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NYC School Hypocrisy Continued: Universal Pre-K Edition – Are Parents Part Of the Problem?

(Photo Credit: Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat)

By this point, New York City parents have grown accustomed to the hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy of elected officials and celebrities who sent their own children to Screened and Specialized schools, now expressing shock (and judgement) that any other families might want to do the same, and working their hardest to make it impossible. (This does not, however, prevent them from pulling strings for politically-connected friends.)

The hypocrisy of a Chancellor who swears Algebra in 8th grade will bring equity and excellence for all NYC students… when, in San Francisco, he claimed the exact opposite.

As well as the hypocrisy of an administration which insists that the many, many malfunctions of its brand new, very expensive Parent Portal didn’t actually affect anyone… even as parent after parent writes in to explain how it did. 

Here’s the latest:

On Thursday, August 1, District Council 1707’s Local 205 voted on a deal that would raise the pay of Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) teachers.

Chalkbeat reported:

While the proposal could shower significant raises on teachers with master’s degrees and certification, Merlano said it doesn’t do enough for support workers like her and her colleagues who work at community-based preschools that are publicly funded but independently run.

“They’re not doing the right thing for everybody,” Merlano said. “We work hard like the other teachers, and why don’t we have the same salary and pension, vacation, everything?”

City officials and labor leaders were triumphant when they announced the tentative agreement in early July, hailing it as a “pathway to pay parity” that would finally bring the compensation of community-based teachers in line with starting salaries for their counterparts in public schools. That pay gap had pushed union members to the brink of a strike earlier this year….

Even if the extension passes, however, a current of dissatisfaction may remain among some of those charged with making the mayor’s signature education achievement a reality. This week, de Blasio touted the city’s expansion of free pre-K as a centerpiece of his long-shot run for the White House, saying affordable childcare is a needed “redistribution” of wealth benefiting underserved communities. (NYST Ed Note: Although a study suggested the poorest children are the least represented in his program and affluent ones are benefiting the most.)

His focus on equity has come under criticism from some teachers — mostly women of color, a bedrock of the Democratic base — who work in the community-based centers and have earned far less than their public school counterparts, who are mostly white

“I’m ashamed to say I make exactly the same as high school students who work in fast food,” said Lisa Zhang, who fills two part-time roles, as a classroom aide and clerical worker, at Chung Pak

You know what else Mayor de Blasio said while out on the campaign trail?

He said that he hates charter schools. Hates ‘em.

First and foremost, their teachers aren’t unionized. Which means many of them make less than public school teachers and don’t have access to the same benefits.

Mayor de Blasio will not stand for a two-tiered system where some teachers make less than others for doing the same job.

Also, some charter school teachers are not certified in the same way public school teachers are. Mayor de Blasio promised a teacher with an Early Childhood Education Masters Degree in every UPK classroom!

Except, as I wrote in January 2017:

Shockingly, there were not thousands of Masters in Early Childhood Education candidates wandering the streets of New York, unemployed. So the city did the next best thing. They took recent college graduates with Bachelor’s degrees in absolutely anything, gave them six weeks of training over the summer – all theory, no classroom practice – and set them loose.

In January 2018, I added:

Forget the promised Master’s degree in every classroom, even Bachelors in Early Childhood Ed are now optional.

Mayor de Blasio was so eager to get his UPK initiative off the ground that he held his nose and allowed charter (even his most reviled Success Academies) and private (including religious) schools to provide services (though the uneven funding has led to some providers closing unexpectedly and leaving kids stranded). He didn’t care — then, or apparantly now — that they weren’t unionized or certified.

As a result, the bulk of students enrolled in UPK attend Community Based Centers (CBCs), where the majority of teachers are not unionized, and are not included in the latest pay raise agreement.

I write a lot about the hypocrisy of politicians. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to let them off the hook.)

But, in this particular case, I feel that we parents are also partially to blame.

NYC moms and dads were so excited by the prospect of not having to pay for preschool for our 4 (and, in some neighborhoods, 3) year olds, that we didn’t examine closely who actually was paying for our “free” childcare.

It’s not some vague “millionaire’s tax” or “the state.” It’s working women of color who aren’t earning the same as their counterparts in public schools. And we’re taking advantage of it. 

Of them.

Certainly, the buck stops with Bill de Blasio. But I’m afraid we parents need to take a good look in the mirror, and perhaps admit that as long as we send our children to Universal Pre-K — both public school and CBCs — we’re part of the problem.

We’re part of the hypocrisy.

What do you think?

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