As soon as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his $635 million dollar Academic Recovery Plan, focusing on early literacy, increasing digital access, college and career counseling, bolstering special education programs, building a new universal curriculum and expanding emotional support, supporters and detractors leapt in with follow-up questions. This isn’t surprising as, like most of Hizzoner’s initiatives, the announcement was high on back-patting and posturing, low on details.
The question few asked, however, was how much input would the current Mayor really have on where and how the money was spent? Bill de Blasio will be out of office on January 1, 2022. That’s barely enough time to appoint a committee to vote on a task force to hire consultants to consider changes to bring to voters to solicit feedback on!
Federal stimulus dollars are scheduled to roll in over the next three years. That means the bulk of the funds will be administered by incoming Mayor Eric Adams. (Pause here to pretend November mayoral elections mean anything in NYC, rather than the June Democratic primaries.)
And all incoming mayors have their pet projects, educational and otherwise. With De Blasio it was Universal Pre-Kindergarten, which he dove into implementing immediately. (He also cared very, very much about school diversity, which, to him, meant getting rid of middle school screens, the Specialized High School Admissions Test, and elementary school Gifted & Talented programs. Except, those things, he didn’t bother seriously addressing — as in details, not platitudes — until the final year of his final term. And, even then, in the most non-committal manner possible.)
Which is why, this week, we’ll be focusing on education issues near and dear to Eric Adams’ heart — and what he might do about them, as voiced by those who will be most affected by his policies.
Universal Dyslexia Screening
At several points during the Mayoral debates, Adams spoke about his own learning issues and the erroneous belief instilled in him by teachers that he couldn’t learn. He is determined that will never happen to another child on his watch.
Debbie Meyer, an A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholar at Columbia University tells NYST:
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Democratic Mayoral Nominee Eric Adams about the literacy crisis and the dyslexia to prison pipeline. I’m delighted that he wants to mandate screening for dyslexia for all students. But we need to go a few steps further. First, will this be a survey screening for risk with family history? Will it include measures of phonemic and phonological awareness? Will it be an app, like Early Bird https://earlybirdeducation.com/? Will teachers be trained how to notice reading difficulties with the many assessments available and will school psychologists be trained to evaluate a student more fully?
More importantly, will the results of the screeners drive instruction? Teachers need to understand how to teach reading – giving up models that either exclude phonemic awareness and phonics in the early grades or include them in a far too incidental manner rather than in systematic ways that can be supported by decodable passages and books. And of course, we need to also support students who aren’t dyslexic, but currently struggle to learn to read because of the lack of teacher preparation.
Let’s also mandate that all K-2 teachers and all special ed teachers K-12 be trained in structured literacy and let’s stop funding literacy instruction that only supports one-third of our students. If NYS won’t mandate evidence-based literacy instruction in teacher licensing and teaching college accreditation, let’s do it locally. With good instruction, 95% of kids can learn to read.
Also during the debates, candidates behind Adams in the polls repeatedly brought up his support for charter schools.
James Merriman, CEO of the NYC Charter School Center is looking forward to working with Adams because:
An Adams administration would understand that this is a big city and that families have students with diverse needs and wants and need a diverse set of schools to serve them. The Borough President has always put parents and students first, not ideology and politics. You won’t hear Eric Adams talk in terms of pro or against charter schools because he’s supportive not of particular structures or bureaucracies but of schools that work. As such, I think it is clear that charter school educators, teachers, parents and students, and their counterparts in the district, would have a lot of good things to look forward to if he takes office.
As noted above, Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly registered his opposition to any sort of school screening process.
PLACE NYC, an advocacy organization which endorsed Adams during the primary, did so because:
Borough President Adams listens to voices across all NYC communities. His policy proposals reflect engagement with the often excluded voices of public school parents, including parent leaders who advocate for expanding quality rigorous education to all schools, and those of our immigrant communities. Eric Adams is committed to improving the educational outcomes of all NYC students.
Adams unequivocally supports the use of the SHSAT as the sole unbiased admissions criteria for the existing specialized high schools and will create additional specialized high schools in each borough that would use multiple criteria for admissions creating even more opportunity for NYC public school students.
In 2017, in partnership with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Adams formed a task force to review and make recommendations to expand and improve access to Gifted & Talented education. The Borough Presidents also called for free or low-cost SHSAT test prep.
PLACE NYC agrees with Adams that to address disparities in academic outcomes, educators must focus on the early years of child development by providing proper nutrition, universal screening for learning support needs like dyslexia, and free or low cost childcare for low income families so each child has the supports to achieve academic and life success starting at elementary school. Adams promises greater accountability and financial governance to reduce costs and increase efficiency so valuable funds can be repurposed for critical investments in education and other areas.
Mayor de Blasio will be out of office before the next crop of students enters NYC schools in September 2022. However, on Thursday, July 15, he announced that, before he moves on, he will implement “a brand new (Gifted & Talented) system. That new system will reach a lot more people, a lot more kids in a very different way, and that is being perfected now, and we’ll be announcing in September. But what you’re going to see is not yesterday’s Gifted and Talented. That’s gone. I said that last year, that’s gone forever. Something very, very different is coming to replace it.”
Remember when, last year, he also promised, “We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age. We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths… We will develop new plans for identifying and serving exceptional students and release them for the next enrollment cycle.”
Well, forget it. He’s so sure you’re going to absolutely love this new system he’s about to roll out that he doesn’t need to bother with “engaging communities.” He’s just going to unveil it, then step back and wait for the huzzahs to start rolling in.
We’ll be discussing all the possibilities of what that might mean for your children, next week!