Friday, May 15, 2015

Public Education is a Right!

The following article is a post written by guest blogger Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation (WNY-ALF):

Public Education is a Right!

The education of ordinary people as a priority of this society has always played a part in economic development.  Historically public education moves an economy from one mode of production to another. The development of mass industrial production in the mid to late 19th century spurred the establishment of education as a civic responsibility, a public right and an individual legal obligation. The education of the population at large became universal.

 The transformation of the economy from one that was based on a rural/agricultural model to an urban industrial based one demanded new skills, new levels of literacy, and a new style of instruction. Literacy became the norm. In fact, an argument can be made that the level of literacy in the United States was higher by the early part of the 20th century than it is today. The exception to this rule was the Jim Crow, segregated education in the deep south, where African Americans were consciously left with a segregated and inferior system.

What has happened and what can be done to protect universal education and a high level of literacy? Further, what can be done to restore integrity and a sane discussion of the needs, modes and methods of educational policy? The primary point to be made is this: Education of the population must be considered an inviolable right for ordinary people. This is and has been a basic element of our social compact for well over 150 years, so there should really be no debate on this point. Unfortunately there is, and it comes from no less a figure than the leader of the “majority” faction of the Buffalo Board of Education. This individual is the key spokesperson in favor of dismantling public education in our region. In September of 2014, less than one year ago he said at an Erie County Community Enrichment meeting of the Erie County Legislature the following:

“The solution is going to lie in the disassembly of the Buffalo Public School system. And we‘re going to do that until people smarten up. We’re going to open charter schools, we’re going to hopefully help the privates and the Catholics to become better and be able to take more kids. We’re supporting the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters, that’s the game we’re playing.”

It is clear this individual supports charter schools as the solution to the various vexed and difficult problems facing the Buffalo district. It is also important to note that the Buffalo district has similar problems to most urban core school districts, and these problems far exceed the simplistic solution given by the leader of the majority faction of the Buffalo Board. Make no mistake:  charter schools are not clearly defined public education and studies like the following one: “The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter Schools Vulnerabilities to Waste Fraud and Abuse”, by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, report that charter schools are very prone to fraud and waste, that they lack transparency and ultimately fail in the majority of situations.

There is only one clear answer, and it is a hard one. Rebuild the system of public education as part of the rebirth of the Buffalo and Western New York economy. This is not a pipedream. About nine months ago a proposal was sent to the Buffalo Superintendent of Schools to revamp vocational education, and gear it to advanced manufacturing, new technologies and the medical corridor. While the intention of the proposal was sincere, the Majority faction of the Board has other goals in mind and any chance to make this innovation real is stymied by this circumstance.

It is a proven fact that Career and Technical Education has a 90% graduation rate. Voc-Ed programs can be a bridge between local businesses and schools creating opportunities for community partnerships through internships. So why would any consideration be given to dismantle that which works?

Now it’s the time to reintroduce such a proposal. Such a program can and should be done within the publicly funded and supported educational system. The training and preparation of young people for the jobs that are actually coming into existence is key. We should educate the diverse population of urban school districts to accomplish this goal, and we should start with Buffalo, now! Only those with motives that seek to destroy public education will stand in opposition.

Richard Lipsitz


President WNYALF AFL-CIO

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