Truly, Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman — no matter what side of the education reform movement you are on, you must admit this. She is 74 years old and blogs about 10 times a day, runs all over the country defending public education and helping to build morale for an industry being brutally attacked, and still finds time work on a book. Since she started her blog last April, I have learned so much from her.
It seems that Cranston has once again become the epicenter for acting out a drama that is likely being repeated, on a much smaller scale, in communities all across the country. This time the hot now-in-the-national-news debate is about father-daughter dances and how we are now calling them family dances.
Sometimes I feel like we have a special talent here in Cranston for making an issue out of things that would make common sense for us all to agree on. I wish we all could have agreed to just take the “Heavenly Father” off the prayer banner and call it a school pledge. I wish we could agree to let this family dance be our clarion call of respect for our different ways of raising children in the community. Sometimes I wonder if we were having this conversation in the presence of the children whose fathers are not available for the dance, how many of us would make the right decision and say to the children, “This is a family dance, and all are welcome. You can bring anyone you want.” But as Bob Plain points out, we are still feeling the pain from out last go-around with the ACLU, which may be driving a certain amount of the posturing and outcry.
I can sympathize with people who want this name to go away. While the pictures could line our walls of my husband and our ever-growing daughters posed side by side for the father-daughter dance photos, it’s not right for children to feel excluded. I know from my practice of social work, these issues are particularly hard on children in other family constellations, such as being raised by grandparents, foster parents, single parents, or in families with two moms. Our school changed to from the Father-Daughter dance to the Family Dance last year, and reports from our parent-teacher organization were that it was a successful event and we raised money for the school.
Carolyn Mark, who is the president of the National Organization for Women in Rhode Island, and who is running for school committee in East Greenwich, co-authored the letter that prompted the change in nomenclature. Click through to read more about the issue, including the letter she wrote.
Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.
My overall analysis is that the real problem we have right now in Rhode Island is not that the Cranston Schools had a banner hanging in an auditorium that had a prayer on it. The real problem is that our economy is sagging big time, and we need to figure out how to turn that around. But the prayer banner controversy does define an important distinction about what government can and cannot do. The thoughts of Oswald Krell also serve to give more historical context to the discussion:
[...]To begin: any sentence that contains “the founding fathers believed/thought/said/wanted/intended/were, etc is necessarily wrong.
The founding fathers were not a monolithic bunch. Exactly the opposite. They were a group of men, many of whom had long years of experience in politics in some form. As such, as a group and for the most part, they understood the necessity of compromise. Not all of them; there were some doctrinaire ideologues, especially in the earlier days, but they were weeded out as time passed.
A great example of this is Sam Adams–whose father was a brewer, by the way. He played a major role in the early days of the protests that led up to the outbreak of fighting, but he did not have the political chops to play any role in congress during the war.
If I had to call it, my call at this point would be that the Board of Regents will vote to approve one, and only one, Achievement First School to start up in Providence. I have followed this issue closely for the past year, though I am by no means an insider to the process. I am merely a concerned parent and a somewhat obsessive follower of the corporate-influenced education reform movement and its critics, of which I am one.
But it appears, with the Providence Mayor, the (Providence-Mayor-appointed) School Board, and many Providence legislators on board, this Achievement First thing is headed for a ram-through. It’s not going to be a big ram-through, and for this I am grateful. It’s just going to be the first foot onto the slippery slope of the corporate-influenced divvying up of the education money pie. There will still be one foot on firm ground, so if we want to pull back and cancel this whole thing in a few years with only one Achievement First school opened and closed, that will still be possible.
In the meantime, if you still want to try to influence the vote on this matter by beseeching our Governor to intercede (not sure he could actually do that, other than by trying to influence individual Board of Regents members), you can sign the petition at Change.org.
There are many reasons why I believe Achievement First is not the answer to our social and educational problems in Rhode Island. I’ll let the petition speak for itself: Go here to read and sign.
Steve Stycos Year End Report: Ending Wasteful Spending, Opening Community Gardens, and Opposing Charter Schools
Ward 1 Council Member Steve Stycos reports on his excellent contributions to the city:
YEAR END REPORT
December 21, 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, I want to update you on my first year on the Cranston City Council and my goals for 2012.
For the most part, the council works well. Debates are generally polite. Council members listen to each other and many change their views when presented with a solid argument. The inflexibility and nastiness which characterize politics in Washington, D.C. are rarely seen at City Hall. In addition, Mayor Allan Fung’s administration is honest and competent. Unfortunately, city finances remain tight due to years of inadequate funding of city-run police and fire pension funds, cuts in state aid and health insurance costs.
During my first year on the Council, I fought wasteful spending, advocated for our children and schools and worked to improve our neighborhoods.
