Education ∙ Jobs

The Big Apple Corps: Closing the COVID-19 Achievement Gap and Boosting Our City’s Workforce

New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang calls for the ambitious mobilization of 10,000 recent college graduates to tutor children who have experience learning loss because of COVID.

  • Yang is calling on Congress to adopt the proposed $1 billion increase in the federal AmeriCorps program marked up by the House Education and Labor Committee on February 9, 2021;
  • As Mayor, Yang would coordinate the efforts of proven providers of high-dosage tutoring and bring their work to bear on supporting the learning of 100,000 of those students who have been hit hardest by the COVID pandemic under NYC Service;
  • Recognizing that recruiting 10,000 new AmeriCorps tutors is a significant undertaking, Yang will channel the enthusiasm of the thousands of young people who have been energized by his candidacy into service to New York’s students, giving them an opportunity to be part of our City’s recovery.

The COVID Achievement Gap

The challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are extraordinary, particularly for our most vulnerable students. Here in New York City, 1.1 million public school students have struggled through the pandemic. With the abrupt transition to remote learning that did not equip students fairly, many low-income students and students of color did not — and still do not — have the technology and broadband access needed to access school lessons. One report showed that as many as 2,600 students were not engaged with either remote learning or in-person school in 2021.

Even for students who were online, there has been significant learning loss in what has been termed the “COVID achievement gap.” One report by Renaissance Learning Inc., conducted nationally, found that students started this school year significantly behind in math and modestly behind in some grades in reading. According to the Wall Street Journal’s recounting of the report, “it would take students in grades five and six at least 12 weeks on average to catch up to where they were expected to be in the fall in math, compared with pre-pandemic skills.” In a report released by Mckinsey & Company, it was revealed that students have learned just 87 percent of the reading and only 67 percent of the math that their grade-level peers learned during more typical years. Long-term effects of learning loss will also be evident in earnings. The report further emphasized that it is estimated that the average K-12 student will ultimately lose between $61,000 and $82,000 in lifetime earnings, as a result of school closures, with students of color experiencing a bigger setback than their White counterparts. These losses in earnings could lead to $483 billion lost in national GDP by 2040.

A Jobs Crisis for Young People

At the same time, recent high school and college graduates are facing the prospects of a daunting job market, unsure of whether they can afford higher education and where to look to land a job.  According to a recent report in the New York Times, “no age group has had it worse than young workers. By September, 19 percent of adults under 25 in the city had lost jobs compared with 14 percent of all workers.”

Fortunately, these very young people, who find themselves in a precarious position, are also eager to serve their communities, earn a living and build their resumes through public service. In a New York Times Op Ed entitled “We Need National Service. Now.” columnist David Brooks wrote, “there is a passionate, idealistic generation that sees the emergency, wants to serve those around them and groans to live up to this moment… The obvious imperative right now is to join workers with the work. It’s to expand national service programs to meet the urgencies of the moment.” A poll released on January 25, 2021 by the Serve America Together Campaign showed broad bipartisan support for the idea of national service and that 62% of respondents were very or somewhat likely to recommend a national service program to a young person they cared about.

Mobilizing 10,000 Tutors for New York City Students

Leaders in Congress are embracing this vision. In April 2020, Senator Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) joined by a bi-partisan group of his Senate colleagues introduced legislation to fund 750,000 national service positions to be used in helping the United States to recover from the pandemic. Under the bill, the federal AmeriCorps program would expand from 75,000 to 150,000 national service positions in the first year and double to 300,000 in years two and three. As Congress works to draft the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” on February 22, 2021 the House Education and Labor Committee included a $1 billion boost in investment to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), including AmeriCorps.

Tutoring Successfully Reverses Learning Loss

Research shows high-dosage tutoring will be key to helping students recover their learning loss from the pandemic. According to a study by Brown University released in December, “tutoring is among the most effective education interventions ever to be subjected to rigorous evaluation. The average effect of tutoring programs on student achievement is larger than the effects found in approximately 85% of studies evaluating education interventions and equivalent to moving a student at the 35th percentile of the achievement distribution to the 50th.”

The Big Apple Corps

As Mayor, Andrew Yang will mobilize 10,000 new tutors as part of a new initiative coordinated by the City, powered by AmeriCorps and supported by business & philanthropy: The Big Apple Corps. Each tutor serving as part of the Big Apple Corps will work with 10 students, thereby reaching 100,000 of the most vulnerable children in the five boroughs starting with Title I schools through coordination with local non-profits who already serve our hardest-hit communities. Assuming that a major expansion of the federal AmeriCorps program materializes as part of President Biden’s COVID Relief package currently pending in Congress, a Yang administration will tap proven providers of tutoring to provide high-quality tutoring to children in Math and English Language Arts. Federal funding will provide the bulk of the financing for this initiative through the AmeriCorps program, which pays members a modest living allowance during their year of service as a tutor. A Yang administration will work to supplement any additional costs to increase the program beyond federal funding so participants can earn a real livable wage in the City of New York.

Academic, Social & Emotional Support

The plan will provide students with one-on-one and small group tutoring throughout the academic year, offering enrichment opportunities and serving as mentors who will provide social-emotional support for students as they recover from missed instruction due to the pandemic. Academic tutoring is just one piece of any recovery effort for our students. Andrew Yang understands that students — especially our most vulnerable — have suffered through immense loss, trauma, social isolation and more. Utilizing the mentoring model of AmeriCorps is one way of addressing both  the academic and social-emotional needs of our students.

Larger Community Impact

Additionally, the impacts of this proposal go beyond the immediate benefits to the students receiving the tutoring. Every $1 invested in national service produces about $4 in benefits, not accounting for the emotional, social, psychological and career benefits accrued to those doing the serving, not just those who are being served.

Fostering Professional Development

Experts and practitioners such as Alan Safran and AJ Gutierrez of Saga Education and Kim Dadisman of MIT have written recently about not only the need for a national tutoring corps, but also “ongoing coaching on how to be effective educators.” We agree. That is why the Big Apple Corps will work with practitioners in the field to continually engage tutors for best practices and results on an ongoing basis, facilitating feedback and guidance on the tutors’ performance so they get on-the-job feedback and support.

New York City Teachers Pipeline

In addition, a Yang administration will support fellows’ commitment to a lifetime of public service, creating a pipeline for careers in education for program participants. AmeriCorps is a valuable opportunity to invest in service-oriented young people who receive a first-hand look at what it is like to be a NYC teacher. We will work with these young people in turning this experience into an enduring career. The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can go toward paying college loans or investing in a masters degree, but often these funds are not enough to cover the full cost of a degree. That is why we will work with institutional partners like CUNY to ensure cost is not an impediment to a quality education for the corps participants.

Inclusive Learning

AmeriCorps promotes great teachers — and great teachers are able to foster environments that are both inclusive and diverse. To bridge the particular gap that students with disabilities face, we must ensure that our tutors are receiving the best instruction for how to support students with disabilities. This program will train fellows in inclusive learning by encouraging both on-the-job training for supporting students with IEPs and, for those who opt in, options to attain a certification in teaching special education in the K-12 system. The East Harlem Teaching Residency, for example, provides a great model for how to develop, support and certify aspiring educators to become effective teachers in East Harlem; we should be investing in programs such as these to promote educational outcomes of our most disadvantaged communities and an equitable society.

In the short-term, Yang urges Congress to invest $1 billion for national service positions in the American Rescue Plan, which support will be critical to launching the Big Apple Corps in New York City and around the U.S.