The Would-Be Education Mayor: 4 Ways Bill de Blasio Can Elevate New York City’s Schools During His Second Term
Dear Mayor de Blasio,
Congratulations on your re-election and for becoming the first Democratic mayor in New York City to win a second term since Cornelius Van Steenwyk in 1682. Your opponents were not very impressive, and the voters were not very moved, but you still managed to win by a large margin. Even with low turnout, I understand why you are proud of your victory.
On behalf of the tri-state area, I encourage you to use your mandate fearlessly. It seems like you are already eager to do so, as you have stated that you want to make New York "the fairest big city in America."
Many of the city’s public school students are in desperate need of fairness. There are millions of students who attend public schools of varying quality, and less than half of them are proficient in reading and math. Most of them require remediation when they enter college, and many do not even graduate.
You have expressed your passion and focus on changing the school system in the coming years. I hope you approach this issue with great intensity. While there may be future political prospects to consider, right now there is nothing to lose and you have a lot of political capital to spend. It is widely agreed that urban education is failing poor children.
You have the opportunity to make a big difference, along with several smaller efforts. I have provided a few suggestions below, which were chosen based on their potential impact and feasibility. None of these proposals are currently opposed by any interest groups.
Please keep in mind that there are no simple solutions to these problems, and education reform is an ongoing process.
1. Desegregate schools: This could be a major goal for your second term. When you were expected to present a comprehensive plan on desegregation, you delivered something lackluster and didn’t even bother to defend it. It was seen as a weak attempt to address the issue. Now that you are no longer facing an election, you have the opportunity to make a real change. Desegregated schools have been proven to improve the performance of poor and minority students without negatively impacting affluent high achievers. It has also been shown to reduce crime and improve long-term outcomes for adults.
New York is one of the most segregated cities in the country, both economically and racially. According to a report by the Urban Institute, it is the most economically segregated city in the United States. Creating integrated schools will undoubtedly take decades, and residential segregation presents significant challenges. However, improving education is not a zero-sum game. Your Equity and Excellence for All program is already designed to help students in many ways.
If you are only willing to tackle issues that will show conclusive results within four years, education reform is not the right area for you. As you have pointed out, the pace of reform is much slower than the pace of politics.
The challenges that come with managing, operating, and addressing political and social obstacles are immense. To start, I suggest emphasizing the term "segregation" in your discussions on this issue. The city’s current plan to eradicate segregation does not even mention the word. While "diversity" is a useful term, George Orwell’s statement that political language is used to create an illusion of solidity should be kept in mind.
I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors to improve the education system in New York City.
Introduce concierges to streamline the process of transitioning from pre-K special education to special education in kindergarten. This transition is often daunting and confusing for parents, and they dread it. Currently, the pre-K and kindergarten systems are not integrated, and pre-K students are re-evaluated in the spring of their final pre-K year, possibly resulting in different or reduced services. Parents of children with complex learning or medical needs struggle to find suitable placements with limited guidance. The majority of parents rely on other parents for information, which puts those with limited social connections at a disadvantage and reduces their chances of finding the right placement for their child. To address this, dedicated and personalized guidance should be provided to parents through the introduction of concierge staff.
It is crucial to base decisions on research. The city is not alone in implementing initiatives or adopting practices without sufficient evidence. Many widely accepted beliefs about education, as well as major reforms at all levels, have been implemented without objective reasons to believe they would be effective, and even when subsequent evidence suggested otherwise, they were not modified.
The current administration serves as a striking example of this. The community school model was chosen as the district’s method of turnaround despite mediocre academic results in community schools, which not only provide academics but also health care and social services. Furthermore, the chancellor continued to promote balanced literacy as the preferred approach to teaching reading in underprivileged schools, despite some studies indicating its ineffectiveness for disadvantaged students. Additionally, the Department of Education officials disregarded two studies that used different methodologies and concluded that Renewal schools were ineffective, providing no further explanation.
When policy decisions are not guided by research, they are influenced by politics, tradition, laziness, or sentimentality. However, none of these factors contribute to improving schools. While using inspiring rhetoric may help a mayor leave a lasting legacy like La Guardia and Steenwyk, it is essential to supplement it with factual information.
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