A Call for Civility in School Reform
Speaking at TC’s Academic Festival in his first major policy address, New York City’s new schools chancellor argues for consensus around what works best for students
In his first major policy address, delivered on April 16 at TC's third annual Academic Festival, Dennis Walcott, the new chancellor of the New York City Department of Education (DOE), called for more civility and cooperation in the local debate over reforming education. “The problems facing our schools are complicated,” Walcott said, as he delivered the Phyllis Kossoff Lecture on Education and Policy. “They can’t be solved until we start listening and working together. In the interest of our children, that has to start today.”
Walcott, named by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on April 7 to succeed Cathleen Black as the New York City schools chief, said the debate should focus on providing high-quality schools for every student and attractive public school options for every family in New York.
The charter-versus-traditional public school debate “has gotten out of hand,” Walcott said. “For me, whether it’s a traditional public school or charter school—I don’t care, so long as it’s a good school. That’s what this is supposed to be about: what is best for our students, not what it’s called or who is managing it or what the rules are in the building. It’s what is best for our children.” It is up to the adults involved to work out their disagreements, he said. “That poisonous debate is hurting our children. And they don’t have time to wait for us to grow up.”
Walcott pointed to the “new, dynamic” public elementary school that the Department of Education is opening in close partnership with Teachers College as an example of the city’s commitment to offer “great choices for parents.”
Teachers College and the Department of Education are preparing to open a new public elementary school for children living in New York City’s Community District 5. The proposed Teachers College Community School is scheduled to begin with a class of kindergarten students in September 2011. The only criterion for admission is residency in Community School District 5. Students will be selected by lottery.
Susan H. Fuhrman, President of Teachers College, thanked Walcott “for that exciting vision of his views on education—and for that plug for our new TC school,” which will be the first elementary public school of choice in District 5.
Fuhrman acknowledged people and organizations whose time and support have helped make the school possible, beginning with Nancy Streim, the associate vice president for School and Community Partnerships, who has guided the new school project from its inception. Fuhrman also recognized the foundations that have supported the new school, including the Laurie Tisch Illumination Fund; the Morse Family Foundation, the Jill and Kenneth Iscol I.F. Hummingbird Foundation; the Neukom Family Foundation, the GE Foundation, and the Gary Saltz Foundation.
Fuhrman announced that the JPMorgan Chase Foundation recently made a generous gift to TC’s school initiatives, and recognized Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne, vice president of the foundation.
“We understand that quality education is critical to helping New York’s students and families thrive,” Jennings-O’Byrne said later, “and Teacher’s College is a strong partner in our efforts.”
Walcott pledged to work with all constituencies, including teachers and the United Federation of Teachers, principals, parents and students, to tone down what he called an “increasingly bitter dispute.” He added, “think what we can do if we choose to stop shouting, and instead rally around our children—and do what is necessary for their future, and their children’s future.”
To read Walcott’s remarks as prepared for delivery, go to: http://bit.ly/f0f1jr