Fight Wasteful Spending
Amendments I offered to the mayor’s budget cut spending by $289,000.
Included in the cuts was the repaving of two school yards. I argued that asphalt is an unsafe playing surface and repaving is not critical.
Another cut came when I discovered the budget included funds to rebuild two playgrounds at Hope Highlands Elementary School. I noted that every other elementary school survives with one playground and some have no playground. The Council made the cut, saving $70,000.
After I discovered that Board of Elections members were paid $12,000 in the last off election year for meeting a total of 73 minutes, I convinced the Council to eliminate their pay.
Shortly after I took office I discovered that the Board of Tax Assessment Review was meeting without taking minutes. In addition, the board, whose members were paid $50/meeting, was meeting more than 100 times a year, sometimes for just twenty minutes. I objected to this secrecy and the three member board was forced to keep minutes. The council also agreed to my proposal to eliminate their pay, saving $22,000 a year.
Advocate for our children and schools
EDUCATION: I was one of two Council members to testify before the Rhode Island Board of Regents in opposition to the creation of a charter school in Cranston. Charter schools spend public money without controls from elected officials and drain badly needed money from our school system.
LIBRARY: After I succeeded in cutting the mayor’s budget by more than a quarter million dollars, I proposed adding $50,000 to the Cranston library budget. In recent years, the library has reduced its reserve fund to provide excellent services in tough financial times. The Council passed the addition, but the mayor vetoed it. The council failed to override the veto by one vote.
PUBLIC HEALTH: I convinced the Council to increase the city license fee to sell tobacco from $25 a year to $100 a year, raising about $7000 and taking a small step to discourage tobacco sales.
WOMEN ON HEARING BOARD: When a citizen alerted me that the Cranston Juvenile Hearing Board’s members were all men, I moved to add two women. The police department refers teenage petty offenders involved in fights and graffiti to the board instead of the court system. We especially need women members because half the cases involve girls. My proposal passed and two capable women were appointed.
Improve our neighborhoods
COMMUNITY GARDEN: With a lot of volunteer help, I started Cranston’s first community garden at Edgewood Highland Elementary School. The school department contributed part of the school parking lot, the Council appropriated funds for soil and construction materials and volunteers built the garden. Sixteen plots were built in 2011 and another sixteen are planned for 2012.
TREE PLANTING: At no cost to the city, I coordinated planting 28 trees at Edgewood Highland Elementary School, Cranston High School West, Ruggerio Park and Meshanticut State Park.
BUSINESS HOURS: When constituents complained that the council allowed Akid Dairy Mart to expand its hours without notifying neighbors, I proposed that businesses seeking longer hours must notify neighbors within 200 feet. The proposal passed and was used for the first time when Wal-Mart in western Cranston sought to open for 24 hours. The Council denied that request.
TREE TRIMMING: A Narragansett Boulevard resident complained that his street trees were badly pruned by Cox Cable and the city. We devised a proposal to require notice be posted whenever a street tree or a tree on city property is to be removed or trimmed. Citizens then may appeal to the city tree warden. The Council approved the proposal.
FOURTH STREET REPAVING: After a constituent brought to my attention that Fourth Street had only one layer of pavement and was falling apart, I raised the issue. The mayor was unaware of the problem, but after investigating, agreed to repave the street.
Looking toward 2012
In 2012, we need to do more. Our parks should be expanded to provide additional green space for biking, walking and other family activities. More trees should be planted to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Irene and, in a small way, temper the effects of global warming. Zoning reform is needed so that big corporations like Stop & Shop and CVS are not granted unnecessary variances which undermine the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Finally, our schools and libraries must be adequately funded.
I look forward to representing you in 2012.
Happy New Year,
Ward One City Councilman
There are two of these. This first one is very good. There is some unfortunate noise in the background for the first 10 minutes or so, but you can still hear the parent, and what she has to say confirms a lot of my suspicions about the way corporate-run charter schools with extreme disciplinary policies run. As she put it at one point, children are taught that, “All of your independent thinking is not necessary. All of your creative thinking is not necessary.”
And it wasn’t even close. The Board of Regents voted 7-1 to reject the proposed Achievement First Mayoral Academies proposal. Projo blog has the details here.
The politicians lined up one after another to consent to this proposal: Allan Fung, House Speaker Gordon Fox, various members of the Providence City Council and members of the General Assembly, and then Mayor Taveras and his appointed school committee. From the standpoint of a Cranston resident and parent, it felt like the cards were being stacked against us, one after another. As it turns out, we were on the right track, and the Board of Regents almost unanimously supported our assessment of this proposal.
Congrats to all who helped make this happen!