A Million Strong: Repairing, Rebuilding, and Reimagining New York City public schools for ALL our Kids
The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing systemic racism exposed deep-rooted injustices in NYC’s education systems. They have also highlighted the strength and resilience of families, students, and educators to innovate and persevere through unprecedented times. As we work to recover from COVID-19, we must rebuild and reimagine our educational system, tackling long-standing inequities to create real pathways to economic opportunity for all public school students; valuing NYC’s diversity by creating integrated and inclusive opportunities for all students; and carefully rebuilding trust and partnering with families and educators to reimagine together. To do so will require us to draw not just on the traditional resources of our public schools but on all of NYC’s enormous assets, bringing all sectors to the table to support our children’s future: challenging our business leaders to help our students and schools recover, and define the needs of the future economy and ensure equitable access to relevant apprenticeships, jobs and internships that put every student on track to a family-sustaining job; better utilizing our cultural resources — our arts, our museums, our libraries, our parks — to enhance and extend the educational opportunities of our students, families, and educators; and improving coordination with nonprofit and community-based organizations that can better engage historically underserved communities, and nimbly address short-term recovery needs and long-term capacity challenges.
Prior to the pandemic, the public high school graduation rate in New York approached a historic 80%. And yet substantial gaps still existed, with students from low-income households, students of color, multilingual students, students in temporary housing, and students with disabilities too often left behind. At the college level, the CUNY system is a jewel that will be central to NYC’s recovery, and that has rightfully received national recognition for its groundbreaking work to improve completion rates. But there is work to be done to scale CUNY’s effective programs, improve completion rates and set students up for career success. At both the high school and college level, opportunity gaps mean that students from low income households and students of color complete their educations at lower than average rates and are less likely to enter family-sustaining careers.
We must have the vision to reimagine an educational system that values and supports the remarkable diversity of New York City’s students, families and educators, providing every student equitable access to critical resources and support structures they deserve. We must provide meaningful pathways within and beyond the classroom, birth through career, that open doors to economic opportunity. We must close longstanding resource and outcomes gaps, provide safe, engaging, culturally responsive and inclusive learning environments, draw from both the innovations of New York City’s educators and existing evidence about what works, and prepare all of our city’s students for family-sustaining jobs for decades to come. And we must have the focus to carry that vision through and make it real.
Shaun’s plans will focus on:
- Rebuild and Reimagine: Repair the Systemic Damage from COVID, while Tackling Pre-existing Inequities to Better Serve All Students
- Leverage NYC’s Diversity as an Asset: Apply a System-wide Focus on Diversity, Integration and Inclusion for Students and Educators
- Reimagine Pathways from Birth through Post-secondary that Open Doors to Economic Opportunity
- Invest in NYC Libraries as Neighborhood Learning Assets
Rebuild and Reimagine: Repair the Systemic Damage from COVID, while Tackling Pre-existing Inequities to Better Serve All Students
The current crisis has only exacerbated long-standing shortcomings of the city’s educational system. Students who are from low-income households, of color, multilingual, and those with disabilities have historically faced systemic barriers to obtaining the same educational experiences and outcomes as some of their peers. As we focus on both recovering from COVID-19 and eliminating longstanding barriers to all students’ success, we must rebuild trust with families, students and educators; lead with a vision for equitable schools that dismantles historical inequities and fosters holistic skills and development; learn and apply lessons from the pandemic; and better serve students most at risk of falling through the cracks. Each of these actions must incorporate a lens of equity and inclusivity to ensure that the benefits of new initiatives make their way to all students, particularly those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and historically left behind.
We are committing to the following policies and programs:
Rebuild trust with families and communities
The pandemic has both revealed and intensified the lack of trust between families and the school system; little will be accomplished without re-earning that trust. On day one, we will partner with existing community-based organizations and faith-based organizations to launch a listening tour for the mayor and chancellor with families across the city, aimed at understanding the specific challenges facing each community — particularly Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities, families in temporary housing, and families of students with disabilities — both during and following COVID-19. From there, we must establish stronger formal systems to facilitate family and student input in school and district priorities, through enhanced student and family advisory councils and more diverse Community Education Councils, in ways that intentionally empower families whose voices are traditionally marginalized. This will include partnerships with community-based and advocacy organizations to identify issues and opportunities, and be more proactive about incorporating these perspectives into policy, planning and implementation. All channels for ongoing family and community engagement must be in the languages spoken by families and must use multiple modes of communication (phone, online/virtual, in-person, small focus groups and larger community meetings) in order to better reach all families. COVID-19 has forced many educators to get creative and innovative in how they engage and communicate with students and families, in ways that can make schools more accessible if done right; we need to leverage and build on these approaches as we recover and rebuild.
Respect and empower educators
Throughout the pandemic, teachers, principals, and other school staff demonstrated time and again their commitment to their students and their craft. Faced with the need to figure out remote learning during a health crisis with extremely limited central support, they took on new roles, reinvented how they engaged with students and families, and shared their innovations with others in unprecedented ways. All of this came on top of their own challenges as parents, children, partners, and New Yorkers, as ordinary life was upended.
And yet time and again, the city’s lack of planning has made their already hard jobs close to impossible. Their perspectives have been devalued, their contributions given lip service without meaningful support. We must regain their trust. We will start a new competitive fellowship program recognizing a diverse group of innovative teachers, principals and counselors. Fellows will be released from some duties for a year to work at central DOE, conduct outreach to colleagues and provide formal input into policy priorities for the Chancellor and leadership team. Modeled on an existing U.S. Department of Education program, the fellows will advocate for the best ideas from their peers, challenge district practices and policies that make it harder for them to do right by their students, and aid the mayor in building more inclusive schools for educators and students of all backgrounds. In addition, we must identify, recognize, and scale the innovative practices and materials of our best educators and provide expanded options for teacher leadership pathways that allow our best educators to keep working with students in the classroom, while taking on additional leadership opportunities.
