Creating Truly Universal Pre-Kindergarten
Research shows that pre-Kindergarten for 4-year olds ensures that students are more fully prepared when they begin elementary school, and has been shown to yield benefits that ultimately increase graduation rates. Unfortunately, today in New York City nearly 50,000 4-year olds receive either no pre-K or only half-time pre-K. We must invest the resources to close this gap, so that every child starts their education strong.
Reduced emphasis on high-stakes testing
DOE’s over-emphasis on testing in recent years has distorted what is taught in schools, with too much time spent on test prep and a decrease in teaching all subjects beyond math and literacy. Test scores should only be one component of how students and teachers are evaluated, with classroom observations, portfolios of work, and other measures factored in as well.
Ensure Every Child Receives Arts Education
Arts education helps children learn to think critically and creatively, and contributes to improved attendance and graduation rates. Unfortunately only half of New York City schools are meeting State standards for arts education, and 20% have no certified arts instructor on staff. DOE needs to expand creative learning by ensuring that every school has at least a part-time certified arts teacher. And greater ties should be developed between schools and the city’s huge community of arts institutions.
Healthy, locally grown food for students
The pizza, hamburgers, french fries, and fish sticks which have been a staple of school lunches for decades contribute significantly to childhood obesity and other medical problems. DOE has begun to include healthier items on school lunch menus in recent years, and in 2011 passed groundbreaking legislation to increase the portion of school food which is sourced from locally farms in New York State. Unfortunately, in practice DOE is still falling far short of these goals. We must move aggressively to ensure that every student receives healthy, fresh, locally sourced meals at school.
A curriculum consistent with our values
DOE should more consistently implement curriculum components which reflect the inclusive and compassionate social values of New Yorkers:
LGBT History - Every child should learn the history of the struggle for LGBT rights in New York and elsewhere, including an understanding of the Stonewall Rebellion and of the lives of major leaders like Baird Rustin and Harvey Milk.
Humane education - The DOE should immediately start complying with existing federal mandates that require that all students learn about animal welfare issues.
Green curriculum - Students should understand the resources their schools consume, learn to conduct environmental audits, and be engaged in growing their own food.
Greening public schools
The DOE should dramatically expand its efforts to promote energy efficiency in its more than 1,000 buildings. School-based sustainability coordinators should be upgraded from their current volunteer status, with paid “prep” periods for their work. Principals should sign off on their school’s goals for reduction in energy consumption. Composting of food waste should be rapidly scaled citywide, with training and support provided to ease school adoption.