New York City is defined by its glorious pastiche of cultures, colors and creeds. But inside its public schools, life is far more homogenous, with black and brown students siphoned into under-resourced schools by a persisting color line. But some teachers are challenging the policies that systematically leave disadvantaged kids behind.
At a rally on Sunday at New York’s City Hall Park, teachers took the anniversary of the Brown v. Board court decision to call out lawmakers for “failing” students with school reforms that cheat them out of the opportunities they deserve.
The rally was part of Save our Schools, a national campaign led by activist teachers, parents and students, to build a more equitable public education system. New York’s branch of the movement has been led by the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), a rank-and-file reform caucus in the United Federation of Teachers, together with other education advocates and community and labor organizations.
As teachers spoke of their frustration with standardized testing and deep underfunding of school facilities and staff, they gathered under the rallying cries of “Whose Schools? Our Schools!,” “My Teachers are More than a Test Score,” and “Occupy Education.”
Rosie Frascella, an English teacher at International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, told The Nation that the constant testing that has become ubiquitous in the city’s public schools—several exams crammed into three days—is driving her students, typically new immigrants who are working hard to learn English, into demoralization and anxiety.
“They’ve lost before they even walked into that room. It doesn’t matter what they learned. They’re already telling themselves, ‘I can’t,’ and they’re stressed. They want to throw up.” At the same time, she added, “they can write these amazing plays, and essays, which is more true to what happens in college, what happens in life…. I know that they can succeed in school, and that they can succeed in college, and their tests do not match what they’re doing.”
Frascella’s school recently helped organize a boycott of a new standardized English test used to assess teaching quality—part of a growing “opt out” movement against standardized testsaround the country. She doesn’t worry about potential retaliation or negative consequences for her professional ratings: “I believe in what I do in the classroom, and so I’m not so worried about how they’re gonna evaluate me,” she said. “But I’m worried about them. I’m worried about their self-esteem, I’m worried about them dropping out of high school… And I want to make sure that I’m in a position [where I’m not just] doing test prep, that I’m actually giving them the skills that they need to succeed.”