Help students and educators recover from the academic and social-emotional impact of COVID
COVID-19 is exacerbating and creating new academic, social-emotional and mental health needs for our city’s children, educators and families. Reopening schools for more students, in a way their families trust is safe, is just the beginning; a generation of students are facing unprecedented challenges in terms of widening opportunity gaps, as well as growing social-emotional needs after the trauma of the pandemic and social isolation. When it comes to supporting learning recovery, students need both content-specific academic supports and ongoing social-emotional and mental health supports. We must commit to a multi-year comprehensive approach that provides targeted support to help our students and educators recover, but goes beyond — reimagining an education system that creates equitable environments that propel all students, particularly those historically marginalized, on a path of opportunity and success.
We must invest in additional mental health services, response to trauma, and other supports, both within and beyond school premises, building on the city’s previous investment in counselors and support staff. This includes building a Mental Health Continuum, as advocates and the City Council have called for, that provides mental health care for students and families in and outside of schools so that they receive coordinated mental health services needed, especially if they are in crisis, rather than relying on 911. Additionally, all educators should receive mental health and self-care support for themselves, alongside mental health and social-emotional learning training to better address their students’ needs in the classroom.
Despite heroic efforts on the part of educators and school leaders, most students experienced sporadic instruction after the abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring of 2020; and the majority of our city’s students are still in remote classes. As our schools and communities recover and rebuild, students will need additional time to address this unparalleled social-emotional, mental health, and academic disruption in a thoughtful, research-based manner. Through initiatives like extended day and/or year, summer programming, year-round schooling, and intensive tutoring, we need to provide additional core academic, enrichment (e.g. visual and performing arts, sports, health and wellness, etc.) and social-emotional opportunities for our students as well as planning and collaboration time for our educators. The right approach will differ by school and community; it should be co-planned with local educators and families to meet the needs of local school communities.
An Education Recovery Corps could utilize the strength of our CUNY students and graduates, and other young people, to partner with educators to support the academic and social-emotional recovery of our elementary and secondary school students. Partially funded through federal AmeriCorps dollars and modeled after existing initiatives like the CUNY Tutor Corps, the College Bridge Program, and City Year, but with a more meaningful living allowance to ensure corps members are fairly paid for their service, an Education Recovery Corps could provide supplemental learning and social-emotional support for younger students, while offering immediate employment in their own communities for CUNY students and graduates, many of whom have faced economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
This learning disruption is also disproportionately hurting children and students in key transitions — for example, those entering kindergarten and transitioning to post-secondary. Overall, enrollment is down, with this year’s decline as substantial as the previous 12 years’ decline, with those drops focused in the early grades. CUNY has seen unprecedented drops in enrollment, especially among first-time first-year students in fall 2020, and trends like FAFSA completion for 2021 do not bode well. In partnership with CBOs, families, and schools, we need a city-wide effort to communicate and re-engage these families and students and double down on our support for those entering key transitions in the next year, with a parallel effort at the CUNY level.
An all hands on deck Investing in Student Success program would pair public dollars with those raised from philanthropists and private sector partners with a shared interest in bringing NYC’s students back. Such a program would provide grants to schools, working with outside partners such as nonprofits or CUNY to accelerate learning for all students, with a focus on students who have been left furthest behind: students with disabilities, homeless students, multilingual students, and students of color. Educators would propose strategies with a strong or encouraging evidence base, such as high-dosage tutoring, family engagement, bridge programs to help with key transitions (e.g., K, 9th grade, college) and other efforts likely to make a difference for NYC’s students. Proposals serving the most vulnerable communities, and those with the strongest evidence base, would be prioritized for funding; there would be an expectation that successful efforts would share best practices with other schools.
A culturally inclusive, academically rigorous, and supportive vision for schools and classrooms
Reimagining means not just reverting to our pre-COVID normal, but creating schools that center the needs and experiences of students historically marginalized and underserved and foster holistic skills and development for all students. We must work with educators, families, experts in the field of equity and the science of learning, and community-based organizations to lead with a vision for schools that cultivates students’ multiple identities, fosters physical and mental wellness, supports social and emotional development, and develops their cognitive and academic skills. This framework will ensure that students’ identities are supported through culturally responsive practices, that social and emotional development is integrated into every facet of the school environment and instruction, and that a continuum of mental health care for students inside and outside of schools is well articulated. The framework will help all stakeholders understand a complete and integrated vision for school culture, climate, and instruction, and end the confusion over multiple guides, frameworks, and approaches or competing priorities imposed upon school leaders and educators. It will be supported with guidance, protocols, and ongoing professional development so that all school leaders, educators, and staff are equipped to implement it.
In order for this new vision for schools to be successful, we must first dismantle practices that focus on policing and disciplining students and make schools unsafe for many students of color — contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. We must remove police from schools, starting with schools that employ multiple School Resource Officers (SROs), following the example of cities like Minneapolis, Oakland, Denver, and Portland. Some of the savings should be reinvested in Positivity, Prevention, Relationships, and Response (PPARR) Coordinators, trained in child development, de-escalation, and understanding how trauma and life experiences impact behavior, to create a positive learning environment. Current SROs will be supported in transitioning to these new roles if they are interested and ready to participate in the necessary training, or in being absorbed into the New York Police Department if they prefer to remain in law enforcement.
