Solving Education: Defining Futures by Lou Cespedes


No matter what your economic class, if you have a child, we all share one common denominator. As a parent you resolve to move within your means and community to provide the best you can for your kids. Why? Because we want a better future for them.  As my beloved father used to say, “I will only have succeeded in being your father if I know you will be greater than I ever could be”. I became a man the day he died. I took the ring from his finger and became king of my household. A kingdom of family, friends, teachers, and shopkeepers prepared me. My parents never allowed, no matter how dark the times, for anyone to cast doubt on my future.  My parents were low wage professionals. I attended a gifted program for fine arts in the Miami-Dade Public School system from 5th grade through high school. With my training I earned a full scholarship to Pratt Institute, graduating with a degree in Architecture. I was lucky. G-d blessed me. I would never have made it without my parents and that gifted program. 

This month, DOE accepted recommendations from the School Diversity Advisory Group to eliminate all Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs. In simple terms, after having managed to segregate students through these programs, NYCDOE preferred to eliminate them for white and Asian kids that really don’t need them rather than create better standards to expand them in Black and Latinx communities. This begs the question of parents, educators, and entrepreneurs alike; how can our community generate sustainable alternatives, and divest from public schools. 

There are some examples and models we ought to reference. The first example, Yeshiva’s, are perhaps the most significant. They have created a roadmap whereby DOE standards have been circumvented. This is notable in that Yeshiva’s despite their faults, receive religious exemptions and tax subsidies thanks to the FY 2018 NYS Passover/Easter budget. This armature can and should be used as precedent by black churches to intervene in the education debate by partnering and reinforcing existing parochial education programs and focusing on the needs of their community and congregations. This needs to happen across Christian denominations. Black congregations must force their pastors to have skin in the game. Churches must pay in, without exception, to grow the system and offerings of daytime and after school services.

Other sustainable models come by way of entrepreneurs like Erica Buddington, founder of the Langston League, which provides professional development and curriculum designed for Black and Latinx students and faculty. Through critical readings of black history and a reframing of narratives students learn basic subject matter through an afro-centric lens. By focusing on intellectual pursuits in writing, language, business, and social justice subjects they hone children’s understanding and knowledge by building their leadership and reasoning skills – not unlike Yeshivas. This is fundamental, because it has built-in pedagogy to amend bias in the education of black children. I once heard it said, “You cannot teach a child you don’t love.”

Another example, magnet/charter schools, could also be very effective. By exploiting the vacuum left by eliminating G&T, charters could focus on specialized training and skill sets in critical fields, such as manufacturing, engineering, building technology, construction, and property management, to name a few. Charters could become public/private partnerships and seek investment capital from industries seeking to harness local talent. This would force the state to lift charter school caps and create greater competition among the small lobby group of heavyweight charter school players like Success Academy. If the principal argument against charters is “cherry picking” we should create more baskets, and compete for those kids by offering high quality unique educational experiences to a diverse demographic interested in those subjects. Let kids commute to the schools where they are taught the things they want to learn outside their community.

Lastly, we need to consider that healing public schools will only come through attrition. We need to starve the beast. Sadly, the administrative triangle of politics, unions and the DOE stifles innovation, discriminates against the poor, and has successfully extorted our future from us by failing generations of our children. I applaud Chancellor Carranza, but if DOE cannot be fair, it needs to be dismantled. Today’s public schools are the creation of the Reconstruction Era in the United States. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided the first network of black taxpayer funded public schools serving the under-educated freed slaves. That mission has been largely lost in a system of segregation, both financial and legal, that has also been with us since Reconstruction. NYC Public Schools are more segregated than southern schools. To break the cycle, we must make public schools compete for hearts and minds, this will only happen when the system purges dead weight, and retains the best and the brightest in a smaller pool of students and faculty.

I know union schoolteachers will be aghast, but I would have them consider this: In any successful corporation, if you are more concerned about yourself than you are about company’s performance, the “team culture” eventually weeds you out. School administrations need to operate on the same principal. While schools are not corporations, they must be gauged on performance. In our community they are failing. It’s high time for profound and radical rethinking of education in our community. As a parent and a leader, that is the future I imagine we can build, if we summon the courage to create it.




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