Soon to be Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks: Peering Over a Precipice into Swirling Waters

Mayor-elect Adams, we can delete the “elect” in two weeks, Adams will be sworn in at the iconic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and the work will begin.

Adams selected a close friend, David Banks as chancellor, the name New York City uses in lieu of superintendent. Banks is the CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation, a not-for-profit that supports five grades 6-12  schools targeting young men of color. New York City has a unique school management structure, most schools are clustered in geographic districts; however, about 10% of schools work with not-for-profits with greater autonomy. A teacher union program, PROSE (Progressive Redesign Opportunity for Schools for Excellence), encourages bottom up innovation, programs designed at the school level.

Before he is formally in his position Banks is being panned, the low performance of some of his schools, his lack of experience and his selection of a (de)former as Deputy Chancellor.

Back in my union rep days I was the union guy in a school district in Brooklyn. The school board was about to pick a new superintendent and a principal contacted me, the selectee was a “hardass,” a “my way or the highway” type. I mentioned my concerns at a school meeting and a teacher said they were in the same parish, she knows him well and works with him on many projects, she painted a totally different picture.

I was outside of the hearing room waiting to defend a teacher when superintendent called me over,

“Peter, how can you defend him, he’s a terrible teacher?”

I blurted back, “You hired him, you gave him tenure and the union doesn’t choose its clients.”

A few weeks later he instructed principals to include the school union rep in all new teacher interviews and began to read principal observation reports.  He said they were useless.

We worked on a variety of teacher observations options within schools.

We “agreed to disagree” on some issues, an occasional grievance, and a total commitment to shared decision-making and school-based budgeting.  He was in schools constantly, met with all the school union leaders monthly, and, some principals loved the autonomy and others hated the “required” collaboration.

The lesson: don’t jump to early conclusions.

Banks has a steep learning curve ahead, very steep.

His comments to Marcia Kramer reignites the decades old “reading wars,”

Why are 65% of Black and Brown students not reaching proficiency? The answer, surprising. Banks told Kramer it goes back to something so very basic: How kids are taught to read.

It seems the city changed tactics 25 years ago, and he thinks it doesn’t work.

“We went to kind of this thing called ‘balanced literacy.’ ‘Balanced literacy’ has not worked for Black and Brown children,” Banks said.

“So what do you want to do?” Kramer asked.

“We’re going to go back to a phonetic approach to teaching. We’re going to ensure that our kids can read by the third grade,” Banks said. “That’s been a huge part of the dysfunction.”

John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University and NY Times writer has been sharply critical of “balanced literacy” (See recent op ed here).

Education Week featured a recent report on reading programs that found the two most popular reading programs, balanced literacy programs ineffective. (Read here).

Balanced literacy programs are used in many schools across the city and some schools are totally committed to them, the “reading wars” never seem to end and are passionate. Is it the program or the teacher?

Do we have data on student achievement by race and reading program?

The teacher union led a curriculum audit prior to COVID, collecting reading and math programs used on every grade in every school, the purpose was to create professional development aligning the programs with the New Generation Learning Standards, the standards now the basis of state tests. Maybe Banks should give union prez Mulgrew a call?

Adams/Banks voiced support for a remote option for parents: in the middle of the school year?  The academic outcomes for students in remote classrooms was poor, returning to remote classrooms, especially for children struggling in regular classrooms is antithetical to everything Adams/Banks espouse.

Banks “solution” for the paucity of students of color in the legacy Specialized High Schools is to create more gifted schools. Unfortunately gifted schools, meaning schools with entrance screens (reading/math scores. Interviews, portfolios) “segregate” schools by ability and effectively decrease achievement scores in the non-screened surrounding schools.

It appears unlikely that Banks will reinstitute the centrally administered gifted and talent testing beginning with pre-k. The Renzulli Method was widely utilized by schools in the pre-Bloomberg days prior to the gifted and talented testing and merits a close examination.

Unfortunately Omicron is hovering over the school system. The NY Times Coronavirus tracker jumps every day as do “positives” in schools, classroom closings are increasing and Governor Hochul is preparing for the surge. 

The best laid plans  …..

By the time Adams is Mayor the question may be “when do we move back to remote instruction?”

Before Adams/Banks jump off the end of the diving board its important to check the depth of the pool.

How are our schools doing?

The Council of Great City Schools, a highly regarded research institution says pretty well,

Read “Mirrors or Windows: How Well Do Large City Public Schools Overcome the Effects of Poverty and Other Barriers?” (June, 2021) here

  • Students in Large City Schools narrowed the gap with students in All Other Schools in both reading and math at fourth and eighth grade levels between 2003 and 2019 by a third to a half, depending on grade and subject.
  • After considering differences in poverty, language status, race/ethnicity, disability, educational resources in the home, and parental education, Large City Schools had reading and mathematics scores on NAEP that were significantly above statistical expectations at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels in 2019 (the latest year NAEP was administered) and in most years since 2009.

Before Adams/Banks spin out this idea and that idea maybe they should read a report from the Research Alliance for NYC Schools, yes, New York City has an organization, yes David, you or a designee serve on the board and they laid out a framework, Blueprint for Advancing Equity in NYC Schools: Overview of Priorities for the Next Administration (Read one-pager here)

Adams, Banks and Keechant Sewell, the new police commissioner should understand that some solutions may be beyond their ability to address. Unemployment in New York City is extremely high, over 9%, and in spite of unemployment tax revenues due to a booming Wall Street are high; however, too many New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet and unemployment impacts schools and crime.

COVID, crime, homelessness, climate change …..

In 1969, Breslin ran for president of the New York City Council in tandem with Norman Mailer, who was seeking election as mayor, on the unsuccessful independent 51st State ticket advocating secession of the city from the rest of the state. A memorable quote of his from the experience: “I am mortified to have taken part in a process that required bars to be closed.” When asked what he would do if he won he relied, “Ask for a recount.”

One response to “Soon to be Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks: Peering Over a Precipice into Swirling Waters

  1. There can be No, Zero school closings. Remote learning has cost minority children the equivalent of two years of learning realization. As Omnicron becomes the dominant Covid force, case will continue to appear as asymptomatic, while Covid 19 gets displaced by the omnicron variant. As for G &T, and specialized High Schools, their continuance and expansion is what minority students must be given the opportunity to experience in a very real way as opposed to quota driven tokenism. Finally, in the past three years I had occasion to visit two of Banks Eagle Academy Schools. Over all, I was assigned to observe and consult with six Teaching Fellows. In each visit, I was struck by the absolute high levels of Professionalism beginning at the security desk and on into all parts of the school’s mainstream. I was particularly so impressed with the Principals,the Mentors and Coaches and the CTs, not to mention the apparent beneficial teacher development aspects of the Principal’s vision for same. Pupil Decorum,was such that they were respectful, and challenged in terms of instructional delivery, that which was consistently at the higher levels of Bloom.


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