Removing police officers from schools is just a start; we must remove all vestiges of prison culture: eliminating metal detectors, on-campus arrests and handcuffing (except in the extremely limited circumstances where student and educator safety is actually and immediately in danger), and incident reporting for routine student behavior that leads to police intervention and police records. These practices create a hostile climate instead of a supportive learning environment, and lead to police records that launch students — especially students of color — into the school-to-prison pipeline.
Finally, we must tackle unfair disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities — and support educators to make these critical shifts. Although suspensions have decreased in the past couple of years, the overall number of suspended students remains far too high, with disproportionate numbers of students of color and students with disabilities receiving punishments that exclude them from the classroom. Educators must receive robust training on alternatives to traditional disciplinary actions like suspension that deprive children of opportunities to learn.
Prioritize the needs of students in temporary housing: Schools and shelters as opportunities for student supports
One in ten New York City students are homeless, including more than 32,000 students living in City shelters and approximately 73,000 students doubled up in temporary shared housing situations in 2019-2020. Yet the system systematically fails to provide them with the education and services they need–a reality only exacerbated during the pandemic, when too many students in temporary housing were left to learn without devices, wifi or cell service in some shelters, or even a safe and quiet space to learn.
To address this, we must start at the top with senior leadership positions within the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Education dedicated to overseeing these students’ needs. Such officials would develop and oversee a comprehensive support plan for students in temporary housing, working across agencies to expedite initiatives and ensuring agencies are working together and being held accountable for supporting these students, with clear measures to ensure each student has access to the help they need, including social-emotional, mental health, and academic support.
Given the frequency of transitions within the shelter system, we must also improve continuity in education for students in temporary housing. While federal law requires families to be placed in a shelter close to their youngest child’s school, in New York City this only occurs 50% of the time, even when ”close” is defined as “within the same borough.” Even as we move to a housing — rather than shelter-based — system for addressing homelessness, schooling must be consistently considered in shelter placements, through both an Education Support Center within the Department of Homeless Services intake placement center, and required re-evaluation of placements when families are placed in shelters far from their youngest child’s school.
Schools and shelters should be refocused as opportunities for interventions for these students. Schools serving high numbers of students in temporary housing need resources and support to serve them well, including prioritization for Community Schools efforts or other wraparound models which offer accelerated learning programs, targeted literacy interventions, social-emotional supports and other community-based services. Students in temporary housing should have access to trained staff in shelters and schools, equipped to meet their educational needs.
While the current administration made progress by adding social work staff to shelters, these staff must be trained on educational needs of students and the Department of Education must hire 150 new social workers to work in schools with large numbers of students in temporary housing. The Department of Education must also develop a multi-tiered support system in schools for foster, homeless and system-involved youth, in which schools and districts create problem-solving teams that use existing data to provide timely support and interventions for students’ academic, health, and social-emotional needs before they are in crisis. Finally, given the impact that students’ mobility can have on their opportunity to attend high-performing schools, such schools should prioritize seats in their classes for students in temporary housing and be prepared with the training, staff and resources needed to ensure they can be successful.
Improve screening, programming and opportunities for students with disabilities
Students with disabilities must be front-and-center in all of our broader reform efforts, not segregated off to the side; and we must provide more high-quality and inclusive programs to meet their needs, especially as these students have faced increased obstacles to appropriate services and programs during the pandemic. We must address racial disparities in special education screening, which both over-identify Black and Latinx students for certain disability classifications and under-identify Black and Latinx students for other classifications, all without effectively addressing their needs or helping them achieve academically before these identifications. This starts with more effective reporting on referrals, identification, and program recommendations broken down by race, ethnicity, and gender, with thresholds that trigger disproportionality reviews. Additionally, current screening tests should be reviewed for any potential sources of bias, and implicit bias trainings highlighting the impact of inappropriate special education referrals should be required for all staff involved in the identification process.
We must provide New York City’s students with disabilities access to research-based, tested programs that meet their needs in inclusive environments, by learning from and expanding existing programs like ASD Nest and Horizon, targeting new program placement in high-need parts of the city. The city must also replicate effective programs from traditional public, charter, and private school systems and establish more specialized programs within neighborhood schools. This includes engaging and working with families to ensure more students with complex disabilities, including those currently in D75 programs, are served in inclusive settings and neighborhood schools.
Quality special education should begin as early as possible to mitigate the impact of developmental delays and prevent the need for more intensive services later on. Currently, students receiving Early Intervention services from the Department of Health (DOH) face challenges when they shift to DOE special education programs, in part because the DOE does not have enough preschool programs for students with disabilities. While the current administration has made progress in including students with disabilities in 3K and PK programs, this must remain a focus, with improved coordination between these agencies and community-based institutions to make sure these students are supported in the transition to preschool.
Leverage the assets and meet the diverse needs of our multilingual learners
More than 40% of New York City public school children speak a language other than English at home. For the students who are learning English at school, called multilingual learners, they or their families come from over 190 different countries around the world and communicate in over 150 different languages. In addition to their ethnic and linguistic diversity, they are a diverse set of learners with diverse needs and supports. Addressing their needs starts with ensuring all families have language access, and receive communication from schools and the education system in their preferred language, using multiple modes of communication to ensure families with limited digital access can communicate with their children’s educators and system leaders. We must invest in more high-quality English as a New Language and Bilingual programs, particularly by dramatically increasing the number of bilingual programs available in the city and ensuring such programs provide continuity across elementary, middle and high schools. This will take leveraging the strength of our linguistically diverse city to create pipelines for more bilingual New Yorkers and bilingual high school graduates to become teachers and school leaders. (see more below)
Multilingual learners are not a monolith; they have unique experiences both in this country and, for those born abroad, in their home countries. We must increase the number of programs and services for students with interrupted formal education, older immigrant youth, and multilingual learners with disabilities.
