Last week's Port News contained a letter claiming that the positions and the recommendations of Daniel Baron were either insignificant to the educational needs of children, or that the recommendation would be too costly to the taxpayers. I take great personal exception to some of these remarks because I believe that they reflect a general level of non understanding in our community of what the "educational" realities of children really are. In my opinion, one of the greatest issues we face here in Port Washington is the apparent inequitable ways in which our children receive education. It is just a plain fact, supported by 99.9 percent of the available research that minority children who are most often from lower socioeconomic families (SES) perform worse in school than their middle income peers. We all know that, but do any of us know why? It has to do with the three Rs: reading, riding, and reason (James Traub). Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to read to our children every day, to help develop their reasoning skills and take them on car rides (airplane rides) to cultural events. The bottom line is that oftentimes when our middle class children enter kindergarten they are heads and shoulders above their lower-income peers in terms of cognitive ability, experiences and social development. Unfortunately, that gap only widens as children advance through grade school and into secondary education.
However, the issue for us as a community is whether we will tolerate this inequity and do we have the moral responsibility to attempt to even up "school experiences." I personally believe that we have the responsibility to ensure that all children start off "the learning journey" with the same skills, with same expectations and with the same opportunities available to them. Further, I don't believe that the cost to implement such a program is as great as the author of last week's letter made it appear. Further, I don't believe we can afford to not spend those dollars for the benefit of these children; and arguable, there has been no other board member who has been as consistently fiscally conservative as myself. Further, the underlying issues here of unequal opportunities are widespread throughout our district; and that is why the Office of Civil Rights got involved and sued us in the first place. The key, however, is not to judge blame but to recognize the problem and commit the resources required to do what is morally right.
In this country racial inequality often stems from the fact that our minorities are often from lower social economic backgrounds - they have less money. And sometimes it takes generations of children for them to escape their poverty level. A few years back Richard Rothstein wrote an article in the New York Times about how at the turn of the early 19th century, the lower performing educational and financial groups in schools were the Jews, the Irish and the Italians. It takes time. However concurrently, looking at our district it is an unequivocal fact that there are fewer minorities in PEP, Regents courses, honors courses, clubs, after school programs, athletic programs by outside vendors and even the JCC program. Our goal in my opinion, should be the "equaling-up" of education experience for all children. And just as we provide the springboards for our brightest children to excel, we must also do the same thing to even up the "divide" that exists in our minority communities to help close the ever-widening educational gap.
Specifically without naming any group, in reading the letter in last week's paper, it just brings to my mind how "separated" the mainstream thinking in our community really is. I don't think PTA officers are bigots, however do I think that certain factions of the community feel excluded? Absolutely. Is it conscious on anyone's part? Probably not. Are we sensitive enough to the minority community's needs? Absolutely not. Specifically, I think a Latino Parents Association is a great idea. Creating separate entities does not create exclusion, rather it creates empowerment. It allows a group to take control and speak up for themselves - just as PTAs have done for "their communities" when they first started and SEPTAs have done for their's. Further, I have worked extensively in the educational field with minority and poor children (and their families) in New York City. I have never ever encountered a family, which does not express the greatest pride when their children get a B in school, or when their kids get better at fluent-speaking English. The only thing that I see is the unwillingness of many of these families to accept some of the "sub-cultural" nuances of today's kids - smoking, dating, music, talking back.
Further, there was a comment that these families should somehow get more involved in BOE meetings, and just because they work during the day should not excuse their participation from attendance. I just feel this remark is extremely insensitive to the realities of minority and lower socioeconomic families - let alone the realities of attending one of "our" board meetings. All of us in the BMW crowd might not really realize it, but many lower SES families are also single parent households. And regardless of their latchkey status, oftentimes the parents have to work two jobs just to make ends meet - which only further debilitates their abilities to support their children educationally at the homework table. Is that their fault? Should their children pay the price for that? I don't think so, but we have unknowingly tolerated this inequity to be passed on through the school system. In a community as rich as ours, which has demonstrated it can afford extremely high tax increases, I think the least we should do is ensure that every single child has the opportunity to have an "equally prepared" educational opportunity. I commend the author for attending as many board meetings as he had, but I think that many of his remarks merely dramatize our lack of understanding of these communities, the kids and the issues involved in education.
Although I would strongly agree with the writer's remark that a grass-roots organization is a very effective beginning to help cure the ills of educational unfairness in our community, I believe that staffing it with individuals who really "just don't get it" will be self-serving at best. We have a problem, the OCR picked up on it. I believe that the majority of the administration and faculty are excited to work on these problems. Yet, we find ourselves in a tough spot because all too often the commitment from the community is not sufficient enough to provide the extra tools and resources that are necessary, while our minority groups oftentimes have the least powerful political voice before the board. Harder still, the fixes require multi-year plans for greater achievement. My greatest concern is the dedication of the community and its various leadership groups to seriously follow through with the level of commitment that will be required. Our school system should not be about gatekeepers where we separate the "haves" from the "have-nots," particularly when the "have-nots" didn't have the same opportunities available to them when they started. Also, I am not suggesting that we are any different from any of our neighboring communities who also face the same challenges. Hopefully, however, we will be different in that we will really create and dedicate ourselves to significant change. Education means equal opportunities for all children, and I think we have to be able to really see that in ourselves before we can effectively make that happen in our community.