Home to the nation’s largest school district, New York City is often influential on educational matters and thinking. Big mistake.
In the latest Census Bureau report, NYC’s education spending level at $25,199 per pupil exceeds the national average by 89 percent. When it comes to throwing money at students, the Big Apple has no peers. It spends more on teacher salaries and benefits than the total per-pupil expenditure of 44 other states.
When it comes to fourth-graders’ reading, however, there’s a tremendous disconnect between dollars and effect.
NYC isn’t anywhere near first in the nation in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress reading proficiency scores. And even though big cities get graded on a curve, NYC isn’t anywhere near the top of that 27-city list, either. One out of four Big Apple fourth-graders can’t read proficiently at grade level.
Incredibly, despite our challenges in poverty and rurality, the average Arkie fourth-grader’s reading score was higher than the average New York City dweller’s. And Arkansas spends only $9,967 per pupil—60 percent less than NYC.
The normal value expectation would be that the more money spent would be tied somewhat to more performance output. That’s often been the education claim, anyway. But while NYC spends more than double on its students, their reading scores aren’t any better than ours. Indeed, the nation’s highest-spending school system’s fourth-graders get outscored by 46 states (and significantly so by 35 states).
With that kind of disparity between education investment and student literacy return, one might think NYC would be trying to figure out how to learn from other states and districts that spend a lot less and score a lot higher.
But no. NYC is hanging its hopes on implementation this year of a Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education framework. The definition of CR-SE is overpopulated with all the latest “progressive” education jargon: The framework is designed to help create learning environments that “affirm racial identities,” “elevate historically marginalized voices” and “empower students as agents of social change,” among other things.
It references a “complex system of biases” that creates inequity and disadvantage based on “linguistic background, gender, skin color” and other characteristics or “identity markers.” CR-SE purports to promote and perpetuate “cultures, languages and ways of knowing that have been devalued, suppressed, and imperiled by years of educational, social, political, economic neglect and other forms of oppression.”
The CR-SE definition concludes (in appropriate eduspeak generality) with a commitment to “improving learning results” and “achieving dramatic gains in student outcomes.”
Not a word about teaching kids to read.
In the framework’s entire 64-page outline publication, which features guideline sections for students, teachers, school and district leaders, families and community members, and policymakers, the word “reading” appears only twice in text (both in one example of teaching method) and three times in bibliography titles.
No one reading this mishmash would think there was any problem with student reading scores, and certainly no emphasis on correcting the deficiency of education’s premier gateway skill.
On the contrary, the general attitude seems to downplay literacy, at least as traditionally understood, as one of the various forms of cultural oppression. One Staten Island high school teacher readily admitted to a Wall Street Journal reporter that she’d be fine if students graduated without ever being exposed to Shakespeare.
The list of phrases whose genesis can be traced back to the Bard is exceedingly long; the silliness of such a statement is that students already are and will continue to be exposed to Shakespeare. The question is whether they will be well-taught enough to know it.
And while there is merit to the basic notion of expanding the offering of classroom books and authors in terms of race and gender, that’s a meaningless gesture if students can’t read them.
Adoption of CR-SE required additional teacher training and professional development, of course, to teach teachers how to help students “see themselves in their lessons.”
In tandem with the CR-SE initiative, the NYC district was presented with a report from the city’s School Diversity Advisory Group called “Making the Grade: The Path to Real Integration and Equity for NYC Public School Students.”
Again, below-average literacy scores figure invisibly: in 118 pages, the word “reading” appears only three times. The report introduces 5Rs of Real Integration (as opposed to a fake variety, presumably): Race and Enrollment, Resources, Relationships, Restorative Justice, and Representation.
If the term “Restorative Justice” gave you pause, there’s a meaning clarification a couple of pages later: “Restore justice by interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline through community-building and appropriate responses to conflict.”
Conflict reached record proportions in NYC schools last year, which reported 17,991 violent and disruptive incidents, including 8,894 assaults, 3,073 weapons violations and 3,524 sexual offenses. With the highest incident rate in the state, the district is almost a prep school for prison.
There’s much to learn from watching NYC’s system, namely what not to do. Focusing on non-learning excuses inherently pulls attention from teaching fundamentals. That’s the wrong direction to correct stagnant test scores and stubborn violence.
A better direction: the opposite.