Apply an equity review to any budget cuts or additional resources
Over the next few years, COVID-related budget cuts have the potential to exacerbate existing resource inequities between wealthier schools and schools in low-income communities and communities of color that are often understaffed, underfunded, and physically falling apart. As we adjust to meet current financial strains, all short-term budgetary and staffing reductions and adjustments must go through an equity review to ensure that they will not disproportionately impact typically underserved students and contribute to furthering the disparity in educational resources and quality. Any additional federal funds from the state or federal government must undergo a similar review, to ensure they are being spent in equitable ways.
Closing the Digital Divide
Even as NYC has become a growing tech hub, our students have not benefited from this asset, especially our students who are historically underserved by the system. The pandemic exposed the deep equity gaps in students’ access to the basic connectivity and devices that are needed for remote learning – as well as so many services, opportunities and jobs of the future. As we return to “normal,” technology will be the new normal; it can provide opportunities for students to access more course opportunities and learn side-by-side with students beyond their school walls; and for families, it will continue to be a critical point of access for services and opportunities within and beyond education. And yet, if we don’t close the digital divide, these advances will continue to exacerbate inequities.
While the city accelerated efforts to provide internet connections and devices to the thousands of families who needed them for remote learning, ten months in, this job is still unfinished. We must finally close the digital use divide and invest in the education technology and support for its use that our students deserve. This means re-positioning connectivity as a basic right to ensure education and workforce opportunities, and working with providers to accelerate the timetable for universal access, prioritizing public housing, shelters, and buildings with affordable housing units or those accepting housing vouchers. We will elevate the Mayor’s office of Chief Technology Officer to be accountable to organize and reform Federal, state and city efforts, and advocate at the federal level to expand the E-rate program so that it can fund students’ homes as well as at schools, and the Lifeline program (which supports communication services for low-income families).
But closing the digital divide so that students can thrive is about more than devices and connectivity. As we ask educators to change their jobs, we must support them with state of the art digital pedagogical and technical skills and knowledge to advance student learning, and ensure they uniformly have access to high-quality, culturally relevant, online instructional materials. Time and again, teachers have said they did not receive enough training to adapt their instruction to the online context. As we ask families to support students learning in new ways, we must support them by ensuring modes of communication are as accessible as possible, and training is provided to families who want to better support their students. We will partner with providers of digital services and tap CBOs to better reach immigrant and low-income families who may need extra support to afford, navigate, and access new tools.
A more thoughtful use of remote learning can and should emerge from the crisis of COVID-driven full-time remote instruction. In many schools across the city, course offerings are limited and students do not have access to educators who can offer specialized tutoring and instruction, advanced learning, and enrichment opportunities. Similarly, many of the city’s finest out-of-school offerings are beyond the reach of too many students because they are geographically inaccessible, or limited in size. Carefully curated and expertly constructed remote instruction can engage many more students in enrichment classes (such as arts, sports, health and wellness, etc.), accelerated learning opportunities, and Advanced Placement courses, while also allowing students to learn in integrated learning environments that go beyond their school buildings. The DOE and community school districts must work together to ensure that schools and afterschool programs that do not currently provide these opportunities are prioritized for remote access to such courses, facilitated by school staff and classroom teachers.As we strengthen our basic technological readiness, we can also leverage the city’s technology sector, working closely with our educators, to help innovate around educational equity, while preparing more students for technology careers. We propose that NYC partner with established and emerging Tech companies, educators and a range of city agencies to pilot and scale up new tools and practices that serve students, families and educators in ways that enhance equity. Depending on the needs that educators, students and families identify, these could include tools that connect families, educators and learning resources across the city, new platforms for parent and community engagement and communications, or efforts to create new learning experiences for students. This partnership could also focus on the DOE system issues, closing the digital divide at the DOE through modernizing schools’ technology and data and reporting infrastructures, upgrading the DOE’s aging learning management, data, and reporting systems to facilitate better tracking of student progress and enabling effective collaboration within and across schools. The DOE is far behind other large systems in these digital basics.
Leverage NYC’s Diversity as an Asset: Apply a System-wide Focus on Diversity, Integration and Inclusion for Students and Educators
New York City’s diversity is one of our greatest assets, but our education and housing policies all but ensure that our students don’t benefit from that asset; instead too many students are relegated to schools that are among the most segregated in the nation, teaching them from a young age that segregation is the norm. The diversity of our student body has the potential to contribute to more culturally responsive, diverse, and well-rounded learning experiences for all — with intentional changes to policy and practice. And while our educator workforce is among the most diverse in the state, it does not nearly match the diversity of our student body, leaving too many students of color without regular access to educators who look like them.
The current administration is finally making some progress on this front. As mayor, Shaun would make permanent each of the changes the current administration is proposing, but go further to put in place admissions policies that foster integration; reinvest in the community integration planning process, ensuring all families are at those tables, to support the best ideas for diverse schools and classrooms that roll up from local communities; and ensure our efforts to build integrated and inclusive schools don’t stop with demographic diversity, to ensure more students are learning in integrated and inclusive schools and classrooms from educators who reflect their backgrounds.
