De Blasio’s $ 635 million plan to help New York students catch up

New York City to inject $ 635 million into public schools for a school stimulus package that includes universal literacy screening through second grade, after-school support for students with disabilities, and college counseling services for all juniors and seniors, Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Meisha Porter announced Thursday.

The announcement provided long-awaited details of how part of the influx of federal stimulus money – which is expected to total $ 6.9 billion over three years – will be used to support nearly a million students in the city and close what the mayor called “the COVID achievement gap.” The focus will be on literacy, including additional coaches and interventions, downsizing class sizes in some schools, and even the books students read. As part of a new universal curriculum, called Mosaic, which the city plans to roll out in 2023, classroom libraries are expected to start receiving 9 million new books this fall that reflect the diversity of children in the country’s largest school system.

“We will revive the educational return of every child,” said de Blasio, reiterating his long-held promise to have every child reading at grade level by third grade. He had previously promised that by 2026 all children would be reading at school level by the end of second grade.

Micheal Mulgrew, president of the United Teachers’ Federation, spoke at the press conference in support of the city’s plan, saying people will work this summer to ensure schools have the resources and training that they need to implement it.

“We know there is a lot to do here, but that’s what we signed on for,” Mulgrew said. “Now we just have to make it work for every child in every class. ”

De Blasio previously said the school recovery program would include personalized online tools for children after school as well as assessments given to children in the fall. Neither was part of Thursday’s announcement. Education Ministry officials said schools would effectively assess children as a way to supplement the recently unveiled plan, but that this would be funded separately.

The Chancellor insisted that English language learners – around 135,000 students in the city’s public school system – will receive “dedicated support” as part of the school recovery plan.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said schools will get the funding “soon”, with literacy coaches and other response staff in place on September 13.

Here are some of the highlights of the plan:

Special education: $ 251 million

Noting that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities, Porter said the city will launch after-school and Saturday programs for more than 200,000 students with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs. With the funding, students will also be able to perform their related services, such as speech and occupational therapy after school, officials said.

Porter also said an additional 800 preschool special education seats will be in place by September 2022, as the city has historically failed to provide a seat for every student with a disability who is eligible. At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 1,215 preschool students with disabilities were still waiting for class places.

During the pandemic, the education department struggled to provide students with disabilities with the services they are entitled to. Almost a quarter of students with disabilities were not receiving mandatory special services, which could include smaller class sizes or other specialized supports, and other services like physical therapy were often difficult to access, according to a report released in February. provide remotely.

Separately, the city said it plans to spend around $ 236 million on makeup services to make up for time lost during the pandemic.

Still, Advocates for Children of New York executive director Kim Sweet wanted to know more about how the city was going to address the lack of services for these students.

“We are still waiting for the DOE to release a plan for remedial special education services for students with disabilities without requiring every family to request and litigate an administrative hearing, which can take months and sometimes years,” said Sweet in a statement. .

Universal Mosaic Curriculum: $ 202 million

More than $ 200 million will be invested in creating and sustaining a culturally appropriate universal curriculum designed by educators in New York City. The full curriculum, which is expected to be ready for schools to implement by fall 2023, is designed to reflect the city’s diversity and will include support material for English and math, said responsible.

The announcement comes a week after city council announced a $ 10 million “Education Equity Action Plan” to create a Kindergarten to Grade 12 black curriculum. . This funding includes professional development for educators to support the implementation of the curriculum and was included in the city’s $ 98.7 billion spending plan.

“I am delighted to ensure that every student is welcomed into an affirmative, supportive and rigorous learning environment where they see themselves in the curriculum, where we honor the voices of our students and families,” said Porter said.

The Mosaic curriculum, which covers English and math, would be mandatory unless a school gets a waiver to use an existing curriculum, officials said. “This is not a warrant. This is a collaborative process, ”said the Chancellor, stressing that the program will be developed in partnership with educators.

The president of the teachers’ union seemed to agree with the “massive plan” to create the new curriculum.

“Teachers have rushed for decades to try to find these materials,” Mulgrew said. “What we’re saying here is that the school system takes the role and responsibility of bringing together all of these materials that represent all of the different children, populations and cultures that we teach, and making them available so that schools do not. don’t rush and find them on their own. It is absolutely the smart thing to do.

Parents of the NYC Coalition for Education Justice, which has long advocated for a culturally appropriate curriculum, said they were excited about the new curriculum.

“All students, educators, school workers and families will collectively learn about their own cultures and other cultures,” said Rasheedah Brown-Harris, a parent leader of the Alliance for Quality Education, which is part of the coalition. “It will really support our healing practices by strengthening our understanding, appreciation, pride and mutual respect. ”

Students as digital citizens: $ 122 million

The COVID pandemic has highlighted digital divides in New York City, as nearly 60% of students were learning remotely until the end of the school year. Nearly a fifth of New York City students do not have home and mobile broadband services, and 40% of students have only one or the other, according to the Internet Blueprint released on the Internet. ‘last year.

During the pandemic, the city invested in around 800,000 devices for distance learning. The academic stimulus plan plans to invest in an additional 175,000 devices, ensuring that all students have access to a device with internet access. Eighth grade students will also be required to complete a technical synthesis project to ensure that they have developed computer skills.

“This plan will position all New York students as digital citizens in today’s world,” the Chancellor said.

The plan also expands the Computer Science 4 All initiative to 400,000 students by 2024. More than 5,000 educators will be trained in advanced computing.

Literacy for All: $ 49 million

To ensure that students are reading grade three as early as grade three, educators will use a universal literacy screen to identify students with difficulties, including printing-related disabilities like dyslexia. The number of reading coaches will also increase to 500, which the Chancellor said would ensure that every class from 3-K to Grade 2 has a reading coach. School officials said there would be additional funds to provide targeted support, such as private lessons, extended days and enrichment activities.

“This will be the year of the literacy blitz,” Porter said. “Our educators will use a universal literacy screen to identify student strengths and challenges, including dyslexia, and develop a support plan. Too many of our children have struggled with print-related disabilities like dyslexia. And this is not good. “

The city has long struggled to serve students with dyslexia and other reading problems, leading some families to transfer their children to private schools and sue the city for reimbursement. The city has already experimented with screening for dyslexia on a small scale; dozens of other states impose some level of screening to identify struggling readers.

Porter also said class sizes at some schools would be reduced. Around 140 additional teachers will be hired and specifically deployed to the 72 elementary schools with the largest class sizes, targeting areas with low English proficiency rates.

According to state test results, nearly half of New York City public school third-graders are not reading at the grade level, and literacy development has been a cornerstone of the curriculum. education of de Blasio. The mayor’s universal literacy program has already placed hundreds of literacy coaches in elementary schools across the city to train teachers in phonics-based instruction.

This year’s interventions will include programs that support word recognition skills as well as “research-based methodologies” that support vocabulary and reading comprehension, school officials said. They did not immediately say what the time frame would be for students to get help or how long it could take schools to identify student needs.

College and career preparation: $ 10 million

To help students stay focused on what is happening after graduation, the city will provide all juniors and seniors with free after-school and career counseling, as well as financial aid advice at the university. college in multiple languages ​​to help navigate the application process, officials said.

“Especially as our students recover from the pandemic, we need to make sure they are better prepared for the next stages of life,” Porter said.

The city also plans to add dozens of virtual Advanced Placement courses and restore the “College Now” program, allowing thousands of students to take courses at 18 City University of New York campuses across the boroughs.

Alex Zimmerman contributed.

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