Education: Revolutionary Change

New York City spends on education over $80 billion, the third most in the nation, and nearly $19,000, the most in the nation, per pupil.  However, our state ranks 34th in the nation in the subjects of math and science and we are barely above that metric in reading.  Given the amount spent on education, this is unacceptable.  In truth NYC has had a dysfunctional school system for generations.  Good education rarely works when teachers, administrators, and politicians are always apologizing for emphasizing high quality.  A true reboot of education will take an enormous overhaul and starts with complete honesty and willingness to take on tough challenges and not back down.  That is what I intend to do as Public Advocate:  say things are they are.  I will advocate for the following policies to fix these problems.

  • Cap Salary. Immediately cut and cap administrator pay, currently clocking in at an average of $179,000 in most parts of the state.  This will allow more money to go back into the classroom where we need it most.
  • Fire Deadwood. Cut or eliminate pay for suspended teachers who have been expelled from the classroom yet still get paid $100,000 in many cases.  Eliminate wasted resources spent on bad teachers.  So-called rubber rooms and deadwood must be eliminated from schools quickly, and the union must respect the need to protect students, not incompetent teachers, first.  Worse yet, we continue to pay them!  Unions must renegotiate contracts to reflect this but with the understanding that every dismissed teacher will be replaced by a new and competent one so no jobs are lost – except those who are clearly shown to be unworthy of the honor of teaching.
  • Vocational Schools. Create a citywide vocational school system that will increase equity among students who wish to pursue a trade verses a traditional college education.
  • Teacher Requirements. Raise requirements to become a teacher.  We must require teachers to take at least 60 undergraduate credits in their subject areas.  Studies have proven that teachers with in-depth knowledge of their subjects produce better students.  Furthermore, every prospective teacher must have an overall 3.0-plus GPA.  C-level teachers yield C-level students.
  • Safety. Take steps to ensure that schools are safer for students and teachers since school crime rates have risen 21% in recent years.
  • Drugs. A zero-tolerance approach must be put into effect.  Those caught using drugs in or out of school must be sent to rehabilitation specialists.  Those selling drugs, no matter what age, must be removed from any school and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Cellphones. Distractions are epidemic in some classrooms.  There is little of importance to justify any student having to peruse the Internet, Facebook, or text messages during school hours.  No teacher should have to quarrel with a student about paying attention and putting away a cellphone.  The solution is simple:  a citywide ban on use of cellphones during school hours.  Cellphones will be stored in a safe room during school hours and returned upon the student’s leaving school premises.  Parents have to accept this and not oppose the needs of good education.
  • Unions & Standards. Institute a multitude of effective remedies instead of taking a placid approach.  We accomplish nothing with politicians obsessed with getting the backing of teachers’ unions.
  • Civics Classes. Create citywide civics classes focusing on important topics not covered:  finances, respecting police and acting appropriately, showing courtesy to others, basic understanding of government/Congress/Supreme Court, the need to vote, why democracy and participation are important, acceptance of different peoples and cultures, renouncing and reporting sexual assault and inappropriate behavior, the need to follow news and read newspapers, respecting environment, conserving energy, recycling waste, etc.
  • Restore Fine Arts. Rebuild once and for all education of the fine arts.  This important part of New York life has been gutted for generations.  Shame on the education system that teaches almost nothing of great music, opera, dance, and Broadway in the cultural capital of the world.  We should fund at least two fine-arts teachers in every school.  Orchestras, bands, and live music/dance must be part of the young’s upbringing.
  • Finance/Computer Education. These should be an essential part of a high-school curriculum:  use of basic computer programs (MSW, etc.), checking, banking, spotting scams, etc.
  • Government. Students should become part of local government and learn about it firsthand.  All students should be required to offer 20 hours of time during high school by volunteering to work in a government office, from councilman to statewide officials, so that they become more of a part of our democracy and see it working firsthand.
  • Discipline & Attendance. This has been a generational problem — Kids behaving badly and disrespecting teachers with no repercussions.  It sends a terrible message that is the opposite of what students should understand:  the need to respect adults, education, and teachers.  A citywide change in disciplinary measure, unapologetic to those standing in the way of the needs of teachers, must be made.  1) Students continuously disrespecting the class will no longer return and will instead be placed in special classes or schools (newly created for this purpose) where psychology experts trained for troubled kids can appropriately address the problem.  2) Those who regularly miss classes shall be removed and aided by such trained experts, and parents who refuse to make their children attend will be brought to court, fined, etc. — whatever is necessary to instill their duty to ensure that their children are in class and are learning every day.
  • After-School Programs. We must expand such programs to provide kids with activities and tutors to help those struggling in class.  Furthermore, libraries should be more accessible and given tutors to assist those in need.
  • Social Promotion. It is the practice of promoting students to the next grade even if they fail to meet minimum requirements.  It must end immediately!  Being left back may be hurtful, but being truthful is essential if kids are going to be prepared for the real world.  Furthermore, principals and teachers caught fudging or changing grades should be dismissed immediately and subject to criminal charges.  A completely new view of education is needed.
  • Recreation. Kids basically play sports on parking lots of concrete.  When kids face such harsh conditions daily, it conditions them to ugliness and mediocrity.  Effort should be made to improve recreational facilities.  Grass and trees are important to a child’s upbringing.
  • Summer Programs. City kids are rarely exposed to nature and the countryside.  They should know what forests, farms, and animals are.  Summer exposure must be promoted as much as possible.  Learning to respect nature and the environment suggests actually being within it.
  • Regional Autonomy. Let’s explore creating regional districts to allow greater flexibility for school administrators to innovate.  The Board of Education, being a huge bureaucracy, snarls innovation.  Change comes slowly.  Greater autonomy will give schools opportunities to address problems intelligently and quickly.  The needs of students in Harlem and Soho and are different from those in Queens and Staten Island.  Let administrators innovate more quickly.