To get there, we are committing to the following policies and programs:
Improve Educator Diversity
We know that having educators who reflect our students makes a difference; research shows that having a Black teacher by third grade increases a Black student’s likelihood to graduate high school by 7% and to enroll in college by 13%; with two Black teachers, that shoots up to 32%. Yet in NYC, fewer than 44% of our teachers and 47% of our school leaders are people of color compared to 85% of our students. This reality is most stark in communities that the city has underinvested in for too long — in the Bronx for instance, 62% of students are Latinx but only 27% of educators are. We must aim to increase the number of educators and school leaders who identify as people of color to at least 65% of all teachers and 70% of all school leaders over the next ten years, by investing in hiring, preparing and retaining diverse educators, building on the success of programs like NYC Men Teach, to develop additional pipelines and ensure that our educators reflect the diversity of the young people they serve as well as the languages they speak; and ensuring a systemwide focus on and transparency around educator diversity. This is important for our students, but also for economic empowerment in our communities; educator jobs are strong pathways to the middle class.
In terms of preparation, we should work with high schools and CUNY to create early exposure programs and scaffolded pathways to teaching for high school and college students, particularly those interested in working in their own communities; and to build more pathways for diverse educators, including pathways for other educators who are more likely to be of color to become classroom teachers, like paraprofessionals, early childhood educators, after school program employees, and staff in community-based organizations. Critically, both of these pipelines are more likely to include many educators who are bilingual and have special education experience, which would help develop a stronger pipeline of bilingual educators and bilingual special education teachers for our students. We could learn from the High School to Teacher program in Boston Public Schools and the Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois program as models for building strong pipelines of young people already in the city’s schools to become the future educators of color.
But preparation is just the start; schools must be supportive environments for all educators, especially educators of color, that lead to long-term retention, promotion, and diversity at all levels of instruction and administration. Data show that across the city, Latinx teachers have spent an average of 1.2 years less in their current school than White teachers — 7.3 years for Latinx teachers vs. 8.5 years on average for White teachers. We must establish systems to retain, support, and elevate diverse educators in schools, including pathways to school leadership; and value the assets in our communities, including community-based leaders, educators of color, and local civil rights leaders, to design high-quality training programs for educators, such as anti-bias training, as well as curricula that increase the cultural responsiveness of education.
Finally, we must build on the work the City Council has done to make data available on teacher diversity, to facilitate focus and transparency. We must hold ourselves accountable for progress through more accessible, actionable data on educator diversity at every level, including data on how educators of color experience the workplace. We should make public longitudinal data on demographics and rates of turnover at the school, district, and borough level.
Promote and provide leadership for integration and inclusion across the system
In order to effectively reflect our city’s diversity across our student bodies, curricula, teaching staff, and administrators, in both vision and action, we must stop relying solely on targeted integration and inclusion initiatives and apply a rigorous standard of equity and inclusion to all decisions the city makes. The city should establish a School Diversity and Integration Office within the Department of Education focused on developing, supporting, and implementing a comprehensive integration approach, with public goals and accountability. To better understand where we are and track progress in a public and accountable way, we must add diversity, integration, and inclusion metrics to school quality reports issued annually by the Department of Education and create a new publicly available equity report card for the city and each community school district, empowering families and advocates to hold the system accountable and identify potential gaps in our efforts. This should include equity and opportunity factors such as clear per-pupil funding information, progress towards integration and inclusion goals for all students, and curricular rigor, cultural responsiveness, and alignment of teaching and learning.
Expand the number of seats in high-performing, integrated schools and support community-driven integration plans
An early effort would be to expand the number of seats for students in intentionally diverse, inclusive, and high-quality schools. We will achieve this by replicating popular, successful schools that meet the bar for diversity, supporting the creation of new schools that are strategically placed and designed to attract a diverse population of students in ways that do not further segregate other surrounding schools. Families must play a major role in the establishment of new schools in areas with current or projected rapid population change. The city should engage equally with communities that have lived in those areas for years as well as families new to the area, in terms of school location and school programming, and work to develop schools that have a diverse population without further segregating nearby schools.
The most successful integration efforts in NYC have been driven by and with community members. And yet, many districts’ integration plans were interrupted by the pandemic, and many more have not been supported to succeed. The city should invest in getting community-level plans back on track and fund additional community integration planning with the goal of making the incoming elementary, middle, and high school classes across all NYC districts representative of their districts’ populations by 2025. Community integration processes must engage all families in communities, including those who the system has historically underserved.
Rethink school admissions policies
While residential housing patterns substantially contribute to segregation, the assignment and screening practices of NYC’s elementary, middle, and high schools exacerbate the challenges. We must rethink school admissions policies at all levels, starting by making permanent each of the changes the current administration has proposed, but also going further to put in place affirmative policies.
At the middle school level, we would make permanent the current administration’s temporary elimination of screens, but eliminating screens is just a first step — an open lottery alone will not lead to more diverse schools without intentional efforts to integrate middle schools.We would also work hand in hand with communities to put in place affirmative, pro-equity, district-wide policies at the middle school level like the weighted lottery approach already yielding positive results in District 15. A weighted lottery model can promote more representative distributions of students from low-income households, multilingual learners, students in temporary housing, and/or students with disabilities in all the schools in a district. In addition, as with high school enrollment, we would encourage districts to ensure middle school enrollment is not limited by residential segregation by limiting seats reserved for students within zones, and opening up more seats for other students in the district and/or from historically underrepresented groups in neighboring districts through a weighted lottery.
