Fact-checking Bloomberg's education campaign promises

Remember how, in 2001, when he was first running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg vowed to require all public school students to wear uniforms, to bring in private companies to take over long-failing schools, and to re-evaluate tenured teachers every two years?

These are among the fun facts included in a self-evaluation Bloomberg released today, running through all the promises he made in his 2001 and 2005 campaigns, and reporting that he’s followed through with most of them (97% in 2005, the report says).

The list of education promises Bloomberg terms stick-a-fork-in-it “Done” (as opposed to those he “reconsidered”) includes many that did obviously happen, but it also includes claims that could inspire challenge. Four promises that caught my eye:

  • Improve access to selective schools for students in under-served communities. (2005 campaign promise) The mayor’s report notes that the city now offers summer workshops for parents to encourage them to consider having their children take the entrance exam for selective high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. The city has also offered summer test-prep institutes for low-income students. Still, The New York Times reported last year that proportionately fewer racial minorities were taking the admissions exam, and a lower percentage were passing. There was little change when the paper reexamined the figures this year. Gifted and talented programs for primary school students, meanwhile, have also gotten less racially diverse under Bloomberg’s watch, The Times reported.
  • Give teachers more control over how they teach. (2001 promise) The report explains that this “done” stems from the new availability of “a series of tools for teachers that highlight students needs and provides teachers the information to focus on helping students master their subjects.” I assume that refers to projects like ARIS, the data warehouse, and the periodic assessments known as Acuity, meant to give teachers an ongoing portrait of what students do and don’t know throughout the school year. While some teachers embrace these tools, others say the tools limit the way they teach, forcing them to focus too much time on test preparation.
  • Assemble City-owned land for private development to build large-scale housing developments, schools and hospitals. (2001 promise) I reached out to the mayor’s office for explanation on what school projects have happened and haven’t heard back yet. Even assuming that several projects did occur, advocates for easing overcrowding by building new schools have nothing but criticism for the Bloomberg administration, which lowered investments in building new schools in its latest capital plan. New York Magazine recently chronicled the city’s failure to stay ahead of population growth in Manhattan.
  • Do not allow any students to graduate until they master the ability to read, write, use arithmetic and develop interpersonal skills. (2001) Bloomberg’s report cites the policy banning promotion to the third, fifth, seventh, and eighth grade if a student hasn’t passed certain standardized tests, plus Saturday school for struggling students, the middle school plan, and beefed up investments in vocational — now called “career and technical” — schools. Still, many students who graduate from city high schools and go onto college end up struggling. The Daily News reported last fall that about two-thirds of city grads who go on to CUNY need to take at least one remedial course. Chancellor Joel Klein has said the rate is falling, though he has not disclosed what the rate is. CUNY is now partnering with the Department of Education to study ways to make the transition to college smoother. There also questions about the way high schools assign diplomas, especially through a process known as “credit-recovery,” which Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is in the process of re-examining.

The full list is available here, and I’ve compiled all education promises below the jump (divided up by the ones Bloomberg “reconsidered,” like the uniform idea, and the ones he calls complete).

Here are the education promises Bloomberg made and deemed either “Done” or “Done*” (meaning nearly done):

  • Expand small school initiative and open more than 100 small schools.
  • Create at least 15 new transfer schools small, academically-rigorous high schools for students who are over-age, under-credited and were not succeeding in their original high school.
  • Create at least five Young Adult Borough Centers (YABCs), evening programs that combine academic coursework, counseling, and post-secondary education and career development.
  • Create new types of GED programs in at least ten locations that offer GED preparation and testing directly linked to Learning-to-Work vocational preparation and eventually with community colleges and career and technical programs, such as those for dental or computer technicians.
  • Improve access to selective schools for students in under-served communities.
  • Expand the ParentCorps program.
  • Integrate and coordinate early child care and education system to foster the healthy development of all children, especially those children who are low-income and disadvantaged.
  • Eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools that can be created and double the number of charter schools opening in New York City from 50 to at least 100 by 2009.
  • Open at least seven new academically selective secondary schools across the city by 2009 to expand these options for academically gifted students and to provide greater access to students in communities traditionally under-represented in these schools.
  • Assemble City-owned land for private development to build large-scale housing developments, schools and hospitals. (2001 promise)
  • Do not allow any students to graduate until they master the ability to read, write, use arithmetic and develop interpersonal skills. (2001)
  • Ease the process of student enrollment for out of district schools. (2001)
  • Give teachers more control over how they teach. (2001)
  • Have school-based merit pay determined by performance. (2001)
  • Pursue all routes to recruit teachers, including loan forgiveness and housing allowances. (2001)
  • Increase the number of certified teachers by making it easier for certified teachers in other states to transfer their certification to New York. (2001)
  • Lobby the State to pass the “Dignity for All Students Act.” (2001)
  • Streamline the process for firing bad teachers. Do not warehouse them in District Offices for years. (2001)
  • Use peer review to decide qualifications. (2001)

Education promises listed as “launched”:

  • Create affordable quality daycare and pre-K for City employees.
  • Develop and implement performance standards for center-based care to ensure quality across the system.
  • Work with the State Legislature to pass legislation giving the Mayor the independent authority to create charter schools in New York City.
  • Extend childcare day to 6pm. Offer quality wrap around programs for children between the ages of birth-6 years old until 6pm.
  • Improve transition from child care and pre-K to elementary school.
  • Develop performance standards and implement a system using the and the 311 information line to share Pre-K childcare center performance information with parents.

Programs listed as “reconsidered (all introduced in 2001):

  • Immerse students who do not speak English in the language.
  • In the absence of improvement in schools that languish on the Schools Under Registration Review list, make privatization an option.
  • Introduce a customer service mentality into the education system. Require teachers, principals and other school professionals to visit the home of every student at least once a year, and call every term.
  • Provide loan guarantees to have the private sector borrow, build and lease to the City all schools and offices.
  • Require all students to wear uniforms.
  • Require teachers to report to principals when there has been no contact with parents or guardians.
  • Utilize summer school and year-round school to reduce overcrowding and offer students more opportunities to improve their academic standing.
  • Institute a parents’ voice mail system to provide grades, attendance, homework assignments, and special messages for their child from the teacher. (reconsidered 2009)
  • Pay teachers more for working in shortage areas. (reconsidered 2009)
  • Recognize and reward success by establishing charter districts that would have freedom from bureaucratic meddling. Eligible districts would have the authority to purchase services, with savings going to that district. (reconsidered 2009)
  • Reevaluate and re-qualify teachers every second year. (reconsidered 2009)
  • Support restoring the categories of sexual orientation, religion, disability and gender to the Dept. of Education’s multicultural curriculum. (reconsidered 2009, not done 2005)

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”