Yalies must join with community to reform city schools

On Monday, the New Haven Board of Education terminated its food-service contract with the notorious firm Aramark and decided instead to run all food services in-house. Parents, workers, teachers and public-school students have fiercely criticized the company for putting profits before kids by serving poor-quality food and cultivating bad labor-management relations.

There is still much work to be done by the board. They have yet to consider the building-services contract, a matter of equal urgency. In executing building maintenance, Aramark has wasted New Haven’s tax money on unsafe and unnecessary equipment, such as massive bear-proof dumpsters, which required the city to purchase special trucks to empty. And the company has refused to account for its loss of over $1 million of tax money despite multiple requests by the Board of Aldermen. This last fact alone, given the long-standing funding crisis of the public schools and the current budget woes facing the city, should be enough to disqualify Aramark from any more city contracts. The Board of Education should kick Aramark out of our schools entirely and reject once and for all the misguided ideology of privatization that has brought our schools’ basic services to this low point.

Now it’s up to all of us in New Haven to work to see that the city takes further steps in this arena by investing, for example, in locally-grown, sustainable and highly nutritious food of the kind made possible by the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Many studies have shown that giving kids healthful meals greatly improves their performance in the classroom. While such an investment is not cheap, it will no doubt reap huge dividends for years to come.

But the fact remains that New Haven schools need more than just better food and building services. While the challenges can seem daunting, there are some basic steps that can be taken to produce real results. Last weekend I attended a public meeting of Teach Our Children (TOC), a community organization of low- and moderate-income New Haven parents who are working for positive changes in the public schools by demanding that they have a genuine say in the decisions that affect their children’s lives. The meeting was called many weeks ago as an opportunity to present the group’s concerns to the superintendent Reggie Mayo. When Mayo finally arrived he agreed to many of the group’s demands for change in discipline and suspension policies. These changes, if implemented, could make the schools safer and far less hostile environments, while ensuring that kids who are suspended do not fall behind academically. The major disappointment of the meeting was Mayo’s refusal to commit to bring back recess — a time that has well-documented educational benefits — to all public schools. We can be encouraged, however, by Mayo’s proposal to meet with leaders of TOC once a month, a preliminary acknowledgment that the crucial role parents play in their children’s education should be reflected in policy.

Neither getting rid of Aramark nor reforming disciplinary practices will solve all the problems facing our schools overnight. But they do suggest ways that New Haven as a community can organize and act on issues of public education, large and small. We must not sit back and bemoan the schools as an unsolvable, systemically broken institution; rather, we need to take public education seriously and remember that united we can enact tangible change. Education policy is not something that exists out in the ether, something that has just “happened” and just “is.” It is shaped by individuals in positions of power. As such, different people — those who know the facts on the ground and whose lives are actually affected by the decisions that are made — must take their place at the center of those decision-making processes.

Here at Yale, so many students volunteer in schools in one capacity or another. Bearing witness to the conditions of our local schools on a regular basis, they could potentially form a strong and important constituency of public-school activists. Imagine the possibilities if we students joined with parents, teachers and other employees as part of a citywide movement to improve public education. We must not be so egotistical as to imagine ourselves as the solution to these problems — but we must become part of the solution, somehow, and not just wait to become involved after we have left New Haven.

Hugh Baran is a junior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.


  • anti-YSFP

    The problem was that privatization was not fully embraced.

    It's not enough to just bring in Aramark as a cost cutting measure.

    The public school system is inherently broken.

    Government has no business being in the education sector.

    Private schools, Charter Schools, Independent schools routinely out perform public schools.

    Vote in School Vouchers and you will see the free market forces at work to save education in CT.

  • what does YSFP have to do with it

    "Private schools, Charter schools, Independent schools routinely out perform public schools" — because they attract the best students, and the most involved parents. The simple act of moving your kid to a non-public school implies a concern with their education that not all parents necessarily see as important. Before you say you want private schools, remember that with any private good and market forces, someone always has none. Someone is homeless, someone goes for want of a meal — just because you hate YSFP you're willing to decide that some young kid doesn't need or deserve an education?

