Education Justice for All
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust New York City's public schools into a crisis that nobody could have foreseen, but the truth is that the city's schools have been in a crisis for decades. Our schools are among the most segregated in the nation and require a convoluted approach to standardized testing that only favors the most privileged citizens. We have overcrowded classrooms that exacerbate inequality and disproportionately harm BIPOC students, while also placing undue burdens on teachers.
We also need to get our students back to their classrooms for in-person learning, but the safety of students, teachers and staff must be the city's top priority. The pandemic has once again shown the two different cities rich and working class New Yorkers experience, where richer neighborhoods with better schools have safer infrastructure–such as better ventilation systems—than less well off neighborhoods. Education inequality existed before the pandemic and it's our responsibility to rise to the challenge and ensure that students and teachers can return to school safely and comfortably no matter their neighborhood.
Our schools won't return to pre-COVID times overnight, and we need to acknowledge the academic and mental health impact of the last two school years in this transitory phase we are entering. Children have experienced the same pain and trauma of the past year that we adults have and we need to invest in a robust mental health support system, alongside academics to address the challenges all students have faced.
Brandon is the proud son of two union, public schoolteachers, and knows the challenges our city's schools face and the cynicism many parents have. Education reform efforts have been riddled with broken promises from politicians who backed down when confronted with tough decisions. But by bringing together parents, teachers, and students, Brandon is dedicated to ending our unequal education system once and for all so that the next generation of New Yorkers will have the brightest possible future.
Desegregate Our Schools
In 1954 the New York City Board of Education established a commission on integration. We knew then, as we know now, that "separate but equal" never means equal and that unless we commit to desegregating our school system we will have a two-tier education system for the haves and have nots.
- Eliminate high-stakes admission tests: Because of the pandemic, Mayor deBlasio announced the elimination of all admissions tests for New York's Middle Schools for at least one year. This is a good first step, but it needs to be made permanent and expanded to include the elimination of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).
New York relies on admission tests more than any other city in the country, and these tests have been proven to segregate schools along racial and economic lines. Parents shouldn't be forced to spend thousands of dollars on test prep and students shouldn't have to deal with the stress of a high-stakes test that determines their entire future.
- Remove standardized testing as a graduation requirement: Because of the pandemic, New York City is eliminating standardized testing as a graduation requirement for high school students. This should be made permanent. Focusing on standardized test leads to lower graduation rates for marginalized students, teaching to the test, and lower teacher retention. We should transition to performance based assessments for graduating students.
Rezone our school districts: The city needs to engage with local communities and parents to redraw our school district lines so that schools don't reinforce racial and economic segregation.This is incredibly important work, and a diverse student body has shown to have significant positive impacts on all students. If we truly do want to have a more equitable school system, we must not recreate segregation within it.
- Move to a lottery-based system: District 15 launched a pioneering plan in 2019 to desegregate its middle schools, using a lottery system for school selection, instead of traditional testing. The plan has shown positive results in integrating schools in the district, and it should be expanded citywide.
Support our Teachers
When politicians propose transformative education policies, teachers are often overlooked, but they're the linchpin in whether a student succeeds or not. More than 40% of New York teachers quit within their first five years on the job, which leads to staff shortages and unstable schools. Teachers are most effective after the five year mark, and we need to support our teachers to increase retention so that our students get the best education possible.
Increase teacher pay: The starting salary of a teacher in New York is less than $58,000, an unsustainable number in a city as expensive as ours. We will continue to have high teacher turnover unless we provide a stable start to their education careers.
Hire more teachers: In order to decrease classroom sizes, we need to have more teachers per student.
Create pipelines for teachers of color: New York City has the most diverse teacher body in the state, at 42%, yet it's still not enough in a city where BIPOC make up more than 80% of students. Students of color are more likely to excel in classrooms where they see themselves reflected in their teachers and the city should invest in programs to hire more teachers from local communities.
