NYC holds school hearings online

New York City Council

In what appears to be an unprecedented event, the New York City Council for the first time is holding online public hearings over the next two weeks so students, teachers and parents can voice their opinions on how to spend extra billions of dollars coming to the city's public schools.

The online hearings -- called "Your Voice, Your Schools" -- will run from Feb. 1 through Feb. 15 and posted information will be used to help a special 13-member Commission on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity prepare a report for the City Council. The online hearings are in addition to the eight public hearings that will be held in total about the issue. Last November, after a long fight, a court-appointed panel recommended that the city get the additional $5.6 billion over the next four years.

"We will give laser-like focus to what we hear online," Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College and the commission's co-chairman, said in a prepared statement. "The best experts on our schools are the parents, teachers, students and administrators who live it every day. Their input in these online hearings will have a real impact on the future of our schools."

Barry Joseph, associate director with the non-profit Global Kids's online leadership program, said he believes this is the first time the New York City Council is conducting an online hearing. Global Kids is providing the platform and supervising the site.

Online participants can either post a message on the site — www.YourVoiceYourSchools.org -- or join discussion groups. Participants must register their names, e-mail address, provide age, gender and ethnicity data, and a brief background.

Joseph, who has been involved with similar online initiatives, said about 400 to 800 participants are expected to join the online discussions in a technique called small group dialogues that provides a more of a meaningful exchange in a civil environment.

"Instead of putting say 1,000 people into one giant discussion space where the bad behavior forces out the good because you have to be so outrageous, we break those 1,000 people down in 50 people in a room," he said. "When you have only 50 people in a room you have a good discussion and small enough where everyone has a say."

Two Global Kids representatives will monitor each group, highlight areas of interest and steer participants toward a particular discussion, but Joseph said the participants can also decide what they want to talk about. Although the commission wants the online hearings to focus on six areas — including class and school size, teacher retention, recruitment and quality, after school programs, pre-Kindergarten programs, facilities and technology, and school accountability — Joseph said the groups aren't limited to just those topics for improving education.

At the end of the online public hearing, Joseph said they will provide the commission with information about the most interesting discussions, "but not the endpoint for the commission to look at the discussion." He said all threads and posts will be searchable. Demographic data and statistics of site usage will also be provided.

The commission is expected to present a report possibly incorporating recommendations from the online and other public hearings to the City Council by March.

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