On Monday evening, about 200 students, parents, school aides and educators associated with Occupy Wall Street congregated on the steps of the New York City Department of Education in lower Manhattan to "occupy the DOE."
The crowd vented its frustrations about K-12 education in the form of a General Assembly, the consensus-building method Occupy Wall Street protesters originated in Zuccotti Park. The event was the first official General Assembly held on education, beginning what organizers said they hoped would become a recurring series of events.
The protesters aired their concerns about charter schools, mayoral control of schools, budget cuts and standardized tests. "I'm Jordan, I'm 13, and there's no point in the ELA," a student said about the English Language Arts assessment, an exam given to students across grades. "I work hard and my grades don't matter." Using the OWS technique known as "the people's mic," the crowd repeated each phrase in order to amplify it.
A Brooklyn teacher called for an end to the city's testing system. "These test scores are used to make decisions," she said. "If we can find a way to undermine these tests, we can undermine their entire system."
Throughout the evening, a phalanx of what appeared to be about 15 cops on motorcycles surveyed the area, warning the crowd to stay off the sidewalk and on the steps.
Organizers say the governance structure of New York City's public schools is closely linked to Occupy Wall Street's broader concerns about economic inequity, citing what they see as a privatization of public education. Mayor Michael Bloomberg runs the city's schools through a board known as the Panel for Educational Policy, the majority of whose members he appointed. Critics of mayoral control assert that the board functions as a rubber stamp for Bloomberg's preferred policies, eroding democratic processes.