New York City’s upcoming generation of students face unprecedented challenges ranging from climate breakdown to rampant inequality and deferred investment in the infrastructure of public school.
Modernizing NYC public education will require democratic and structural change to provide quality education for all, not just at select schools. This requires compassion, accountability, accessibility, consistency, and dedication.
NYC needs a robust public education system that provides quality education by changing the culture and role of schools in communities.
A new administrative model should reduce barriers to schools acting as community centers, which will help improve relationships between educators, administrators, and their communities.
The jobs of the future require experiential learning curriculums that address the future by teaching about climate change, STEM, community resilience, and fostering innovation, creativity, the arts, and systems thinking.
We’ve known about the school-to-prison pipeline and how to fix it for decades, yet another generation has fallen victim to it. It’s long past time to exercise compassion and implement behavioral solutions that actually keep kids safe.
We have to figure out how to bring diverse experiences into the learning environment to encourage equity and success through administration and school funding.
Changes in Mayoral administrations have changed how the Department of Education and individual schools operate. Past administrations have fostered a more decentralized model that gives administrators flexibility in programming and hiring. This allowed for school-specific success models to be built instead of large centralized models that may be less effective. On top of administrative culture, funding inequity is a major issue facing schools trying to foster success. We know our public education system squanders potential by underfunding schools with a majority of low-income students and students of color. NYC should be fostering achievement regardless of zip code, preparing our kids for an uncertain future. Successful public schools prepare students to excel in employment, grow our economy, and reduce CUNY spending on remedial education. Funding formulas are a tool we can leverage to bring resources and innovative learning techniques to the classroom. This will foster school equity, or the idea that schools across the city should be just as successful as those in upper-income neighborhoods. This requires us to put as much energy into achieving school equity as past leaders put into building inequities by asking core questions, such as:
Is changing funding formulas the answer?
Are select, high-performing public schools productive, or tools of inequality?
Can incentives bring diverse teaching staff and effective educational techniques into the classroom?
And, most importantly, how do we engage parents and communities to make education reform a democratic process?
How do we make the state comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. New York to fund the Bronx’s school’s, fully, back pay $24 million, and help make this a reality?
The pandemic has reminded us that schools provide more than just education — schools provide childcare, food, and community space and community building.
Administration can help improve the relationship between schools and communities by embracing the multipurpose mission of schools and partnering with community-based organizations to offer vital services such as language training; health clinics; food banks; counseling of all sorts; afterschool and weekend programming for kids (arts, music, and athletics). Together, this will give student and parent communities what they are asking for: more community voice, more visibility and accountability, and most importantly, more resources. The timing, frequency, and access to these communal resources are limited by institutions, but they don’t have to be. Decentralized administration can foster success and community by providing sorely needed resources. Now more than ever, with the pandemic showing the inequalities in childcare, single-parent families, access to basic healthcare, and access to digital resources — we should use our existing infrastructure to full capacity.
Climate change and a hyper-digitalized world are changing the role of education in preparing students for success.
Public schools are our best chance to build knowledge and prepare students for the jobs of the future. These jobs range from solar panel engineers and building efficiency experts to low-carbon careers like elder care and community benefit organizations. Climate and resilience education shows students the need for nature rebuilding and rethinking how our City operates. One example is the Billion Oyster Project which engages students in the restoration of New York Harbor by “planting” one billion oysters to clean up the harbor. This kind of education teaches students about the physical needs to preserve our cities and restore our environment while sparking imagination and creativity. The Resilient Schools Consortium (RiSC) is working on developing these kinds of active curriculums which expose students to real-life projects and explores how they can engage in their communities and careers to solve NYC’s problems. I am a member of the Climate and Resilience in Education Task Force, funded by NWF, and working towards implementing this education in NY.
We’ve known for more than two decades that the public education system is complicit in the school-to-prison pipeline by replacing disciplinary action and behavior correction with the unforgiving criminal justice system. We need to take the NYPD out of the schools and replace them with educators who will connect to and nurture each and every student.
In many cases, schools themselves are the ones pushing students into the juvenile justice system — often by having students arrested at school, by the very police meant to protect them. The Education Department has overhauled the circumstances in which officers can arrest students at schools. The revised version seeks to significantly limit situations in which an arrest would occur, recommending educators deal with minor and non-criminal issues themselves instead and mandate transparency and reporting of disciplinary action. We must reinvest in the community by hiring more social workers and increasing access to mental health care (such as the Single Shepherd Program), not only to address the growing mental health crisis but to solve the root causes of the problem. The use of school safety officers should be a last resort. Schools need to focus on proven solutions: adding college counselors, school therapists, minimizing detention, student risk assessments, and providing for needs like free breakfast. All of these have been shown to increase student achievement and decrease school violence. It is abundantly clear that the public school security system must change to ensure the safety and care of its students.