This is part of our One Issue Explainer series, where we break down where mayoral candidates stand on issues concerning New Yorkers. What do you want to hear about? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: One Issue Explainer)
Among the next mayor’s responsibilities, he or she will take charge of the country’s largest school system with nearly a million students and more than 1,800 schools.
New York City public schools were rocked by the pandemic, with dozens of Department of Education staffers dying of COVID-19, untold numbers of families affected by the pandemic financially and personally, and Mayor Bill de Blasio making often last-minute and confusing calls around closing schools, establishing remote-learning protocols, and then re-opening schools.
The ensuing months of remote learning, followed by delays and system-wide shutdowns as COVID-19 rates surged, underscore the immediate challenges facing the next mayor who will inherit a system still grappling with the pandemic, along with long-standing issues of equity, integration, and school safety.
Five of the eight Democratic candidates for mayor responded to our Gothamist / WNYC survey on schools.
Adams, who attended New York City public schools, says the way to safely reopen schools this fall will be “more testing, targeted monitoring, and an approach to potential closures that is based on pinpoint evaluation of school-specific transmission rates.” He would overhaul the remote-learning program to ensure “every child has reliable, quality access to the Wi-Fi and technology they need to connect as well as greater training and support for our educators.”
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Adams would expand summer school. To help students with disabilities access their services, Adams would audit them and develop individual programming, and establish a “real-time tracking system so we know when students with disabilities are not receiving their full education.”
Adams says he would desegregate NYC schools with “whole person” evaluations and limit geographic preferences and replace the current screening process to help students go to schools that best suit their abilities and needs. He supports maintaining the Specialized High School Admissions Test for the current schools with more funding for low-income kids to get test prep, and would build five new specialized schools—one in each borough—as well as funding more Gifted and Talented programs in low-income communities. Adams also would offer remote learning with specialized courses for students so that in-person classroom space can be used to help integrate particularly segregated schools.
Adams said he supports the more than 5,000 police officers stationed in the city’s schools and would give principals the authority to deploy school safety agents. He’d continue the work underway to integrate restorative-justice practices into schools’ disciplinary practices.
He would spend the influx of billions of dollars coming from the state and federal government to create the new specialized schools and training hubs, and make all new school construction fully accessible. Adams also pledged to expand the community schools model to more areas.
Donovan, who attended Dalton and sent his kids to private school as well, says the way to safely reopen public schools this fall is by bringing all stakeholders to the table to develop reopening plans.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Donovan would create an Education Recovery Corps staffed by CUNY students and graduates, for supplemental learning and social-emotional support. Donovan would also offer extended school days, summer programming and year-round schooling, and would address potential literacy gaps with “targeted acceleration support for secondary school students whose literacy skills have fallen further behind.” To help students with disabilities access their services, he would expand existing programs like ASD Nest and Horizon.
He also promised to invest in education technology to improve remote learning.
Donovan says he would desegregate NYC schools by increasing the number of seats in high-performing schools, and creating new classrooms based on successful integrated school models. His goal is to have all schools representative of their districts’ populations by 2025. He supports the elimination of the Gifted and Talented screening tests for four-year-olds, and would move back the age for G&T.
He favors repealing Hecht-Calandra, the state law that mandates the specialized high school admissions test at three of the competitive high schools that currently rely on a single standardized test for admissions. Donovan would also change the entrance criteria for the other specialized high schools that the city controls. He aims to improve outcomes at the nearly 400 other public high schools by guaranteeing every high school student at least one paid internship, apprenticeship or job.
Donovan would remove NYPD from public schools and reinvest in “Positivity, Prevention, Relationships, and Response (PPARR) Coordinators, trained in child development, de-escalation, and understanding how trauma and life experiences impact behavior, to create a positive learning environment.” He would erase “prison culture” from schools by eliminating metal detectors and on-campus arrests and handcuffing in most cases.
Donovan would spend the federal stimulus money on increasing English language and bilingual programs, and to hire more teachers with a goal of making the teaching pool 65% non-white and the administrative pool 70% people of color. He’d also hire 150 new social workers to work in schools that have large numbers of students in temporary housing.
