Flush with billions of dollars in federal stimulus money plus a boost in state funding, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter have announced a new “Academic Recovery Plan” for New York City’s public school students.
At a press conference Thursday morning, the mayor and chancellor said the city will invest $635 million this year to help kids catch up from 16 months of pandemic learning. Initiatives range from extra help for students with disabilities to the creation of a new “culturally responsive” curriculum to be used across the system.
“This is a conversation that’s been going on for a long time,” de Blasio said. “About what we could do if we actually had the resources our kids deserved… This is a turning point moment.”
The mayor first announced plans to address a ‘Covid-19 achievement gap’ last December, and the city budget passed last week promised a huge infusion of cash to address ‘learning loss.’ But officials had not yet outlined how these initiatives would work.
Education advocates said the new programs announced Thursday sound promising, but still need to be fleshed out.
Kim Sweet, executive director of the nonprofit Advocates for Children, said, “We look forward to seeing the full plan, as the details matter. Every dollar is needed, and it’s important to ensure every dollar is spent wisely.”
The plan includes:
A Culturally Responsive Curriculum:
There is currently no citywide curriculum for the city’s public schools. De Blasio said that’s going to change: the city is dedicating $200 million to the creation of a new universal English Language Arts (ELA) and Math curriculum that better reflects students’ diverse cultures.
“Students are more engaged when they see themselves in their lessons and materials,” said Porter.
Educators, families, and students have been lobbying for “culturally responsive and sustaining education” for years. In 2019, a parent group called the Coalition for Education Justice reviewed 1,200 books used in city elementary schools and found only 17 percent were written by authors of color. This spring, thousands of parents called on the education department to make coursework more inclusive of Asian American experiences and contributions.
Revamping the K-12 curriculum could be a massive undertaking, and officials acknowledged it will take time, and following through will be up to the next mayor. But Porter said the education department would begin working with parents and educators now to develop the new materials, and de Blasio pledged a purchase of 9 million new books for classrooms this year.
“This is a huge win for parents and students across the city,” said Lucia Diaz, member of Make the Road New York and public school parent in Queens, “because we’re finally getting a curriculum centered on the history and voices of Black, brown, and immigrant communities. This major investment will help children like mine see themselves reflected in their learning and excel in the classroom.”
Officials said $250 million will be used to support special education students. Starting this fall, the city will make after-school and Saturday programs available to all students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The administration will also create 800 new preschool special education seats over the next year. “We know the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities,” said Porter.
The education department will invest an additional $122 million to ensure all students have working devices going into the new school year. That’s on top of the 500,000 tablets and chromebooks the city has distributed since schools went remote in March 2020. Plans also include training 5,000 teachers in computer science, and mandating a digital “capstone” project for all eighth graders.
The mayor and chancellor promised a $49 million “literacy blitz.” They said all students will be screened to assess their skills, and more literacy coaches will be dispatched to work with teachers to hone instruction in reading. De Blasio said some schools will also use the funding to hire staff and reduce the student-teacher ratio in certain classrooms. The plan falls far short of some advocates’ calls to use stimulus funds to reduce all classes.
Officials said they will spend $10 million to expand free, after-school college counseling for all 11th and 12th graders, and beef up assistance on financial aid applications. The city will also debut new remote Advanced Placement classes and restore funding for a program that allows high school students to take classes at CUNY.
Porter sent a letter to families of parents, outlining the initiatives.
“I want to share how excited I am for our homecoming this fall,” Porter said on Thursday, referring to September 13th, the first day of the 2021-2022 school year. “I’m excited to ensure every student is welcomed into an affirming, supportive and rigorous learning environment where they seem themselves in the curriculum, where we honor the voices of our students and families. I’m more excited than I have ever been in my two decades of education for our most important first day of school.”