New York City

De Blasio unveils plan for NYC’s troubled schools

November 4, 2014 By Jonathan Lemire Associated Press
Mayor de Blasio at City Hall. AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his plan to help some of New York City’s struggling public schools on Monday, pledging to lengthen school days, conduct more training for teachers and create more parental involvement.

De Blasio, in what aides billed as a significant education speech, announced that he is earmarking $150 million over the next two years for the effort to save 94 struggling schools. But de Blasio, who spent much of last year’s campaign criticizing his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s policy of closing failing schools, left the door open that he too would close schools if they failed to improve.

“We will move heaven and earth to help them succeed but we will not wait forever,” de Blasio said in an hour-long speech at a school in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. “Holding schools accountable is critical — because all of the reform plans in the world will make little difference if there are no consequences for failing.”

De Blasio said the schools that receive new funding would be allowed up to three years to try a variety of methods to show improvement — which could include dismissing teachers and the principal — before closing proceedings would commence. He stressed it would be a “last resort” and only a small piece of his plan for the school system, by far the nation’s largest with 1.1 million students.

The mayor, as he often does, framed much of the policy announcement within the context of his personal experiences. He repeatedly invoked his own children — he is the first mayor to hold office while having a child in public schools — and said he was drawing on the lessons he learned as a school parent while formulating his education decisions.

“Now is our time,” he said. “We get it. We’ve lived it. We understand it.”

The mayor also stressed that he wanted to reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and touted the creation of more Community Schools, which will also house services to help families.

The 94 schools will have an extra hour of classroom time a day, de Blasio said. There will also be other school-specific improvements, including an unspecified amount of teacher training and additional oversight from Department of Education officials.

Most of the $150 million would come from state aid already committed to the city through June 2016, according to mayoral aides. De Blasio said he planned to ask Albany for more funding during the next state budget session early in 2015.

The speech was praised by education advocates who felt Bloomberg’s Department of Education had a strict top-down management style with few chances for parental involvement.

“At long last, parents and educators are being treated as part of the solution, instead of part of the problem,” said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

Some other educators were less impressed, particularly those aligned with charter schools, who have a frosty relationship with de Blasio. Moreover, members of Bloomberg’s City Hall defended their decision to close schools in order to create new, smaller ones, pointing to higher test scores from those students.

“Those students have brighter futures today because we refused to tolerate failing schools,” said Dennis Walcott, who was one of Bloomberg’s schools chancellors. “And the teachers and principals at these small schools deserve enormous credit for their great work.”

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