New York City Schools Are Adrift in a Raging Storm [UPDATED]

The bagels were piled high, a steaming urn of hot coffee, a welcoming “gift” from the Parents Association. For some back to school after a few weeks break after teaching summer school, for others back from trekking across Europe, a few squeals of joy, an engagement ring, a baby on the way, everyone anxious, no matter how long we taught the first day back to school evoked anxiety.

We’d all trickled into the auditorium; the principal’s welcoming back speech, all the administrators rattling off the changes and expectations, the principal and the administrators leave and the school union leader makes announcements: class size grievance timelines, end of term reorganization grievances and welcoming the new teachers.

This year: COVID protocols, what happens if (when?) a student or staff member tests positive, the length of quarantines, in-school testing, and on and on.

And more questions for the school union leader:

Can the mayor refuse medical or religious exemptions for vaccinations? Who determines the frequency of in-school testing of students, Btw, Is class size too high?

If masking is required, who enforces? Can non-masking students be barred from schools? Are these questions resolved by the governor, the state commissioner of education, the board of regents? or, are these decisions made at the school district level…? UPDATE: an arbitrator rules on mandatory vaccinations for school staffs, medical and other exemptions, see decision here.

9/13/21 UPDATED FAQ – Vaccination Regulations fo ALL staff members read here

Notice the absence of debate over the instructional program.  A scandal bubbling beneath the surface surrounds the former chancellor, Richard Carranza who slid away mumbling about differences with the mayor.

The NY Post reported Carranza hired a principal from Houston (clearly no one in NYC was qualified) and rapidly promoted her, and somehow failed to note their relationship  – see NY Post reporting here and here.

Was de Blaso aware of Carranza’s relationship, and, when was he aware and why didn’t he take any action?

Carranza was committed to testing, he called his program Edustats; a diagnostic/proscriptive test, Instructional Leadership Teams in every school, tailoring classroom instruction to address to student shortcomings; we’ve been seeking the testing magic bullet for decades, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core, the educational landscape is littered with the detritus of failed education reforms.

Tyack and Cuban in Tinkering Towards Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995),

Wherever you are on the political spectrum one lesson should be clear, without teachers and parents, no educational innovation or policy will gain traction. Cuban and Tyack in “Tinkering Towards Utopia” parsed one hundred years of education reforms, one after another they faded into the dustbin of education policy initiatives without the support of parents and teachers.

The NYC School District is adrift in a raging storm.

Two years of billions of American Funds dollars are flowing into the city, are the funds targeting specific issues, will the funding be used to redesign the system to address the post American Rescue Fund era?

The Research Alliance for NYC Schools asks the right questions,

The Research Alliance conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the City’s public schools. We strive to advance equity and excellence in education by providing nonpartisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students’ development and academic success.

  • The Research Alliance Blueprint proposes developing a system of education equity indicators, including not just outcomes, but also opportunities and resources. What opportunities and resources should be tracked to better understand and address the root causes of educational inequality? 
  • How can schools best use new state and federal dollars to meet students’ needs? Which staffing and partnership models hold promise for delivering effective individualized support and instruction?
  • How can service coordination and partnerships between schools and communities be strengthened? 
  • How could budgets be reallocated to invest more in schools, communities, and families with the highest levels of need?
  • What innovations from the last year are most promising for improving educational quality and equity?

The NYU Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools also has a thoughtful blog with pragmatic policy recommendations.

Norm Fruchter and Christina Mokhtar, in “Vulnerable Schools and COVID 19” write,

Ten years ago, we published Is Demography Still Destiny? Neighborhood Demographics and Public High School Students’ Readiness for College in New York City. In that study, we linked the college-readiness rates of graduating NYC students to the racial/ethnic composition of their home neighborhoods. We found that the higher the percentage of Black and Latinx residents in city neighborhoods, the lower their students’ college readiness scores. We concluded that, against the claims by the then mayor and Schools Chancellor, unfortunately, demography was still destiny for the city’s Black and Latinx students. 

Though the city made significant efforts to distribute laptops and iPads to students without such devices, overarching connectivity issues and limited broadband access locked many city students out of remote learning. Worse, because so many Black and Latinx family members in high COVID-impacted neighborhoods are employed as essential front-line workers, they could not work remotely and were often unable to effectively support their children’s online educational experience. Finally, because many families of essential workers were consistently exposed to COVID-19 at work, their children witnessed the ravages the pandemic wreaked on their families, friends, and neighborhoods. Far too many Black and Latinx students suffered the emotional and mental health tolls of these experiences.

The new stimulus funds must be distributed equitably, with a particular focus on the city’s most vulnerable schools. Of the city school system’s 650 elementary schools with early grades in 2020-21, almost 400, or more than 60%, are predominantly Black and Latinx, low-income and perform poorly on standardized tests. No single approach to improvement will fit the diverse needs of these challenged schools, whose vulnerabilities were heightened by the effects of COVID-19. For example, the subset of schools that serve significant populations of homeless students (who had lower rates of online participation during remote schooling), need enhanced transportation resources and consistent outreach, so that student learning capacity is not disrupted by the bureaucratic demands, continual transfers, and other limits of the shelter system. This subset of schools must also provide full-time after-school programming, including homework help and Internet access not available in shelters. Finally, homeless students (as well as many other vulnerable groups of students who have experienced different types of trauma during this pandemic) need the full range of social/emotional supports that effective school-based counseling and nurturing can provide. 

Another subset of vulnerable schools, made even more vulnerable by the effects of COVID-19, has high percentages of students with chronic absenteeism. (NYC public schools with the lowest attendance rates were predominately in the same neighborhoods with the highest COVID-19 rates). A Better Picture of Poverty (Read full report here) estimates that nearly 130 city elementary schools struggle with persistent chronic absenteeism–some 30% to 40% of the schools’ students are absent more than 10% of the school year. (This figure was likely much higher in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.) Effective teaching is severely challenged in schools whose attendance varies so significantly. Curriculum continuity is threatened; teacher-student connections and relationships are attenuated; and student academic achievement suffers enormously. (The New School’s maps of the city school districts most deeply affected by persistent chronic absenteeism correlate very strongly with the neighborhoods we identified as having the lowest levels of college readiness in our Demography/Destiny study.) 

To advance the city’s capacity to respond to student and family need in those vulnerable elementary schools, and to intervene to improve them, the DOE should build on the analyses begun by A Better Picture of Poverty. The DOE should use its extensive data library to precisely characterize the conditions of student and family need in as many subsets of vulnerable elementary schools as possible. Then the DOE, in collaboration with community schools and advocacy and school reform groups, should define the interventions that will make a difference in those subsets of vulnerable schools.

. The DOE needs to similarly incentivize and support the principals and teachers of those 400 vulnerable elementary schools to design and develop a menu of specific programs that meet the needs of each school and their students, needs that the pandemic has cruelly exacerbated. 

Why hasn’t the Department used the Research Alliance and the NYU Metro Center blueprints to both redesign the use of the Biden Rescue Fund dollars and the functioning of the Department itself?

Meisha Porter, the acting chancellor is doing a yeoman job under trying circumstances, tiptoeing along a tightrope waiting for Eric Adams, the presumptive mayor to select a new chancellor while a lame duck mayor tries to burnish a tarnished reputation in his waning days following a crumpled Carranza plan.

We all know children can’t wait; they only get one shot at schooling.

One response to “New York City Schools Are Adrift in a Raging Storm [UPDATED]

  1. Pingback: Mandated Vaccinations versus Chaos: Can you run the NYC school system without 8,000 teachers and tens of thousands of others? | Ed In The Apple

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