At the high school level, we support and will ensure that the elimination of geographic priorities recently announced by the de Blasio administration are continued. But that is not enough to tackle the systemic segregation of our high schools. We will work to reform and improve the high school admissions system so that entrance criteria are fair and transparent and include specific mechanisms, such as weighted lotteries, to ensure all high schools, and especially our highest performing high schools, are more representative of students from all demographic groups. This will include examining screens, academic and otherwise, to revise the ones that have discriminatory impact on low-income students, students of color, multilingual learners, and students in temporary housing; utilizing weighted lotteries or other approaches that provide additional weight in admissions for students from low-income households, multilingual learners, students in temporary housing, and/or students with disabilities; ensuring more transparency and uniformity in the use of academic screens, where they exist, so families do not have to sift through a confusing hodgepodge of individualized rubrics for every high school they are interested in; and reviewing admissions policies to make sure multilingual learners are given proper supports and accommodations on admissions tests and auditions so that language is not a barrier to admissions to high school.
Going beyond demographic diversity to inclusion for new and expanding diverse schools
Changing admissions policies is only one step in developing truly integrated schools. In addition, we must ensure newly diverse schools are able to support all students’ success, and ensure students’ multiple identities are respected, reflected, and fostered in the school community; and support educators to further develop their teaching practices to support the goal of an inclusive and affirming school environment for all students. We will do this by creating communities of practice for diverse schools to share best practices, problem solve, and develop new approaches to meet the academic, social, and community needs of their diverse student body, learning from those educators who have been leading in this work for years. Diversifying the educator workforce, as described above, will also be a critical step.
Finally, we must ensure segregation isn’t recreated at the classroom level. Across our schools, we have examples of within-school segregation — the student body might be diverse, but advanced courses or other opportunities continue to be provided disproportionately to White students.
B is for Bilingual: Tap into and celebrate NYC’s linguistic and cultural diversity
In an increasingly interconnected world and diverse city, bilingualism is one of the most valuable skills a person can have — and yet we don’t do nearly enough to cultivate this or leverage the fact that over 40% of students speak one of over 150 languages other than English at home. As such, we must invest in increasing the number of high-quality bilingual programs city-wide with a focus on equitable access so that programs reflect the racial, socio-economic, disability, and linguistic diversity of the city. This includes opening 450 new bilingual programs over four years in elementary, middle, and high schools, to ensure that an additional 28,000 students are served in those programs, raising the number of multilinguals served in bilingual education to over 30% as well as expanding world language courses and opportunities for monolingual English-speakers. Community engagement in designing and placing new programs is crucial, as programs should provide opportunities for developing the languages that students speak as well as those that families want their children to learn.
Expanding the number of bilingual programs requires new pathways to identify and train bilingual students interested in teaching, including ensuring more students can earn the NYS Seal of Biliteracy on their diplomas and early exposure to teaching programs for high school and college students to prepare to teach in their communities; and pathways for other educators, like paraprofessionals, to teaching (more on this above). The development of rigorous standards for instruction is needed from elementary to high school to ensure that all programs are well-staffed and of high-quality.
Utilize high-quality, culturally responsive materials, curated and developed by NYC’s best educators
NYC students and educators deserve to be learning and teaching from the best materials: high-quality, rigorous, standards-aligned and culturally responsive. Asset-based, culturally responsive learning means drawing upon the scholarship and traditions of diverse communities, in collaboration with a panel of our best educators, to curate these curricula and corresponding instructional materials, provide them to all educators, and make it as easy as possible for them to be used and used well. We will partner with local assets such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, and partner with — and pay — our best teachers in order to accelerate the development of instructional materials. Materials should be provided in physical and digital form, with aligned professional development, to any schools and educators interested in using them.
Reimagine Pathways from Birth through Post-secondary that Open Doors to Economic Opportunity
Our siloed K-12 system is a relic of the past. The educational and economic inequities that COVID has exacerbated require that we create coherent pathways to opportunity, beginning in early childhood and continuing through high school and beyond to set all students on a pathway to economic opportunity. We must build on the success of Universal Pre-K, ensure students achieve early literacy, support secondary students as they choose and prepare for their next steps, and partner with CUNY in high school and beyond to ensure students are on pathways to family-sustaining jobs.
To get there, we are committing to the following policies and programs:
High-quality early childhood education is central to building a strong foundation for students’ futures and to enabling our economy to recover and thrive after the pandemic. New York City has made substantial progress in access to Pre-K, but with childcare deserts, under-valued staff, and the childcare sector among those hardest hit by pandemic-induced closures, we are far from meeting all families’ needs. This is a national problem that will take action from the federal government and states, and we will advocate strongly at both levels for additional resources for providers and families. But our city can do more to serve families better.
We must begin by strengthening coordination across the Department of Education, Department of Health, and community-based organizations to identify the most critical geographic gaps in 3K and Pre-K programs, and to better match family needs to specific program offerings. Placement decisions between CBO or DOE-run 3K/Pre-K programs do not consistently fully consider which programs best meet a family’s needs — for example, for extended day and year coverage. Improved outreach to immigrant, multi-lingual, and other low-income families is needed to better support them through the application process, including through CBOs with pre-existing connections to these families. This is particularly challenging for families of children with disabilities, as they navigate multiple city agencies through the transitions from Early Intervention to 3K and Pre-K, and for whom there are too few high-quality options in these critical early years. Finally, conflicting Department of Health and Department of Education rules can cause confusion within community-based organizations, impacting their ability to focus on providing care and education.
Early childhood classrooms are among the most segregated educational spaces in the city and country, due to a mix of residential segregation, family preference, and the fragmented early education landscape, with its mix of longstanding, targeted public programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start, newer universal and targeted programs, and private programs that are frequently unaffordable for working families. The city should work with DOE and CBO child care provider centers to find creative ways to encourage more integration of programs and classrooms through subsidies and technical assistance to providers to blend public (Head Start, state, city) and private funding sources.
