General Bank Street News

On Expertise & Expectations

Posted by Bank Street on November 03, 2011

Dean Jon SnyderOn September 24, Bank Street College had the honor of hosting a conference conducted by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, the Urban Youth Collaborative, and the Alliance for Quality Education. The topic was effective alternatives to school closings. School leaders, district officials, school partner organizations, teachers, and community members from across the country discussed strategies shown to be effective for successfully transforming low-performing schools.

What jumped out at me was what a rare occurrence it is in educational policy conversations these days to have people know what they are talking about. The planners and the presenters all knew, from experience and study, about children and families and communities and schools and teaching and learning. What a pleasant break and a sad commentary.

For the past decade here in New York City, educational policy—and even the frames of engagement of every educational policy conversation—has been set by the Mayor (a communications magnate) and his chancellor (for the bulk of the decade, an anti-trust attorney). At the national level, the “experts,” among others, are a man who made many fortunes marketing other people’s ideas, and a woman who brilliantly marketed her college thesis into a hundred million dollar enterprise. Educators and parents have not just been shunned; they have been denigrated as creators and defenders of all that harms our children. The more one knows, from experience and study, the greater the exclusion and public denigration. Mr. Bloomberg even had the gall to say that he knew their children and what was better for them than the parents and the teachers who work with them daily.

If I wanted to know more about how to grow a huge communications empire, I would certainly seek out Mr. Bloomberg (and perhaps Rupert Murdoch as well, as he too knows how to grow a communication empire, and has hired our former Chancellor). If I wanted to know more about breaking up a monopoly, I would certainly seek out Mr. Klein. If I wanted to know more about making several fortunes marketing other people’s ideas I would certainly seek out Mr. Gates. If I wanted to know more about soliciting funds from the government and wealthy philanthropists, I would certainly seek out Ms. Kopp. These are all talents to be respected, and can be hugely useful in supporting public education. But why would I seek out those skill sets if I wanted to know more about children and families and communities and schools and teaching and learning? By experience or study, they have absolutely no expertise in anything related to the growth and development of our children. That would be like seeking out me to learn more about singing (when I hum a tune, even I don’t recognize the melody).

Why is it useful to know something about the topic before making decisions about that topic? One quick example. Several years ago, New York hired outside consultants to revamp the school bus routes. They had the useful and needed expertise in creating a transportation system. Unfortunately for their plans, however, they didn’t listen to anybody who knew anything about children and families and schools. Anyone who had ever spent any time in schools or knew anything about families would know that there are some families with more than one child and that it is actually quite difficult for a human being to be in two places at one time. The experts, however, scheduled routes for children from the same family leaving at the same time from different locations.

So, good for Bank Street for hosting the conference. More importantly, thank you to the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, the Urban Youth Collaborative, and the Alliance for Quality Education for continuing to raise your voices even when it seems the people making the decisions do not want to listen. And, thank you to other organizations doing the same thing throughout the country (such as the Teacher Leaders Network under the auspices of the Center for Teaching Quality).

Here’s hoping that someday soon, for the sake of our children, expertise (knowing something) will again be respected and valued.

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Dean Jon Snyder >>>

Read more about the conference on alternatives to school closings, hosted by Bank Street, at UFT.