Will New York City Reimagine Education or Waste a Generational Opportunity?

We’ve been told for decades we can’t do anything about poverty, we can’t change property tax-based school funding, and we have to use our teaching skills to raise achievement.  Sadly states and school districts have relied on top-down edicts and standardized testing, teacher voice is absent.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, two Democratic Senators are elected in Georgia and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan is law.

The plan attacks childhood poverty. We may be the richest country in the world, we have turned out back on children.

  ,For more than half a century, we have failed to address child poverty in this country. This neglect has resulted in negative outcomes on child well-being and threatens our nation’s future. A child who grows up in poverty is far less likely to perform as well as their classmates in school, more likely to have food insecurity, more vulnerable to homelessness, and more likely to be subjected to violence, abuse, and neglect. While the United States proudly leads the world in science, technology, innovation, and sports, we sadly also leader in infant mortality, violence against children, and child poverty. Despite lots of expressed concern for children, our nation’s leaders have failed make needed investments in child well-being.

The Organization for Economics, Culture and Development, (OECD) studies the forty plus industrialized nations and takes a deep dive into the question: does income poverty affect child outcomes 

Childhood Poverty in the OECD?

The links between family poverty and subsequent child outcomes have been investigated for decades, Comprehensive literature surveys emphasize that children from lower-income households have worse outcomes at later ages for a range of topics such as: scoring lower on tests of cognitive skill in early childhood, being more likely to drop out of school and less likely to attain tertiary education, the evidence being strongest and most abundant. Children from low income families are also showing more behaviour problems than others. The evidence on physical health, as well as on intermediate outcomes such as parenting and parental mental health is more limited.

Attacking childhood poverty must come early in a child’s life.

The timing of poverty matters, and for some outcomes later in life, particularly those related to achievement skills and cognitive outcomes, poverty early in a child’s life is particularly harmful

Beyond belief is the richest country in the world is at the top of the list in childhood poverty

In Finland and Iceland the child income poverty rate is only around 5-6%, while in Denmark it is less than 3%.  In the United Kingdom, child poverty rates declined from 2000 to 2013 as a result of policy reform that focused on reducing child poverty…

  The last group consists of OECD countries where child poverty is significantly above the OECD average. …rates rise to about 20% in Mexico and the United States.

While we can expect childhood poverty to wane the American Rescue Plan also provide immediate relief, billions of dollars now.

  . New York City public schools are projected to receive $4.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief, bringing a significant financial boost as education officials plan for the fall.

The money comes from a sprawling, $1.9 trillion relief package … But big questions remain, including how state and city officials will use this new infusion of cash — roughly $4,500 more per student — to help schools rebound from a year of unprecedented disruption.

… one-fifth of the money to districts must be spent on “evidence-based” practices to combat “learning loss,” which amounts to about $900 million for New York City.

 Beyond announcing a vague framework for providing extra academic and mental health support, the mayor has not yet shared many details or the projected cost of such plans. Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter, in a recent interview with Chalkbeat, said more answers would come soon as to whether individual schools will be able to choose how to spend the money or whether the education department will issue directives.

Since the stimulus must be distributed through the federal government’s Title 1 formula, a large portion of the dollars will go to districts that serve many students from low-income families. In the nation’s largest system, about 73% of students are from low-income families, and the city will receive about half of the $8.9 billion set aside for the state’s education system. The money can be used until 2024.

A lame duck mayor struggling to repair his damaged legacy, a dozen candidates for mayor throwing brickbats, a governor desperately trying to remain in office: what kind of plan will emerge?

The mayor’s last attempt to turnaround the 100 lowest achieving schools was a disaster.

After making an ambitious promise to rapidly turn around nearly 100 of New York City’s lowest performing schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged … that after four years, almost $800 million, and a mixed record of success, a new approach is needed.

That new approach, it turns out, looks a lot like the old one.

Ironically an innovative approach to school organization has both thrived, and been ignored; more than ignored, Chancellor Carranza tried, without success, to squelch the project.

The Affinity District, 150 schools working with six not-for-profits function as school districts within the greater school district, akin to Charter Management Organizations. The organizations provide professional and leadership development along with a safe space for school leaders and teachers.  Many of the Affinity District schools participate in the teacher union (UFT) PROSE initiative.

The Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) program was established as part of the contract between the UFT, CSA and the DOE. The PROSE program enables schools who have a demonstrated record of effective school leadership, collaboration, and trust to implement innovative practices outside of existing rules.

Norm Fruchter and his team at the NYU Metro Center examine the Affinity District in depth. Read here.

Does it make sense to ask the leaders of the two largest support organizations in the Affinity District, Mark Dunetz the leader of New Visions for Public  Schools and Richard Kahan, the leader of the Urban Assembly to sit down with Michael Mulgrew, the leader of the teacher union (UFT) and hammer out a plan for the future?

I know, I know, unlikely.

Next blog:  what specific programs would I recommend.

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