Classrooms, Not Cages
Last summer, students, parents, and teachers pushed to get cops out of our schools. We need to keep up this initiative so as to demilitarize our schools and end the school-to-prison pipeline
Get the NYPD out of our schools: Police in schools do not make students any safer, but instead perpetuates the racism in our criminal legal system inside our education system by disproportionately targeting BIPOC youth.
- Hire more social workers and counselors: Redirect the funding from school police officers to professionals trained in de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed curricula. Teachers should also receive this type of training.
- Implement restorative justice programs : End zero-tolerance discipline policies and change the culture of discipline form punitive to restorative. Students should be taught conflict resolution and learn responsible methods to cope and adjust their behavior. Teachers and staff should model this behavior and be trained in restorative programs, as well.
Fully Fund Our Schools
Our education system reflects and exacerbates inequity in New York City, and we need to increase funding to provide the best quality education experience. Students are receiving different models of education based on the wealth of their parents, with wealthier parents able to supplement their children's education in ways less well off parents can not. With a fully funded school system we can combat this inequity to make sure each student has the same opportunity, no matter their financial background.
Tax the rich to fund our schools: The city needs to work with the State Assembly and State Senate to raise revenue by taxing rich earners and asset-holders, corporations, and financial transactions
- Improve the fair student funding formula: The way in which the city allocates funding for schools, the fair student funding formula, is inefficient and needs to be improved. The state recently announced that it will finally pay the $4 billion it owes our schools under the court-mandated Foundation Aid formula. This is great news, and we need to ensure that it is directed to districts and schools with the needier students who are owed it by law.
Reallocate police funds: The NYPD receives more than $6 billion in funding each year. A portion of this should be invested in our education system instead.
Reduce class sizes: Overcrowded classrooms make it harder for teachers to do their job and makes it more difficult for students to learn. With increased and equitable funding, the city should make reducing class sizes a priority. New York City classes are 15% to 30% larger than classrooms in the rest of the state, and reducing class sizes has a ripple effect of improving graduation rates, closing the opportunity gap, improving student behavior, amongst numerous other benefits.
Fund free tutoring services: Every student should have the right to high quality, one-on-one tutoring. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez piloted a six-week volunteer tutoring program to help students from low-income families during the pandemic which helped at-risk students keep up with their wealthier classmates. Experts tell us that one-on-one tutoring helps children learn, and New York City schools guarantee students a right to a tutor.
Fully fund universal early childhood education: The city's universal pre-k program has been one of the bright spots in New York education. In 2017, the city began the early stages of 3-k for all, but it is currently limited to only a few districts. This program needs to be expanded and fully funded to give the youngest New Yorkers the best possible educational opportunities.
Expand after school programs: Students should have the opportunity to enrich the educational experience by accessing after school programs that offer chances to learn more about art, language, music, technology, and more. For elementary school students who are too young to stay at home alone, there should be free after-school programs in every school.
- Make CUNY free: For the first 129 years of existence of the City University of New York (CUNY), tuition was free like all public schools in the city, while still providing a world-class college education. We must provide free college to all New Yorkers who seek a college degree.
Support the Diverse Needs of Our Student Body
Every student is unique and not all approaches are universal. Our schools need to invest in methods that are specifically tailored to the different needs of all students.
Safe environment for LGBTQIA+ students: LGBTQIA+ students experience higher rates of violence, homelessness, and mental health issues. We need to increase funding for LGBTQIA+ services within the DOE and CUNY, and add more staff to address the needs of our students.
Increase support for English-Language Learners: English-Language Learners have a higher dropout rate than their classmates and are particularly impacted by classroom overcrowding. We need greater accommodations and more staff to help these students not slip through the cracks of our education system.
Increase support for special needs students: Special education resources are spread thin in New York, and special needs students sometimes travel long distances, even to other boroughs, to receive the education they require and deserve. We must ensure special education classes are more accessible and fully staffed.
Culturally responsive teaching: New York school should evaluate their curricula to ensure that it is as reflective as our student body. In addition to being more accurate, studies show that teaching students a more diverse history curriculum increases engagement and grades.