To allow more early childhood leaders to focus on quality, city technical assistance could be provided to lower administrative burdens and improve center financial sustainability so that center directors and educators can focus on serving children. For example, we could follow the example of cities like Richmond, VA in establishing shared services organizations that provide administrative and other professional support to networks of smaller centers. These organizations would handle non-instructional operations, enrollment management, and grant and contract acquisition and compliance while allowing center heads and staff to spend more time focusing on teaching and supporting children’s development.
Finally, we must invest in our early childhood workforce through new pathways, increased salaries and training efforts. Early childhood workers are predominantly women of color; and as we have seen throughout the pandemic, they are both critical to our city’s economy and systematically undervalued by the system. We can learn from Children’s Aid, which recruits parents to volunteer on center committees, and offers tuition assistance and guidance to support them in becoming substitute staff, teaching assistants, and eventually teachers and even center heads. Another model is the CUNY Early Childhood Workforce Scholarship, which offers financial assistance for pursuing higher education to employees of licensed early childhood programs in New York City who work at least 20 hours per week. Meanwhile, CUNY’s Early Childhood Professional Development Institute is working with New York State’s New York Works for Children initiative to revise a career ladder for early childhood educators including their required skills, credentials, responsibilities, and salary ranges, offering a potential framework for improved quality and equity across all ECE providers.
NYC Reads: Ensure Early Literacy
Literacy is a critical gateway skill; but even before the pandemic, the system was not bringing every student up to grade level, with massive disparities by race, socioeconomic status, disability, and multilingual status. In 2019, roughly half of NYC’s 3rd grade students were on grade level on their language Arts assessments, with an over 27 percentage point achievement gap between Black and Latinx students and their White peers. The disrupted and lost learning time caused by COVID is likely to leave more of our most vulnerable students further behind. In elementary schools, we should focus on supporting research-based, culturally responsive literacy instruction, curated or developed by NYC teachers and grounded in the science of reading, including ensuring students and educators have access to high-quality instructional materials and providing professional development for all PK-3 educators, including special education, English as a New Language and Bilingual teachers. We should also build on the current administration’s Universal Literacy Initiative by maintaining and expanding school-embedded early literacy coaches to support classroom educators.
In secondary schools, we must provide targeted professional development to equip teachers with the tools to deliver evidence-based specialized instruction aimed at helping diverse groups of students like those with disabilities, students with interrupted formal education, and students who were never properly taught to read. Acknowledging that the literacy gap is likely widening due to the pandemic, we must commit to providing targeted acceleration support for secondary school students whose literacy skills have fallen further behind.
Pathways to postsecondary opportunities and careers, including one paid, relevant career experience during high school
A high school diploma increasingly is insufficient to secure a good job and a choice-filled future; most growth in good jobs is in jobs that require a postsecondary degree or training. It’s critical to shift our city’s paradigm from viewing high school graduation as an endpoint, to high school graduation as a milestone leading to future education and training opportunities.
Conversations with students suggest that in high schools that serve higher-income communities, this shift is already well underway. These schools frame graduation as a necessary but partial measure of success; students understand that they are on a path that extends beyond high school, and high schools provide opportunities to their students that help them figure out where they’re going. Students that attend high schools that serve lower-income communities, on the other hand, report a narrower focus on graduation, and opportunities for broader exposure that are targeted rather than universal.
Ensuring that every student has these opportunities embedded in the high school experience, and intentionally supported by their school, sits at the center of our agenda for high school. NYC should guarantee at least one paid job, apprenticeship, or internship opportunity that connects to a meaningful career pathway to every high school student by 2026, expand opportunities for early career exploration and more intensive opportunities like internships and apprenticeships generally, working with employers, and ensure at least 60% of students are able to obtain college credit while in high school, with a focus on expanding opportunities for historically underserved populations and neighborhoods. These opportunities can help students identify and develop their interests while increasing the relevance of high school.
But the city can’t do this alone. We must establish and empower an intermediary to partner with the DOE, CUNY, workforce programs and employers, and students and families to identify and expand existing high-quality programs; identify high-growth sectors and work with programs and employers to provide new opportunities in those areas; and align program participation and outcomes with a common framework such as the existing Center for Youth Employment’s CareerReady Framework. And we must partner with employers across high growth sectors and pool public and private funding to dramatically increase these paid, relevant internships, apprenticeships and other meaningful career experiences at the secondary and postsecondary level. There are a number of model programs in NYC, such as the Brooklyn STEAM Center, that already offer training, mentorship, and employment opportunities for high school and college students. But these programs must be expanded to ensure more students can benefit.
A key strategy is doubling the size of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) over the next five years from 75,000 to 150,000 participants per year, focusing on neighborhoods and student groups who have been historically underrepresented. In addition to providing job skills and much needed financial support, research shows the program improves school attendance and performance and reduces incarceration and mortality rates; these benefits increase with additional participation in the program.
In addition, by 2026, 60% of NYC high school graduates should earn college credit while in high school. Students who begin post-secondary studies in high school are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and complete their college degrees on time. These expansions must prioritize students of color, low-income students and other historically underserved populations, achieving equitable access to these opportunities. Doubling enrollment in CUNY’s College Now program, the nation’s largest dual enrollment program currently serving 22,000 New York City high school students each year and engaging 17 CUNY campuses, should be central to expanding opportunity. In addition, we would add 15 new schools to the 20 existing early college high schools, locating them across the city in areas of highest need, especially in community school districts where there isn’t already an early college high school.
