By Terri N. Watson
Edwards led I.S. 201’s Community Education Center and, along with her dear friend and neighbor Hannah Brockington, served on its 21-member governing body. The center was housed in I.S. 201: a windowless structure that contained an intermediate school and nearly a dozen centers and programs created to meet Harlem’s needs. It was also one of the three demonstration school districts established in 1967 after New York City’s Black and Hispanic parents demanded a say in their children’s schooling. The other two districts were located in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn, and in lower Manhattan.
Introduction by Nick Juravich
Fifty years ago this fall, the United Federation of Teachers went on strike three times, closing NYC public schools for more than six weeks. The legacy of these strikes continues to reverberate through the city's schools today.
By the fall, the conflict in Brooklyn had engulfed the city. Nearly 57,000 teachers walked picket lines, and over 1 million students were out of school.
New Yorkers have battled over school governance for more than two centuries, and the struggle continues in ongoing debates over mayoral control. The 1968 conflict, however, did not simply transform the school system. It reshaped political alliances, social movements, and labor organizing in the city for decades to come.
The Board of Education abandoned the community control experiment one year after the strikes, but the school system was decentralized by the state legislature into quasi-independent districts with elected community school boards in 1970. This system, in turn, was eliminated in 2002 at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won control of the city’s schools from the state legislature.
This centralization has not gone unchallenged. Parents regularly demand more democracy and transparency from the city, and state lawmakers now reconsider mayoral control nearly annually. Fifty years on, many of the questions that New Yorkers struggled with in 1968 remain urgent and unresolved.
Who will teach the city’s children and how will they do it? How will the city address persistent racism, segregation, and educational inequality in its schools? Who will be held accountable to the children and parents schools serve, as well as to the teachers employed by the system?
Gotham, in partnership with Chalkbeat, asked eight historians and scholars of education to reflect on how this history remains relevant for NYC public schools today. Here’s what they told us.
Fifty Years of Struggle at NYC's Public University: An interview with Anthony G. Picciano & Chet Jordan
By Sandra Roff
Teaching as a profession aims to achieve the most noble of principles — educating children to be responsible, productive citizens. Unfortunately, the teachers hired in the early years of the new republic and well into the nineteenth century were usually untrained and unprepared for the job ahead. The civic-minded movers and shakers in New York City at the time were interested in the education of its youth, but the path to securing qualified teachers for the schools was slow to be realized.
Michael Fabricant & Stephen Brier's Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education
By Stephen Brier
The issue of who should control NYC’s public schools, like the poor, apparently will always be with us. These days, or at least since Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral reign, that control centers on how many years the city’s mayor will be allowed to play K-12 education’s top dog: one year or more? The answer to that question currently resides exclusively in the partisan clutches of Republicans who control the New York State Senate. They don’t like to miss an opportunity to stick it to the current occupant of Gracie Mansion, grudgingly doling out one year of mayoral control at a time to Bill de Blasio.
On a snowy March day in 1964, over ten thousand white parents walked from the Board of Education Building in Brooklyn to city hall in Manhattan to protest against school desegregation in New York City. Carrying signs reading, “We oppose voluntary transfers,” “Keep our children in neighborhood schools,” “I will not put my children on a bus,” and “We will not be bused,” the marchers called their coalition of local organizations “Parents and Taxpayers.”
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