Will Mayor de Blasio’s new Academic Recovery Plan, funded with $635 million in federal Covid relief aid that is not slated to be repeated in future years, do much to improve education? We’ll see.
Certainly the mayor has tons of new numbers to throw around that make the plan sound impressive, maybe even allowing the city to do the “unprecedented things” de Blasio claims it will do to get kids caught up after their educations were stymied so terribly by the virus crisis.
The city will spend $49 million in literacy initiatives with the goal of getting all students to read at their expected level by second grade. About 140 teachers are to be hired and the number of “universal literacy reading coaches” is to rise to 500. Better hope the plans include a focus on phonics and that the kids live in homes where reading is valued and books are present. Those are the real answers.
A total of $251 million is to go toward special education services, with the promise of finally providing all that’s required by law for students with individualized education programs. After all these years, that’ll finally be done? And another 800 preschool special education seats will be made available by the fall of 2022? We’ll believe it when we see it.
There’s a lot more like this in the program, predicted numbers that are easy to throw out in a press release and a lot harder to live up to, just like de Blasio’s promises on prior educational initiatives such as his failed Renewal Schools plan — as well as traffic safety, housing the homeless, fixing NYCHA buildings and so much more.
We wonder if there’s anything in the Academic Recovery Plan that might address the fraudulent grade inflation we have no doubt is widespread in city schools. It took two years for the Department of Education to get around to removing Maspeth High School Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir after whistleblowers aided by City Councilman Bob Holden came forward to reveal the cheating he allowed and apparently encouraged there. There should be zero tolerance for cheating. It’s unfair to those schools and students who play by the rules and it teaches horrible life lessons to those who get grades and diplomas they don’t deserve. We back Holden’s call for a federal probe into the matter.
Meanwhile, there are schools where kids achieve the results that were faked at Maspeth the old-fashioned way: through hard work. Some of them are charter schools, which parents desperately want more of. Yet the state refuses to lift the nonsensical cap it has set on charters, in appeasement to the teachers unions, leaving more children stuck in failing public schools that either don’t get results no matter how much money de Blasio throws at them or maybe fake it under leaders like Abdul-Mutakabbir. The city spends about $28,000 per student each school year, the most of any large school district in the country, and still can’t get the same results in traditional schools that charters achieve routinely with far less money. Albany should erase its artificial cap.
Don’t forget that charters mostly benefit low-income students of color. In Southeast Queens’ District 29, activists and parents are looking to sue the city over how bad the schools are. If they had more charters as an option, fewer kids would suffer and the city might be forced to perform better.
Meanwhile all students, in districts good and bad, in schools honest and dishonest, will still be forced to wear masks in the fall. All the medical evidence out there says there’s no reason for that. The city should follow the science, adhere to the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and drop the mask mandate. Our students have enough to cope with as it is, and a lame-duck mayor’s latest pricey plans probably won’t be the answer they need.