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Early childhood classrooms must be protected

By Karen Alford


Study after study confirms what we already know: early childhood education is the foundation for future academic success. It can mitigate the disadvantages that many youngsters start their lives with and put them on the path of a sound education and bright future.

Unfortunately, we are now looking at cuts to both city and state budgets. While we don’t know the exact numbers, we hear that 6,400 teachers are in danger of being cut in the mayor’s latest budget proposal.

We would surely lose the rich early childhood curriculum that we know is essential, only to see it replaced by bare-bones, test-driven approach for even the youngest learners and class sizes that dictate management over individual attention. After-school and other “extras” would also be eliminated.

Our Early Childhood Conference focused on findings in a wide array of fields about what constitutes excellent early childhood education, with workshops on the arts, academics, nutrition and special education to enhance the work we do every day.

The goal of our conference was to maintain the integrity of the classroom, despite budget cuts, so that children don’t pay the price for the mistakes of adults.

In practical terms, what this means is reining in the spending at the central office of the city’s Department of Education and pulling back on consultants and the like to ensure that the precious dollars we do have make their way to the classroom.

You can imagine, then, how angry I am as I pick up the newspaper these days and read that things are actually going in the opposite direction.

At the end of April, the Department of Education announced that it is increasing the number of deputy chancellors from three to eight — more than double — and hiking their salaries on top of that.

They are choosing to spend more money at the top and make cuts at the school level. I don’t know of any kindergartner “saved” by a deputy chancellor, but I do know many whose lives have been profoundly altered for the better by their teachers.

In a classic “divide and conquer” ploy, the chancellor and the mayor loudly trumpet the idea that doing away with seniority when they make these teacher cuts would be a great help.

They are trying to be divisive and create dissension in our ranks. They are telling the newer teachers, “You’re great, you deserve to stay and not the more experienced teachers.” Is it purely coincidental that those experienced teachers happen to make more money?

The truth is, we all stand to learn something from each other, newer and senior teachers. Newer teachers can gain from having a more experienced mentor teacher, and everyone gains from the differences in ages and experiences.

Without seniority protections we would certainly lose the stability of the profession, as many who try outing the field— about 50 percent — leaving within the first few years.

In this time of diminished resources, we are seeing teachers scapegoat across the country; this attack on seniority is just one more example.

As we heard from education historian Diane Ravitch at her book signing here at the UFT on April 7, “You can’t fire poverty, you can’t fire students or parents, but you can fire teachers.” And we’ve been hearing a lot about that lately in state after state.

Don’t fall for the divide and conquer ploy. The federal government paid $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. Now we need an infusion to fund our schools, ensure reasonable class sizes and make sure that our children don’t suffer.

I’m asking everyone — members, friends and family — to visit our website at and click on the Action Alert to urge your legislators not to make cuts to the classroom!

If we stick together we can protect the quality of education we provide, which is ultimately tied to our nation’s future.

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