Reopening Stronger Schools
“I have two children in New York City schools. There will be no recovery without schools being open and teaching children safely every day.”
I’m the proud parent of a New York City public school student, and I know the incredible job that our public school teachers do every day. I also know the incredible strain that school closures have put on families with limited child care resources and the impact that remote education has had on students’ learning and social development.
We need to help out families and ensure our children receive the best education possible by reopening schools as soon as is deemed safe. With what we’ve learned during the pandemic, let’s build a modern education system while ensuring that our children are caught up from any shortcomings they faced during this past year.
I want our teachers and administrators to feel supported, and I want them to have access to vaccines, PPE, and any other resources that make them feel safe in their work. And I know many teachers as well as kids and families are excited for schools to be open.
We have learned many lessons from the pandemic, and the policies detailed below will enable our city to reopen a school system that is stronger and more equitable than before the pandemic.
Before the school year, Mayor de Blasio committed to closing schools if COVID positive test rates climbed above 3 percent. When positive test rates breached this threshold, Mayor de Blasio first closed schools and then, a few days later, reopened them. The Mayor’s decision to update his policy to reflect data was a good one, especially since closing schools has been shown to lead to increased mental health issues for students and widening achievement gaps.
Schools aren’t just important for education and socialization; they feed students and are a hub for social services. And, when school is closed, working parents need to worry about childcare. We need to continue to invest in PPE and other resources so teachers, families and school employees feel safe to open schools.
Create bridge programming for students who need it.
COVID has been hard on all students, and even more so for those with different learning needs. If there are more school closings, these students should be prioritized for in-person learning and we need bridge programming (i.e., extra/review sessions after normal school hours and even during the summer) to help these students catch up.
Additionally, the city has 142,000 English-language learners. In-person learning is even more important for these students, who benefit from the context clues of body language and a physical environment to build English skills. Similarly, the city has more than 20,000 District 75 students with special needs and more than 200,000 students with Individualized Education Programs to manage learning disabilities.
On top of that, ask a teacher whether all their students are learning as well during the pandemic, and you’ll hear many sad stories of students who are falling through the cracks. We need to assess the shortcomings faced by our children due to the extended period of remote learning and invest in helping them make up for lost time in their education, before they fall further behind and see an increased risk of failing to complete their education.
Subsidize broadband and other tech solutions.
While New York City is one of the places in the world most wired for internet access, access remains a challenge (29% of NYC households lack home broadband). We need to drive adoption, especially for families with students at home. The DOE has invested $269 million to provide almost 400,000 connected iPads to our schoolchildren. We need to monitor school attendance and outcomes for these children, ensure they stay connected, and continue to drive further connectivity with subsidized plans and digital literacy. We also need to continue to build out this program until every student who is in need has the technology required to attend classes.
Scale up 3-K across the city.
The most celebrated accomplishment of the de Blasio administration was the creation of Universal Pre-K. Before COVID, the de Blasio administration was planning to extend this program to 3 year olds but did not believe this plan was viable in the current fiscal environment. However, as the economy reopens and the city budget recovers, we should prioritize scaling up 3-K, so that families who need affordable childcare stay in the City. With our recent experience expanding this system, it would be a shame to lose momentum and fail to see this important project through.
Streamline regulatory approval for daycare businesses.
Across the board, we need to reduce red tape and make it easier for small businesses to operate and for more New Yorkers to start them. This is particularly pressing in daycare. The average cost of infant care in New York City is over $16,000 per year—more expensive than some colleges’ tuitions—and there aren’t enough spots in our daycares to go around. Childcare professionals are more diverse than the overall population and skew female, so unnecessary obstacles in this space also frustrate the dreams of potential female and minority business owners.
Amplify great New York teachers across the city and country.
New York has some of the greatest teachers in the world. We should be using the remote learning tools now in greater use to give them a platform to enrich students around the city and the country. We should take video and curricula from teachers who are particularly strong at creating remote lessons and make them available to students across the City. This can potentially be a revenue driver for our city too, if expanded to the state/country.
Recruit talented young New Yorkers to join the teaching profession.
As we go about this important work of reopening our schools, we should expand the New York City Teaching Fellows program. In doing so, we can take advantage of the talent among recent grads and other members of our workforce who are capable and willing but face limited opportunities in a post-COVID job market.
Build back with more equitable school admissions.
We must respond to the vital social justice challenges highlighted this past summer. That means at least two specialized schools in each borough and holistic admissions to specialized schools, combining students’ SHSAT performance with other forms of evaluation - grades, interviews, essays, and more.
New York City has been a national leader in education since the establishment of the New York City Board of Education in 1842. Our schools count as alumni Nobel Prize recipients, Supreme Court Justices, Oscar winners, and leaders in every professional field from almost any imaginable background. It’s time we reclaim pride in that heritage as we continue to push forward and show what public schools can do for their students and for the world.