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New York City
August 2001

What do you think are the primary problems with the NYC public schools?

HB: There is a long list, but the most important area is one that I have been working on [at CUNY]: establishing standards. In NYC whether you do your work or not, you pass. When CUNY was white, and I went to the schools in those days, we had standards. When the student body became predominantly black and Latino, [people were] afraid to flunk the kids, therefore they came up with this theory of social promotions. In my view it is a lot worse for a child to be seventeen years old and not be able to read or write, than to be held back.

[Another major problem is] class size. If you take the 1.1 million students and divide that by 80,000 teachers in the system, you get 14 kids per teacher. What happens to the rest of the teachers? Many of them are at 110 Livingston Street, or doing various research jobs or are working for the Superintendents. I would have a rule that every teacher I put in the budget must be in the classroom.

MB: The primary problems include the inefficient use of funds, the lack of Mayoral control, and the absence of overall accountability. The City spends $12 billion (30 percent of its total expenditures, a sum greater than the school spending in Chicago and Los Angeles combined), but remarkably, the amount is not enough to teach 1.1 million public students or to provide safe, clean and appropriately equipped school facilities.

We all have something to contribute—and a responsibility to do so. Students must learn the basics and work hard to master tougher requirements. Parents and guardians have to get involved to help insure the success of their children and their schools. And the system (i.e., the Mayor, superintendents, principals, teachers) must be held accountable.

FF: 1) Poor teacher quality. We need to make teaching a year-round profession in which teachers receive professional development during the summer. We need to give principals the ability to remove poor performers easily, and we need to significantly increase teacher salaries so that we can attract and retain the best. 2) Fiscal inequities. 3) Insufficient parent involvement. I released a plan to increase parent involvement, including giving city employees time off to attend
parent-teacher conferences, and issuing parent
report cards that offer parents guidance on how best to support their children’s education. 4) Lack of after-school programs. Currently, the City provides after-school opportunities to only 30,000 children. As Mayor, I want to keep all of our public middle schools open until 6 p.m. each day and on Saturdays and Sundays.

MG: The single highest priority of a Green Administration will be educating children. And the best way to do that is to assure that no child in grades K-3 is in a class larger than 20. Here’s how we’ll do that: First, the City must change its priorities in the Capital Budget. Second, the BoE must make a series of administrative changes to [free up] classrooms being used for administrative offices. And shifting certain grades from elementary schools to middle schools and from middle schools to high schools can create new capacity. Third, the State must do more. The current school building aid formula fails to adequately take account of real differences in the cost of school construction in NYC. The fight for smaller classes won’t be new to me. Last year, I held the City’s first Class Size Summit—bringing together local and national education leaders and key leaders in the business community in support of strategies to reduce class size. Our Class Size Coalition has lobbied Washington in support of Rangel Johnson bill.

AH: The formula [for improving schools] includes smaller classes, qualified teachers—trained and certified—in every classroom, and parents trained in the skills that the kids are expected to learn and trained to navigate the complexity of the school system. Accomplishing these objectives starts with teachers. First, we have to pay our teachers in NYC comparably to what is paid in the suburbs. Second, we discourage [teachers] from retiring; we would be losing our most experienced teachers. My proposal, which would have to be approved by the legislature, would involve a combination of salary and pensions. Also, I believe that kids who have not reached a certain threshold, say by the fifth grade, should stay in school until five o’clock. (The standards should be set by experts.) The schools should be open until eight or nine o’clock at night where kids could be supervised in their homework or take remedial courses or for recreation. Adult education and the computer room should be available to the parents.

PV: We have schools that are so overcrowded that closets and bathrooms have been converted into classrooms. We have schools with no books in their libraries. We have schools where the students are forced to share textbooks or go without any. Every year, finding enough teachers to fill our classrooms is a struggle, and far too many teachers leave our school system every year. Our children are not getting the quality education they deserve. There is no one problem to fix in our schools, instead we need to overhaul the system.

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