Demonstrators Derail NYC Common-Standards Presentation

By Catherine Gewertz — October 28, 2011 2 min read
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Unless you’ve been on a Rip Van Winkle-style nap, you’ve heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has grown to multiple cities. That spirit seeped into education this week, as activists in New York City declared that they would “Occupy the DOE” (city department of education).

Extended call-and-response chanting muzzled the Panel for Educational Policy on Tuesday night as it tried to begin a meeting at a high school on the city’s Lower East Side, intended to introduce parents to the common standards. The panel, you might recall, was the body that replaced the board of education in 2002 when the mayor got the right to control schools in the Big Apple. Eight of its members are appointed by the mayor, and the remaining five by the city’s borough presidents. Its role is largely advisory.

This YouTube video shows Chancellor Dennis Walcott trying to manage the crowd and begin the meeting. You can also see that David Coleman, a chief writer of the common standards in English/language arts, is also there, and manages to say, “The common-core standards, which are as much about evidence as shouting ...” But then Coleman and the panelists appear to decide that it’s best not to tangle with the demonstrators, and they withdraw.

During the time it takes for this to happen, the crowd chants continually, contending, among other things, that the city did not sufficiently engage parents and teachers in its decision to adapt instruction to the common standards (which New York state adopted in July 2010). Demonstrators also chant that the city wants to raise standards without the supports that students need to reach them.

As they file out the front door of the building, the demonstrators chant, “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

News reports said that Walcott and the other panelists, employing the help of police, met with parents in upstairs classrooms.

All this hubbub was dutifully recorded and discussed on a dedicated Facebook page, (you have to have a Facebook account to get access) as well as on the websites of groups that supported or participated in the demonstration, such as the New York Collective of Radical Educators, and in various news media, from The New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Huffington Post to the city’s scrappy GothamSchools website (here, here, and here).

The demonstration sparked the ire of the New York Post, which contended in an editorial that the new standards could improve the lot of the city’s schoolchildren, and called the demonstrators “thugs.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.