The town hall was set up to invite parents and teachers to hear what the UFT president and Dromm had to say about the myriad of issues affecting the New York City public school system, ranging from school closures to the teacher evaluation controversy to a reluctance to reduce class size.
Both Dromm and Mulgrew chided the mayor on what they called failing actions on behalf of the children in the public school system.
“The number one thing that I learned in my 25 years of public school teaching is this: education is not a business,” Dromm said, as a boisterous crowd of parents, teachers and UFT representatives who filled P.S. 69's auditorium cheered and applauded. “Children are not a market.”
“Business is a focus on profit, education is about the public good,” said Dromm. “Business is about corporate ownership, control; education is about community engagement. Business is aimed at competition and education should be about equality.”
Dromm said that in the ongoing debate between the mayor and public school teachers, the mission and goal of public education has been lost.
“The goal is to prepare students for challenges that they will face for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Corporate forces have now teamed up with billionaires and misguided politicians to privatize education.”
Dromm said the mayor was determined to bring a corporate mindset to the classroom and that 10 years later, he sees little to no evidence that any progress has been made.
“A signature objective of Mayor Bloomberg has been to create corporate policies in city schools,” Dromm said, referring to the huge emphasis on standardized testing.
He called it a corporate policy that doesn't understand the individual needs of children.
“The focus on testing is madness,” he said. “We need to stop the obsession with testing, it is harmful to children. It will incentivize teaching and narrow curriculum.”
Dromm and Mulgrew pushed the need for smaller class sizes, which was backed with applause from the audience. They also called for expanded curriculum and expanding early childhood education.
Mulgrew said that as he went around to various schools across the city after the mayor released the public grades for teachers, he was overwhelmed by the amount of support from parents.
“Parents have no choice in education anymore,” Mulgrew said. “The communities are very upset and ignored and that's caused a lot of frustration. The school system will never move forward until you solve that fundamental problem where you push the parents out of the educational process.”
He blasted the co-locations and the PEP meetings, saying that the panel never listens to anyone.
“School buildings are owned by the communities that live around them,” Mulgrew said. “And if I were a teacher, I would bring my kids to one of these things and say this is what democracy should never look like.”
P.S. 69 is located in District 30 and is the most overcrowded district in the city. Dromm and Mulgrew blamed the mayor for the rise in class size over the past decade, contributing to the overcrowded Jackson Heights district.
“Why haven't we been constructing the seats that we need,” Mulgrew asked. “It can't work anymore when it's this overcrowded.”
Overall, Mulgrew said he has faith in the system and that the UFT will always be working with community, parents and elected officials.
“I look forward to seeing where we are four years from now, because I do believe we are going to do great things in this school system,” he said. “I do believe the community will again be the most important part of education in this city.”
Parents Sandra and Felipe Rivera and their daughter Kassandra attended the town hall even though they live in Astoria. Kassandra attends P.S. 234 and came with a message for the mayor: “the effort you put into closing our schools could probably fix our schools.”
“I'm hoping that the UFT could take control of public education instead of the mayor taking control of all of this,” said Sandra. “The biggest issue is the testing. Anything that the kids are learning is just for whatever is done on that test and my concern is that she's learning for this test now. I don't know if it'll stay with her.”
Kassandra, a fifth-grader, wants the mayor to stop the budget cuts. She said she lost one of her gym classes and teachers at P.S. 234 because of a loss of funding. “We don't have any more gym,” she said. “We can't play all the sports, but luckily I have a teacher that teaches me privately.”
She asked if she as a public school student has a future with this mayor. Mulgrew told her that with the support of her parents and teachers, she does.