My Comments from the Save our Schools Rally
Thursday, March 12th, I was honored to be invited to speak at the Save our Schools Rally in Corning, New York. My friend, Tyler Tarnowicz captured most of the most of my speech on video. However, I thought I’d share the entire text with you. It was a wonderful event with hundreds of parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials in attendance and it truly was an honor to be able to participate.
Governor Cuomo has declared war on public schools. In fact, in New York and all across the nation a war is, indeed, being fought to save our locally controlled public school systems.
And once again as this war wages our public schools are being blamed for all that ails America.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma, AL, this week, we should also remember the legacy of Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine, and the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that desegregated our public schools in America. In the decades following the Brown decision, decades that were too often marked by racism and violence, we made great strides in equalizing educational opportunities for all students.
In fact, the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as a component of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, was a source of pride, signaling to the world that we placed a high priority on education and the need to ensure that regardless of a student’s race, economic status, or zip code, they had a right to a world class education in a publicly funded public school.
Nevertheless, I believe everyone would wholeheartedly agree that more needs to be done to finally realize this dream.
However, the noise of public school critics have gotten in the way of our efforts in the decades following the 1954 Brown decision.
During the Sputnik crisis the failure of the United States to beat the Soviet Union in placing a satellite in orbit was blamed on America’s public schools. And as history has shown, this blame was misplaced.
In 1983 the report A Nation at Risk blamed public schools for threatening the security of America and for the economic problems in which America had found itself. And as I and others have pointed out, this blame and the claims of a Nation at Risk were misplaced.
Today, America’s public schools find themselves under assault as never before from both the political left and right. Democrats and republicans.
As a result, all American citizens and most importantly, all citizens of New York as well as every person in this auditorium needs to ask themselves whether or not they ultimately support America’s system of public education.
How do American’s view locally controlled public schools?
Do all of you in this auditorium agree with governor Cuomo when he calls America’s public school system a monopoly that needs to be busted?
Or, like myself and so many others, do you see our locally controlled public schools as an essential institution that has served America well, and in the process, helping make the United States I believe the greatest nation on Earth.
Do you believe that Governor Cuomo and the New York legislature need to equitably fund our public schools?
Or do you believe like Governor Cuomo and his education reform allies that money needs to be channeled away from our public schools in order to fund entrepreneurial adventurism?
Our public schools are not monopolies. They are not government schools that reflect some socialist agenda as has often been asserted since the Cold War.
No. I believe, and I hope all of you believe, that our public schools are in fact an institution that is a reflection of America’s devotion to a pluralistic society that gives our great republic the vitality and ability to help meet the needs of our diverse society.
If you believe this you will, unlike Governor Cuomo and those who support his education reform ideas, embrace our locally controlled public schools because these are our community schools.
They belong to the community. They belong to all of us.
Public schools take on the honored responsibility of meeting the needs of every citizen.
Do you believe as Governor Cuomo believes that we need alternatives to our public school system because our public schools need more competition in order to meet the social and economic challenges our nation is facing?
Or do you believe that this approach to education reform is but another means to destroy our historically beneficial public school system?
Is the move to allow education entrepreneurs to enter the education reform arena nothing but a nod to Wall Street?
I certainly do not believe that Wall Street should trump Main Street when it comes to nurturing our nation’s most precious resource – our children.
Governor Cuomo’s education reform ideas such as excessive draconian high stakes testing that saps the educational life out of schools – only seems to line the pockets of corporations making huge profits off of questionable assessment models.
I believe public schools have been and continue to be places for the public good. I believe and I hope you believe that our locally controlled public schools have been and continue to be essential in helping to create our great republic – a republic whose foundation is fortified by the power of democracy.
I believe that our locally controlled public schools are one of the jewels in the crown of our republic and this jewel must not be removed from the crown because if you remove this jewel, our republic will not shine nearly so brightly.
If you believe this, then I hope you realize that WE need to eliminate draconian high stakes tests that do not reflect the complex challenges public schools and their communities are facing. And stop using these tests as a weapon to punish teachers!
I believe that our locally controlled public schools are essential in preserving the vitality of our great republic.
If you believe this, I hope you will agree that we need to fully fund public schools and eliminate the GAP Elimination Adjustment that robs local school districts of their money and sends this cash to Albany!
If you believe this, I hope you agree that we should not funnel money away from our public schools and into the hands of education entrepreneurs who favor Wall Street over Main Street.
If you believe this, then I hope you will support investment into universal pre-K education.
Let us not be distracted by Governor Cuomo and those who support his education policies and very importantly his misguided view of our truly egalitarian system of public school education where all students are welcomed regardless of race, language, class, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability or disability.
Our public schools have always reflected the complex cultural mosaic that we proudly call the United States of America.
The legacy of Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine, and so many others who sacrificed so much, even at times their very lives, to create an America worthy of its allegiance to democracy demand that we stand up for and defend our public schools.
Let me be clear about what’s at stake in our nation’s head long rush to dismantle our public school system. Our heritage is at stake.
As a point of illustration, let me point out that the very school Ruby Bridges bravely integrated, flanked by federal marshals, – an event memorialized by the artist Norman Rockwell – no longer exists as William Franz Elementary School.
It was turned into a charter school after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and all public school teachers were fired.
Was this new school named the Ruby Bridges Elementary School to honor her legacy? No. It bears a name chosen by the entrepreneurs who took over the school.
Yes, they did erect a statue of Ruby in the school, but how long will it be before the statue is just a statue and her legacy is all but erased. And the saddest part of all is that Ruby’s schools is once again segregated.
We are squandering the legacy of those who worked so hard to create the American ideal of a public education system.
America’s system of public education has proven to be an important democratic avenue on the long road to breaking the stranglehold of segregation in our country.
And let us always remember that our public schools have been an important democratic avenue for millions of Americans and immigrant groups in realizing their dreams and aspirations.
We must stop closing public schools on one corner in order to open up an entrepreneurial charter school a few blocks away. We must continue the proud tradition of locally controlled public schools. Only the citizens within a community can truly determine what is best for their students.
Public schools have historically done yeoman’s work in helping raise the United States to international preeminence. It is for this reason I urge everyone in New York to unite around our public schools.
We must positively help to improve these schools and fend off those who, wittingly or not, are now dismantling this important American institution.
And do not be misled by the rhetoric of choice.
For me there is only one “choice” and that is to fully fund public schools and ensure that all students receive a world class education in their community schools.
Tax dollars paid by citizens should enhance community schools, not feather the nests of entrepreneurs who seek to make a dime off of our children.
To be sure, there is a price on the head of every school child in America. But they deserve to have what so many of their parents and grandparents had before them – a public school that is a vital part of their community.