Garcia, who attended New York City public schools as did her two children, says the way to safely reopen schools this fall is to “follow the science and latest CDC guidelines to ensure that we are protecting our kids and families and taking necessary precautions.” She noted she’s worked with labor unions which would be useful experience when working with the influential United Federation of Teachers union.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Garcia would aim for smaller class sizes, summer school, and hire more counselors and social workers as well as increase extracurriculars like arts and sports. She wants to provide mental-health support for all educators themselves as well as training them to address students’ needs. She’s proposing moving $130 million of Department of Education funding away from the administrative side and into classroom resources such as arts, music, and sports programs. She also wants to bring washers and dryers to the 140 public schools that serve a large number of homeless students.
Garcia says she would desegregate NYC schools by building new high schools in every borough for the top 10% of 8th graders. She supports maintaining the specialized high school process, calling the debate an issue that “pits parents against one another unnecessarily,” though she’s also proposing ending screens on a district-by-district basis. She’s also in favor of offering specialized online courses for high schoolers as a valuable benefit of virtual learning.
Garcia wants the more than 5,000 police officers stationed in the city’s schools to remain under the umbrella of the NYPD, noting that they are safety agents and not armed officers. She’d give principals the power to determine the number of officers at their school.
Garcia would spend the federal stimulus money and state funding to provide free childcare for working families.
Morales, who attended city public schools as did her two children, is a former public-school educator. She says the way to safely reopen schools this fall is to work in partnership with communities that were most affected by COVID-19 and “ensure any disruptions prioritize economic, health, and safety needs of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Morales pledges to invest in meeting immediate needs of housing, healthcare, food access, tech equity and community-based care. She said she would fund universal afterschool programs, enrichment and mentorship programs. She would improve interagency support for students with disabilities to be able to participate fully in programs and services.
Morales says she would desegregate NYC schools by fully eliminating all entrance screening tests which she called “racist and inequitable,” including the specialized high school admissions tests. She would implement zoning reform and open enrollment, and replace gifted and talented programs with schoolwide enrichment programs instead. She said her plan would “center the voices of Black, brown, and immigrant parents and students” in conversations about ending segregation in schools.
Morales would fully remove police from schools and shift the more than $400 million budget to fund more counselors, social workers, nurses, and mental-health professionals.
Morales would spend the billions of dollars coming from the state and federal government by investing in universal afterschool programs and creating robust services for students to address their academic and emotional needs. She said she’d also increase opportunities for youth employment and job-training programs.
Stringer, who attended NYC public schools and sends both his children to public schools, says the way to safely reopen schools this fall is to develop a contingency plan in coordination with public-health officials, teachers, principals, and parents that prioritizes education while ensuring safety.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Stringer would put two teachers in every K-5 classroom for more support and attention. He would expand successful special education programs like ASD NEST and Horizon and offer individualized support to students by deploying a centralized corps of specialized staff to schools lacking resources. He’d launch a tutoring corp to provide every student with group tutoring sessions during school, working with CUNY for staffing. He’d also triple the number of social workers in schools and place trauma-informed mental health professionals, at a ratio of 1 per 250 students.
Stringer says he would desegregate NYC schools by eliminating screens and entrance tests, including abolishing the specialized high schools admissions test. He would make the admissions system “fairer” by using 7th grade test scores and repeal Hecht-Calandra, and minimize screens at the rest of the school system. He proposes adjusting district boundaries or creating interdistrict plans to increase racial diversity. Stringer would also start Gifted and Talented programs later than kindergarten, broaden access and eventually eliminate the program altogether.
Stringer would shift the focus of safety agents in schools “to protecting school grounds rather than responding to student behavior.” He would triple the number of full-time mental health professionals at schools, with one social worker professional per 250 students or less. He would hire more behavioral specialists and restorative justice practitioners for students experiencing emotional or behavioral issues.
Stringer would spend the new state and federal government funding by putting two teachers in every elementary classroom, providing universal afterschool programming in K-8 schools, and staffing every school with full-time social workers. He said he would offer universal affordable childcare for all kids under three years old, and ensure every student has access to free high speed internet at home.
