Monday, April 06, 2009

In Loco Parentis

This is a tale of two stories-one from parents frustrated over the lack of access and responsiveness from the Bloomberg/Klein school apparatus; and the other from, who else?-the aparatchiks themselves who tout all of their efforts to engage said parents. Here's the NY Daily News on the parents' frustration: "Parents and advocates say they are shut out of information allowing them to keep tabs on how the mayor's management of the school system is working.
Many report extensive delays and barriers getting access to public information just as a showdown looms over control of the city's schools. Mayor Bloomberg is the first to have direct control over the school system, but the law giving him that power is up for renewal this year."

The NY Post presents the official version: "The biggest complaint about mayoral control of the schools is that parents have been shut out of key decision-making and their participation in educational affairs has been generally discouraged. But Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein insist that nothing could be further from the truth..."

Here's how they see their stewardship on this issue: "Since taking over the schools in 2003, the Bloomberg administration has:

* Hired a parent coordinator to be a point of contact in every school. And there's at least one parent advocate in every district.

* Created the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, headed by "chief mom" Martine Guerrier, to focus more attention on addressing grievances raised by parents from the school level to the chancellor's office.

* Required that parental involvement be part of principals' job evaluations.

* Made sure parents get more information about the quality of their schools through A-to-F progress reports...." And so on, and so on"

What to make of the great divide? It just might be that, in spite of all of the bureaucratic "remedies" for parent disaffection, the basic ruling principle of top down management animates the governing system in spite of all of the apparent efforts to involve parents. As Dick Dadey told the News: "There is widespread frustration over public access to this information," said Dick Dadey, director of the Citizens Union. "From parents, teachers - it's a common complaint." Frustration is mounting even after Bloomberg recently told the Sunnyside, Queens, Chamber of Commerce that public information should be easily obtained. "This is your government," he said. "I've never understood governments that don't put out all the information, good and bad. The public owns the information." Tell that to lower Manhattan parents' council President Lisa Donlan, who says she can't get the most basic school data."

So it appears that all of the vaunted efforts at parental involvement are more cosmetic than tangible-there to appear good rather than to be good. As the Post points out: "Despite the efforts, Klein is the first to admit that complaining about the lack of parental and community involvement has been a sore point. "There are things we could have done better on engaging the community, and we will work to improve those," Klein said. Still, some parents complain that they have to navigate a bureaucracy to solve problems. "It is too easy to become an authoritarian when you're given some power and nobody is there to stop you from taking all of the power," said Robert Coloras, president of District 26's parents' CEC in Queens."

This leaves it to the legislature to sort out what's real and what's Memorex; a place where the mayor hasn't had much success-and deservedly so, in our view. It's one venue where Bloomberg's money hasn't gotten any bang. Let's hope this doesn't change.