Two Teachers 3 :: Occupy the DOE

• In New York City, on October 25, 2011, a public meeting of the “Panel for Educational Policy” was held in Seward Park High School. This panel — which is generally referred to by the acronym, “PEP” — is part of the New York City Department of Education (the “DOE”) and responsible for setting policy for the city’s public schools. (There are 1,700 public schools in New York, 1.1 million students, and 75,000 teachers; the DOE has an annual budget of $24 billion.)

• The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the “Common Core Curriculum Standards,” a document which lays down the levels of ability in mathematics and English that must be achieved by students from kindergarten through to high school, and the author of the report, David Coleman, was to be the main speaker at the meeting. These standards have already been adopted by forty-four of the fifty American states, including New York, but, in New York at least, many parents, teachers, and students are unhappy about them. For one thing, many feel that the emphasis this curriculum places on mathematics and English at the expense of other subjects like science, art, music, and physical education is a bad idea. And many also feel that the “high-stakes” exams that students who are following this curriculum must take regularly are actually a barrier to learning.

• The teachers and parents in New York who are critical of the Core Standards — and unhappy about other things such as constantly increasing class sizes — are also angry because, they say, the PEP has not listened to their complaints. They say that even though the PEP holds public meetings and promises dialog, it doesn’t really listen to them. When they have been allowed to speak, they have been limited to two minutes, and they had been told that at the October 25th meeting, the only questions that would be answered were ones that had been submitted on index cards beforehand.

• Some of these frustrated and angry teachers joined the “Occupy Wall Street” movement when it started and others watched it and were inspired by it even though they didn’t join. And, as Marcelle Good, one of the teachers featured in this activity, mentions when she is interviewed, the plans for sabotaging the October 25th meeting of the PEP, were made across the street from Zuccotti Park.