Posted by Ariel Sacks on Wednesday, 01/01/2014
I have a little tradition of writing an education policy wish at the start of each new year. In 2012, I wished for No More Doublespeak from education policy makers. In 2013, I wished policy makers would Change "Obama's Approach to Education." I'm doubtful that I got what I wished for either time, but as the ancient Sufi poet Rumi wrote, "You must ask for what you really want." It's worth stating a wish, even if it seems impossible. What's my education policy wish for this year?
I have been contemplating this post for quite a while, and now I'm glad I didn't write it sooner. That's because yesterday, NYC mayor-elect Bill deBlasio named Carmen Farina as the new Chancellor of NYC Public Schools. She's a career educator with 22 years of classroom teaching experience, along with her experience as a principal and in district leadership. She immigrated to NYC as a child and is speaking up for English language learners and their families.
What's more is that I remember her name from my days teaching in East Harlem, before she retired in 2006. In that school, where I taught for three years, which served a high poverty population that included large numbers of ELL and special education students, the state was putting pressure on our principal to meet AYP. While there were some pockets of success growing in the school, we did not meet AYP and became a SURR school, which meant the state could decide our fate, and make any changes they wanted, including closing the school. Carmen Farina, then a regional superintendant, was seen as an ally. Why was she seen as an ally? In my somewhat foggy recollection, this was because people knew her to be someone who just look at the numbers on a paper provided by standardized test scores, but could visit a school and recognize when good work was being done by teachers and administrators and communicate this well to others. This all makes sense, given her wealth of experience teaching and leading in real city schools.
Essentially, I'm dumbfounded that our new chancellor is not a business person trying to take her business to the public schools. She's a real, experienced educator who has come out of retirement to lead our city's schools. Apparently, our city hasn't had a chancellor with those credentials since 1995.
It's actually difficult to find words to describe what this means to me, because the feeling is so foreign. As Jose Vilson(@TheJLV) wrote on Twitter today, "The doom and gloom of the last decade were so real." Yes they were. Farina is quoted saying that joy has been lacking in our schools. Although teachers work hard to bring joy to their work each day, conditions that focus on compliance, inauthentic measures of teaching and learning, and punishment, have been working against the creation of a positive learning climate for students.
My education policy wish for 2014 is that Farina and De Blasio deliver on their promise of a progressive agenda, greatly reducing the emphasis on testing and punishment and working to create conditions that bring the joy of learning (and teaching) back to NYC schools. It's way past time, and it CAN be done, and I am so excited to be a teacher in this city right now. I hope that not only are we not disappointed, but that we can set a better example for urban public school districts around the country than we have over the last 12 years.