades K-2.

High stakes testing and NCLB — especially under mayoral control — has led to the closing of many schools. When schools are closed, the results can be devastating. Entire communities are destroyed and are labeled as “failures.” Instead of being given the resources that they need to survive and flourish, closed schools are often replaced by schools that do not serve our children. Within gentrifying neighborhoods, these new schools often serve “special” pools of students and can be a “draw” to real estate developers. We have seen this happening in our own neighborhoods in Uptown Manhattan.

Other examples of mayoral control show that our experiences here in New York are not isolated. They point to a pattern in which mayoral control has been used to move forward agendas for charters and other “public-private partnerships” — which we understand to be deep inroads towards the privatization our public schools.

Much public discussion centers around the role of parents. Recently, the issue of parent training has been raised. As parents and caregivers, the notion of parents needing to be “trained” often comes from a race and class biased deficit model — focusing on what we need to learn rather than on what and how we can contribute and how we can build genuine parent, school, and community partnerships.

Many claim to know the needs of low-income, immigrant, and parents of color. We say: please take the time to hear what we — as parents and our children’s first educators — believe our children need to grow and flourish. We ask that you join us, and the growing movement to work for justice and transformation of our public education system.

Perla Placencia and Ujju Aggarwal are collective members of the Center for Immigrant Families (CIF), an inter-generational and collectively-run organization of low-income immigrant women of color and community members. Our mission is to address the inter-connected challenges facing our communities by linking our personal/psychological well-being, health, and development to sustained organizing focused on the root causes we confront and their multi-layered impact on our lives and communities. We work to build sustainable power and leadership among low-income parents of color to “take back” the schools and demand a public education system that truly serves our children.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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