Yesterday's Brian Lehrer show had a segment on Sandra Tsing Loh's ideas about middle-class parents and their ability and obligation to affect change in urban public schools.
The show sparked a mini-conversation on the Sunset Park Parents message board. Appropriate enough, since many middle-class parents in the area choose to send their children to daycare and early education outside of the neighborhood. Others choose private/parochial options. Naturally, this is a middle-class decision to make since the option just isn't there for those who can't afford it.
As Sunset Park changes, and as more families with the monetary ability to choose where to send their children arrive (it seems to be the destination of choice for those priced out of Park Slope and Bay Ridge), the desire to affect change for the better in the public schools will hopefully grow. Parents who have flexible schedules, or families who are able to have a parent stay at home can definitely make schools better learning environments. Some of the more daily methods of affecting change include volunteering for trips, calling teachers, visiting the school and principal, being active on the School Leadership Team/PTA, contacting the Parent Coordinator and Principal for both positive and negative feedback, sending notes in with your child.
Every child deserves an accepting school atmosphere. Every child deserves to be challenged and experience success in the classroom. Every child deserves to have a school that is clean, safe, and welcoming. Sometimes, the system seems so huge that nothing can be done. However, every school, no matter how huge, is made up of individuals - real human beings. It can be incredibly intimidating to a parent who doesn't know the system, has trouble with the language, has a remedial level of reading ability, or is just is too exhausted to "deal." It's up to the parents who can navigate the system with (more) ease to work towards a better neighborhood school. (I guess I have no excuses as an employee of the DOE.) In the end, it will make school choice a lot more friendly and inexpensive and local than it is now.
I'll move my soapbox to the side now.
An article, "Grading New York's Public Schools," in Gotham Gazette also came out yesterday. It addresses several questions about measuring improvement (or failure), and there are several "expert" essays included.
For information about individual schools, check out Insideschools.org. You should know that principals know when they are coming to check out the schools, and while glaring issues in a school cannot be hidden (PS 169 in Sunset has classes held in the hallways sometimes?), principals can choose/encourage certain teachers to speak with the representatives. And the custodial staff can make sure to give an extra polish to the floors and bathrooms. Still, it's a very good resource as ONE piece of the puzzle.