These candidates did not reply to the survey:
McGuire, who did not attend New York City public schools, has said the way to safely reopen schools this fall is through weekly testing of students, and twice-weekly testing of school staff, and using vacant commercial space or event spaces for alternative classrooms, according to his campaign website.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, McGuire supports reinstating “all end of year assessments, while limiting negative consequences for schools or students based on performance. State test results must then be reported back to teachers on an accelerated timeline, so they can use the information to guide instruction for the remainder of this year and beyond,” he said on his campaign website.
He would make summer school mandatory for all students as “an opportunity for schools to help students continue to regain skills and competencies lost during the last year,” his campaign said. He would add extended school hours and weekend instruction during the next school year for more assistance, Chalkbeat reported, including a “Catch Up Volunteer Corps” of retirees “who would tutor, teach and coach students.” McGuire also supports hiring more guidance counselors for a 1:150 student-to-counselor ratio and referrals for specialized care.
McGuire would keep specialized high schools in place but “expand criteria” for admissions: “I think the specialized high schools are one element on which we should focus. I would teach, though, to the child; I would not teach to the test. I think we need to expand criteria,” he said at the New York Jewish Agenda forum as reported by The City.
McGuire hasn’t taken a specific position on school safety agents but has supported “school-based conflict mediation for young people” and “mental health, homelessness and youth services specialists embedded at the precinct level in every community to proactively engage with at-risk community members.”
Wiley, who did not attend NYC public schools but sent her two children to public school for part of their education, has said on her campaign website the way to safely reopen schools this fall is to create a school governance system with “parent, student, community & advocacy representatives,” and would allocate $10 million to hire a full-time nurse in each school.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Wiley would “(a)llocate a minimum of $250 million dollars to hire 2500 new teachers to shrink class sizes.” She wants to expand the community-school model with more resources with a mental-health team at every school “that includes, at a minimum, a guidance counselor, a social worker and a psychologist at ratios recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists. Each school will also be assigned a team of academic specialists to provide targeted interventions to students in need.”
Wiley would desegregate NYC schools by ending high-stakes testing. “As certain tests are state mandated, a Wiley administration will work with the state to reform and dismantle the high-stakes testing machine as far as possible, including disassociating test scores from evaluating schools, principals and teachers,” her campaign said. She would “eliminate discriminatory admissions ‘screens’” for middle and high schools. Wiley was the co-chair of de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group.
Wiley would seek to “(r)emove the school safety role from NYPD and transform the role to one of supporting restorative justice and retrain school safety agents so they can effectively support students’ social-emotional and behavioral needs.” She would “re-allocate the $450 million NYPD budget for school policing to support the mental health and social-emotional needs of NYC’s students by funding student support teams and expanded mental health services through community schools.”
Yang, who did not attend NYC public school but sends one of his two children to a NYC public school, has said on his campaign website the way to safely reopen schools this fall is “to invest in PPE and other resources so teachers, families and school employees feel safe to open schools.” He has blamed the United Federation of Teachers union as “a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open,” he told Politico.
To help students regain lost ground from the disrupted school year, Yang wants to “dramatically expand the number of social workers and mental health providers in our schools, and expand school-based health centers,” Chalkbeat reported. He supports “bridge programming” or extra assistance for students after school and over the summer. He’s also in favor of “scaling up 3-K, so that families who need affordable childcare stay in the City.” Yang recently unveiled a proposal to offer $1,000 a year to each student “whose family income puts them at the poverty threshold, has an IEP, or who has been designated an English Language Learner.” The funding would be used to pay for additional educational resources like private speech therapy, after school programs, music or art lessons.
Yang is a supporter of the Gifted and Talented program for four-year-olds, saying in January that “We should face the reality that these programs, in many cases, are what is keeping many families in the city…I think getting rid of these programs without some kind of real replacement is making some people think that the city might not be right for them and their families.” He also favors widening the admissions criteria for the specialized high schools: “…I think if we do that we can actually get some of the families into these specialized high schools in a way that’s going to benefit them,” he told NY1 as reported by The City. He would build more specialized schools — at least two in each borough — with a “holistic admissions” policy that combines the admissions tests with grades, interviews and essays.
Yang’s campaign said he’d develop a plan for school safety in concert with law enforcement, teachers and administrators, and school safety experts. He would ensure NYPD officers are prohibited from handcuffing students in emotional distress, train teachers in “trauma-informed educational approaches” and place a mental-health professional in every school.