Starting high school strong has repeatedly been identified as a key indicator of student graduation, successful transition to postsecondary pathways, and postsecondary success. From the start, each ninth grader should have a high school graduation plan with their initial post-secondary aspirations. Underlying these plans must be a clear understanding of the knowledge, skills, and experiences required for different post-secondary education or training pathways, which will take deeper partnership between the DOE, CUNY, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and employers. These plans help students and families understand how their high school course choices, extracurriculars, and career exploration can open doors to different pathways; and families also can get financial planning help that illuminates post-secondary education costs and opportunities for financial aid.
Leverage CUNY as an engine of economic opportunity
Just as after the Great Depression, CUNY is going to be critical to the city’s rebuilding. The most reliable path to the middle class remains a college degree, especially a four-year bachelor’s; most family-sustaining jobs and good job growth are in sectors that require some post-secondary education, such as technology, business, health care, and environmental sustainability. The CUNY system is a jewel that has rightfully received national recognition for its groundbreaking work improving completion rates, serves a diverse set of New Yorkers of all ages, and is a proven engine of economic opportunity.
And yet, in 2018-19, just 25% of first-time full-time students entering CUNY’s community colleges completed a two-year associate’s degree within three years; and only 52% of those entering CUNY’s four-year bachelors’ programs graduated in six years. There is work to be done to scale CUNY’s effective programs, improve completion rates, and set students up for career success, working closely with the P-12 system to power students toward their career aspirations, and with employers to ensure they are prepared for and placed in family-sustaining jobs. Degree completion at CUNY’s community and senior colleges should be accelerated by expanding proven student success programs like co-requisite remediation (allowing students to earn college credit while catching up on key skills that previously would have delayed college enrollment), ASAP (comprehensive advising, financial, and social supports for community college students), and ACE (the 4-year adaptation of ASAP), and extending the lessons to part-time and adult students. CUNY’s most successful completion efforts have been for full-time students; but CUNY’s 78,783 part-time students (33% of total enrollment) are much less likely to complete a degree and are disproportionately older and students of color. Even in tough budget times, the city and state should invest in scaling-up these programs with a proven track record to dramatically reduce equity gaps in degree attainment between student groups.
CUNY has seen enrollment declines, increased rates of course withdrawal, and other signs that the pandemic is slowing students’ progress to degrees. Several sources show this is part of a broader trend for low-income students and students of color to cancel or delay their plans for higher education, especially in community colleges. We should work with philanthropy, employers, and CUNY to reach out to students who stopped out or delayed enrollment in CUNY during the pandemic, especially community college students, and encourage them to restart their educational plans, based on lessons learned from previous efforts. Continuing College Bridge programs that were philanthropically funded during COVID could reduce “summer melt” before rising first-year students matriculate.
Finally, as at the high school level, the city is in the position to help CUNY build out stronger career exploration and opportunities to put students on a path to a family-sustaining career. College students with internships and entry-level job opportunities are better prepared for the workforce and likely to find employment after graduation, aligned with the high school work and through the same intermediary. College-level model internship programs that could be expanded include CUNY Service Corps and the TechTalent Pipeline. The recently announced CEO Jobs Council promises new training and job opportunities. In addition, a new CUNY Learning Center for 21st Century Skills could bring together students including adult learners, professors, and employers with talent needs to create opportunities for applied learning through micro-internships, capstones, skill badging programs, and consulting projects, all in high growth fields where NYC needs more skilled employees. The Center’s efforts could be supplemented with the wealth of professional experience among the city’s retirees. The city should establish a program that enlists retired professionals to mentor high school and college students, providing guidance on entering high-demand, stable job sectors.
Invest in NYC Libraries as Neighborhood Learning Assets
With 214 libraries across New York City, there is a library building in every neighborhood. Moreover, they provide a deep and rich set of needed services for New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds, but they do not all provide the same benefits to their surrounding area. Opening all libraries, in all neighborhoods, seven days a week will allow libraries to serve as catalysts for social and economic infrastructure within our communities for New Yorkers of all ages, and, in particular, provide greater access for early learning, digital learning, workforce development, and emergency preparedness training.
We must begin by supporting libraries in NYCHA communities, immigrant neighborhoods, communities of color, and other historically underserved areas and establish strong neighborhood partnerships, to ensure they have the capacity to respond to community priorities. This could involve partnering with community leadership to identify priority services to invest in, aligning open hours to community needs, or expanding online programs for extended usage. Libraries could also be supported to join forces with local schools and non-profit organizations to share resources and expand impact, following models like MyLibraryNYC, which allows teachers to access library books for classes instead of relying solely on in-school libraries, or the Flushing Library’s participation in the Flushing Mobility Project, a consortium of neighborhood non-profits pooling services to fight poverty.
Libraries can play a leadership role in developing and resourcing culturally responsive learning materials and opportunities to support schools and communities, but must be supported to work with the DOE on this. Exemplary libraries such as the Schomburg Center and the Flushing Library build local, national, and international cultural resources, rooted in NYC’s diverse population; local NYC educators and students should be benefiting.
We will expand all libraries’ capacities as resources for early and family learning, such as the national Family Learning Place and the Queens Public Library Kick off to Kindergarten models, and complement this role with centralized information on other neighborhood family and children’s support services that are proven contributors to healthy starts.
Libraries can also serve as engines for economic and infrastructural development through innovative revenue and partnership models. One model to consider could include reserving library space for commercial use as long as it doesn’t intrude on libraries’ community building and educational functions. Housing city agency offices in libraries would also provide additional revenue to libraries while providing centralized hubs for accessing government services like those provided by the Department of the Aging and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.