    Instead of complaining, get involved for G-d's sake. Yes, the education system is broken, but there is nothing inherent about it. But complicated? Yes. For example, is it really any surprise that families with a single parent working two minimum wage job to make ends meet might not have as much time to read to their kids and get them going early as a stay-at-home mom or dad who drives their kids to pre-school and then has time to go work out at the gym for two hours?

    Get real. Libertarianism is a coherent intellectual exercise — and an excuse for not doing anything in the real world.

  • Bob

    Wow, how la-de-dah can you be? Well, YSFP would cost extra, but of course it's worth it. How do you know that? Where's your research? I thought not.

    Also, on the issue of charter schools, you're essentially saying to a parent with motivation "I don't care about your kid, I'm going to trap him in a terrible school where he's doomed to fail because to give him the option to escape would be unfair to kids whose parents don't care, and your primary obligation is to those kids."

  • Yale

    Approve school vouchers and let the free market work.

    Then there is no issue with income or geographic disparity.

    The bad schools will fall and die on their own, while the good schools will flourish and others will copy them.

    I am humble enough to realize that I don't have all the answers to fix education. I don't know enough to tell teachers how to teach.

    But there are great teachers, principals, administrators out there.

    The government can't efficiently find them.

    Only a competitive free market can.

  • Yale
  • @Yale

    Again, I'm actually curious to have you answer the question instead of avoiding it:

    In any market economy, some people will have nothing.

    In a market education system, some children will not be able to afford education.

    Sure, you could subsidize them, set price ceilings, and give vouchers — but since when do libertarians think price controls work? (… which you would have to have because otherwise schools would have every incentive to change an outrageous sum if the government would pay it all.)

    Secondly, while there are great teachers, there are also good teachers, and okay teachers, and great students, and good students, and okay students. And poor students and teachers as well. All of those students, no matter which teacher they have, deserve an education.

    You say they will "copy them." Sorry, try again. It's not so easy.

    What's next: good lawyers should "copy" great lawyers? Mediocre politicians should "copy" great politicians? Programs work for a multitude of very complicated reasons, not easily emulated. That's why the governments funds them: because in some places, education is NOT going to be cost effective in the short term, profit-driven sense.

    You also pretend income and geography don't matter, but provide no evidence, just your word. There are cultural differences that affect how different students approach education. There are differences in nutrition, based on socio-economics, that determine how ready a student is to learn when he or she arrives at school at 8 a.m.

    Please — I'd love to hear your answer, detailed, and well-supported. No need to provide lengthy responses; I'd go for a few interesting links because I'm interested to read them.

    Because right now, the holier-than-thou attitude espoused by libertarians is beyond grating. Don't think you have a monopoly of understanding on how a market economy works.

    Truisms like "Only a competitive free market can." don't say anything at all.

    I support government involvement — but that is because I understand and appreciate market economies — not because I am ignorant of them.

  • To @Yale

    Here's an answer: stop dragging down those who want to learn and have dedicated parents by letting the less able/less prepared/less interested kids and their parents set the norm. You may be perfectly comfortable telling a kid and his parents "sorry, we're not going to let you escape to a better school where you can learn with similarly-minded kids, backed by supportive parents" - I'm not willing to say that.

  • 2010

    two things:

    1. We can never have real equality of opportunity without egregious restrictions of freedom. Kids whose parents talk about politics around the dinner table will have an advantage over kids whose parents talk about LOST. It's something you just can't account for.

    2. Why should Yalies volunteer for New Haven? Let the city stop making stupid decisions (ie: hire a different food contractor instead of trying to get the goverment into yet another business where it will do poorly and inefficiently). No one, not even Yalies(!) wants to see their work go down the drain due to gross incompetence.