The Schools We Deserve:
Youth Organizers United for the Now Generation (YOUNG)
Principles on Public Education
The YOUNG coalition is comprised of organizations like the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) and the Boston-area Youth Organizing Project (BYOP), who have worked for years to organize the young people in the city of Boston to improve the Boston public schools. Into it’s third year of existence, the coalition has created formal and informal spaces to engage students from every corner of the city, providing them with the real platforms they need to voice their opinions, ideas and concerns about their education.
The urgency is there, both locally and nationally, to re-invest in and re-build our public schools. YOUNG is currently working with national partners, like the American Federation of Teachers, to spearhead a national movement to create the educational system every student, teacher and family deserves. Most recently, YOUNG partnered with local community partners to host the Boston Educators Social Justice Conference, one of hundreds of community town-halls across the country, where we heard the insight of over four hundred students, teachers, parents and community members and generated the public will to propel this movement forward in Boston and beyond. This platform is also reflective of the priorities of the Boston Truth Coalition, of which BSAC and BYOP are founding members, and which is currently leading efforts to bring the voices of students, teachers and school staff, parents and other community members to the candidates of Boston’s historic mayoral race.
One thing we know is clear: The students of Boston, and their allies, have real vision when it comes to their education. They know what is working and what isn’t, and understand what they need to succeed—here is what we heard directly from them.
Inside the Classroom
Youth identified schools that offer a varied and dynamic curriculum taught by well-qualified and passionate teachers who focus on engaging students instead of raising test scores, as the centerpieces of a high quality educational system.
- Students need rich, rigorous and broad curriculums with access to honors and advanced classes, as well as high quality remediation and intervention courses. Curriculum must not be limited to math and English, but a variety of courses in the sciences and social studies;
- Students need access to arts and physical education outside of traditional academic courses;
- Students need classrooms with fewer students so they can receive the individualized attention necessary to succeed. Students need actual classrooms for learning, not storage spaces;
- Students need less focus on standardized testing: testing has become the central point in many of our schools, taking up hours of actual learning and in other non-tested subjects, like history, civics, writing, sciences and the arts. Testing is not a holistic approach to measuring student achievement and success. A lot of us, low-income students and students who are English Language Learners, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to testing.
Outside of the Classroom
To fully take advantage of what is offered in the classroom, students need access to services that promote their overall well-being. In school, that means nurses, social workers, and guidance counselors to ensure that students are healthy, happy, and well prepared on a path to, and through, graduation.
- Students need schools that are be governed by thoughtful school leadership and administrators that work with students and parents, rather than against them, to create equitable discipline practices, oversee hiring processes, address school community needs, create the school budget, and ensure students receive wraparound support services;
- Students need schools that have more guidance counselors than security guards;
- Students need school discipline that supports, not punishes, them. Zero-tolerance policies have pushed students of color out of schools and into prisons and have been proven to be ineffective in preventing disruptive or problematic behavior—Restorative Justice and other alternative practices cater to students in authentic ways;
- Students need LGBTQ safe spaces.
Our Voices Matter!
The lives of students are often dictated by those most removed from them—corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists. Our schools and districts should be in the hands of students, experienced educators, administrators and parents—in other words, those who are on the front lines every day and who understand the system best.
- Students need a strong and vibrant student leadership and governance that plays an actual and substantial role in school decision-making and that decide on matters beyond prom;
- Students need their opinions heard and valued. They need to be involved in decision-making processes at the school level, including hiring and firing, budgeting, and school discipline;
- Students need a say when their teachers are evaluated. According to the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, the most reliable way to evaluate teachers is to use a multi-pronged approach that includes classroom observations by multiple reviewers and evaluations from students themselves. Any fair and effective educator evaluation system must include substantial student perception data and opinion. We are in the classroom five days a week, 180 days a year—ask us!
A System that Works for Us All
Privatization and competition are incompatible with public education. These strategies deliberately create winners and losers. Policies driving improvements in public schools must encourage collaboration and collective accountability. The system has to work for every student, not a selective few.
- Students are not anti-charter; they are pro-equity and believe students should have access to all schools. Students want to attend schools that will cater to their needs and commit themselves to helping every student succeed;
- ELL and Special Education students must have access to a high-quality education, whether it is in a charter school, or public school;
- Students need the district to focus on investing and building their existing public schools, not closing and replacing them with charter schools. Students feel the negative impact of school closings on their lives and their neighborhoods as they lose the vitality and connectivity of their communities;
- Students understand that this dual system pits charters and traditional schools against each other, with students paying the ultimate price: their education.
Beyond the School House
Students succeed in school when they live in thriving communities that support them. Students must have access to adequate resources, in employment, health, housing and food in order to thrive and must be given the chance to be involved civically in their communities and cities.
- Students need increased partnerships between their schools and external providers for after-school enrichment programs and internships;
- Students need full-year employment, not just summer employment, to live, thrive and succeed;
- Students need access to affordable transportation options, like lower city fares and affordable student T-passes;
- Students need adequate connections between their schools and external providers for access to healthcare, housing and food in order to thrive in school. Social workers and healthcare providers can actively work with students and their families to secure the resources they need;
- Students need opportunities to serve each other, themselves and their communities by being engaged as serious partners in decision-making at the school, district and city level. Adults, including elected officials like the mayor and city councilors, must give them a seat at the table so we can forge an innovative path for Boston together.