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Ideas to Keep New York the Capital of the Middle Class
The pillars of middle class life are under duress, and the strain starts in our schools. New York City spends nearly 20% of its budget on education, but only onefifth of our students graduate ready for college, and that number is even lower for many students of color. The City can — and must — provide an excellent education for all of our kids. Our system is about to go through some big changes. New leadership, the new Common Core State Standards and, of course, an influx of new kids. With these challenges come opportunities to finally transform our schools to be ready to send another generation of kids to the middle class and beyond.
Ease the Path for Scientists and Computer Geniuses into Teaching. The model of training teachers through the old path of teacher colleges and education training has served us well. But it needs to evolve as our teachers’ needs have changed. Now we need to try to attract practitioners in the most demanding fields by opening of doors to citizens who might lack an education background but have outstanding technical skills.
Expand Mayoral Control of Our Schools. Despite the notion that we have mayoral control of our schools, when New York City decides to change many elements of education policy, we must still first seek permission from Albany. Whether you love charter schools or loathe them, we can all agree that the decision on how many there are should rest with the citizens of New York City and its elected officials. Mayoral control — such that it is — is due to sunset in 2015. Let’s make this the last time we ask for permission to govern our schools. Get Albany out of our way.
Grow CUNY Prep. A collaboration of the Mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity and The City University of New York, CUNY Prep is a non-profit that helps high school dropouts in the Bronx earn their high school equivalency diploma and enter college. CUNY Prep’s 200 grads a year face serious obstacles: a number have children themselves, are homeless, or must support their parents. With too many of our kids not graduating high school, let’s expand this program to the other boroughs so that more of our kids leave the system with a diploma in hand.
Add Financial Literacy Classes for High School Students. New Yorkers carry an average credit card debt of nearly $6,000, an albatross around the neck of both consumers and the economy. On top of that, our foreclosure rate is the third-highest in the nation. Just like when Home Economics was part of the school curriculum, we need to bring essential financial literacy skills into schools. We should require high school students take a onesemester course devoted to personal finance. Learning about the implications of debt, risk and reward, and the importance of savings will teach our kids financial independence.
Promote Multilingualism in City Schools. 60% of our kids come from bilingual households, yet we evaluate success based on how quickly they become fluent in English. In fact, we see non-English speakers as something to be righted (our English Language Learners Division is actually combined with our Special Needs Department). It’s time to shift our thinking. Imagine graduating a generation of multilingual college and career-ready kids. We should also use this rich language base to teach kids to tutor each other in their native tongue. We can engage parents in these programs too, as many of them cannot read with their kids or help with homework.
Launch a Common Core ‘Boot Camp.’ This fall marks the introduction of the Common Core State Standards in our schools. In August, city teachers will undergo a very short training session on the implementation of what will be a transformational change in our class-
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Ideas to Keep New York the Capital of the Middle Class roles like fundraising, translating written/verbal communications for one another, and supplementing lessons in the classroom in their area of expertise. We’ve met success with the groundbreaking Harlem Children’s Zone and a recent pilot by the UFT. Let’s continue to bring parents into the fold by turning our poorest-performing schools into hubs by next fall.
rooms. This clearly calls for far more teacher input and training. How can we expect our teachers to overhaul their strategies in a few hours? Instead, we should develop a Common Core Boot Camp in which experienced teachers mentor younger educators in an intensive summer seminar and then on an ongoing basis throughout the school year — perhaps two hours per week all year long. By using the latest in technology and innovative education methods, we can give teachers the necessary support, while they receive feedback from respected peers. Let’s have a teacher training system that reflects the importance of our children’s education.
Stop the Summer Slippage. For too many students, the summer months represent a disruptive break in the learning cycle. But emerging technologies can lead to creative ways of getting kids to learn outside the classroom in the summer months. Kids should be able to earn credits for hitting digitally-tracked education goals. They could use these credits for theater and baseball tickets and students can have their progress certified and tracked by an app on their smartphones.
Give Teachers a Career Ladder. Salary and benefits are important motivators for all jobs. But if we want teachers to make a career of their challenging and vital profession then we need to listen to what teachers say they want — a career ladder. By getting more professional development, more experience, and more great evaluations, we should let teacher move up in responsibility as they grow in the job and become master teachers, team leaders, or administrators.
Create ‘Union Skills’ Apprenticeship Programs. Part of having a nimble and adaptable workforce is preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow. But that means more than teaching nanotechnology and rocket science. For some students, learning to be an auto mechanic, a plumber, or a computer networker is a smart, viable choice and can also be a draw for some kids who might otherwise drop out. But often the best training facilities and instructors are not in the schools but at the local union hall. We should ask our trade unions to help us create the next generation of union laborers while helping our schools meet a growing demand for technical skills.
Aim Higher in Teacher Recruitment. In the highest-performing countries, 100% of teachers graduate in the top third of their class, whereas in America it’s 23%, and in many high-need schools, it’s just 14%. We need to hold our teachers in the highest esteem to attract top-tier talent. We need to lose the notion that our schools have to settle for lower-performing college students. We might need to pay more, but if we aim higher, we will elevate the whole school system.
Turn Schools into Community Hubs for Parents. In the decade between 2001 and 2011, the graduation rate for Cincinnati’s high schools climbed from 51% to 82% and the achievement gap between black and white students has been largely eliminated. How did this happen? Community and parent involvement. ‘Community Schools’ engage students, parents, and entire neighborhoods by providing public health programs, social services, parent programs, and after-school programming. These ‘hubs’ offer an outlet for parents to take on integral
Put Principals in the Classroom as Master Instructors. While it is a challenge to maintain tens of thousands of quality teachers in the city, we must also continue to attract the very best principals. Our principals should experience the classroom firsthand, and our kids should benefit from their talents with a ‘Principals as Master Instructors’ program. Create a School Business Manager Corps. With changing standards and an intense need to focus on instruction in the classroom and the professional development needs of our educators, each of our principals needs the support to run the business operations of their schools. We should provide funding for School Business Managers who can focus on these day-to-day operational needs, thus freeing up our principals to focus on academic instruction and staff support.