In June of last year, a group of black parents in Queens formed the Students Improvement Association. They were furious that despite high per-student spending, their children were suffering in failing schools.
“There are a lot of black middle-class homeowners here,” said local activist Michael Duncan. “These are successful people, successful families. The results in our schools are not reflective of the community. Something is wrong here.”
The reaction of the de Blasio administration? Silence.
Their cry for help is heartbreaking, but it’s certainly not the only one. Across the city, parents are furious that classes are being dumbed down and that discipline is declining, all while officials care more about ideology than education. Faced with students who weren’t learning, the old administration threw out the standards. No grades, no tests, no choice. Good schools are insulted and bad ones ignored.
We are at an inflection point.
Mayor Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks have a chance to reverse the damage inflicted on our children, giving parents options for success, maintaining excellence and fixing broken schools. For this they need the help of Gov. Hochul and state legislators who are willing to put the needs of students ahead of those of the teachers union.
SOS: Save Our Schools.
The Legislature’s duty is clear, as is Hochul’s. Stand up for the children rather than hide behind talk of “consensus” when special interests profit so greatly from the status quo:
- Extend mayoral control of New York City’s schools. Indeed, make it permanent. It’s nice that Hochul has called for a four-year extension when Adams asked for only three, but why leave it as a political football at all?
- Lift the cap that prevents new city charter schools from opening. Charter enrollment is up 9% these last two years, and demand is only growing. Charters now teach an astounding 1 in 4 black New York City students, including 2 out of 5 in grades K-1. After decades of promises that public schools will improve, parents are voting with their feet. Albany cannot shut the door on African-American aspirations.
- Quash the bill to strip SUNY of its power to issue new charters. In the city, kids at SUNY-chartered schools vastly outperform their regular-public-school peers on state English and math exams. This legislation is nothing more than an effort to deny more children their access to a quality education.
- Start reining in the Board of Regents, which is continually undermining educational standards. At the very least, forbid it from again canceling the Regents exams, for decades the ultimate guarantee that New York state recognizes educational achievement.
- Issue a Parents’ Bill of Rights recognizing that families are the primary stakeholders in their children’s education.
The city’s own duty
Adams and Banks have their own work cut out for them as well. The mayor needs to stand up for charters, no matter how much it annoys the United Federation of Teachers.
- Open more selective high schools and high-standard middle schools. That’s the only way to fairly increase opportunity for all — not by trying to get rid of accelerated programs, but by having more of them.
- Create high-quality Gifted & Talented programs in all neighborhoods, with entry options far beyond a test of 4-year-olds — and add new years of G&T so that children who’ve benefited can continue to do so.
- Get a handle on school safety. That means junking the de Blasio “restorative justice” approach, which only emboldens bullies, and creating a citywide code of conduct and disciplinary code that isn’t a joke. And bolster, rather than reduce, the ranks of school safety agents.
- Some new high-quality schools should be trade schools: Abandon the idea that college is the only acceptable destination for a high-school graduate.
- Reverse the de Blasio-era policy of rejecting every possible charter-school request for space in existing public-school buildings. With enrollment declining in DOE schools, there’s zero excuse for this obstructionism.
- Fix special education, including the farce of a process that lets higher-income families get help for their kids while too many poorer parents get lost in the bureaucracy. And turn special-ed funds into vouchers that parents can use at any school that meets their children’s needs.
- Reverse the growth of the central bureaucracy, and instead fund guidance counselors tasked with reaching out to families to keep kids on track.
Strive for excellence
We believe in public education. New York City managed to deliver for generations of immigrants, as well as for Americans with a past of racial oppression. But New Yorkers have lost faith in the DOE schools, and for good reason. Without a clear turnaround, the current not-so-slow exodus will accelerate.
It’s on Adams and Banks, with firm backing from Hochul, to put city schools back on track to ever-increasing excellence. If they don’t, parents will find alternatives, and New York public education in any meaningful sense will die.