This Is Progress?

January 4th, 2012

In highlighting the rapid career advancement of Shael Polakow-Suransky '94 to senior deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, the BAM failed to acknowledge some of the deeply troubling characteristics of the administration he now helps lead ("Upgrading Education," September/October).

According to a recent New York Times poll, the city's residents are "broadly dissatisfied with the quality of their public schools, and most say the city's school system has stagnated or declined since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of it nine years ago." Polakow-Suransky's attempts to reconcile student-centered, process-focused, democratic education with the rigid testing requirements first imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and now embraced by the department's business model are, in many respects, destroying the kind of progressive school communities that he seems so proud of having helped flourish as both a student and an educator.

I have witnessed this failure through the experience of a dear friend and fellow Brown alumna who has devoted her life to working within the school system to improve educational opportunities and who would write this letter herself if she did not fear losing her job by doing so. The professional environment within the Department of Education is so hostile to dissenting views that many concerned teachers and principals, especially those without tenure, are afraid to speak up critically. If my friend felt there were any chance she would be genuinely heard, she would suggest that Polakow-Suransky do what his mentor Ted Sizer encouraged: go into the countless classrooms in the city, learn something more about education in each one, and never lose sight of the whole individual child. She is sure that he would then discover what many respected educators have already concluded: that the principles of democratic education and the micromanaging business model promoted by Polakow-Suransky are irreconcilable.

Elizabeth Coll '99
Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Related Issue
January/February 2012