computer science for all

Report: Brooklyn schools lack laptops, strong Wi-Fi, as city expands computer science education

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio learns about computer science from a student at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx.

As the city embarks on a massive push to expand computer science education, many Brooklyn schools lack laptops, adequate access to Wi-Fi, and computer science teachers, according to a new report released Thursday by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

The report, which surveyed 136 Brooklyn schools, found that only about 20 percent of students have access to laptops at any given time, and only 30 percent of schools have an established computer science curriculum. These findings provide a glimpse at how difficult it will be for Mayor de Blasio to achieve his ambitious goal of offering computer science in every city school by 2025.

“We have a lot to do,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “It has to be some real concrete action. We have to sign on and make this happen.”

The mayor’s Computer Science for All initiative has been hailed by many as a bold plan to prepare city students for the 21st century working world. But its critics have questioned whether the city has the infrastructure and teaching force to bring the plan to fruition.

This report, which breaks down findings by district and school, paints a detailed picture of which schools in Brooklyn need extra support. Throughout Brooklyn, schools rated their Wi-Fi at about a 3.2 on a 5-point scale, which likely means the school’s Wi-Fi slows when too many students are logged on, said Jeff Lowell, the borough president’s deputy policy director.

Just over half of schools felt they had a qualified computer science teacher, and some districts have laptops for as few as 11 percent of students. Students may have access to computer labs in lieu of tablets or laptops, but in order to create a robust computer science curriculum, Lowell estimates more students will need access to devices they can use outside of a computer room.

Despite these hurdles, the mayor and education department officials have remained optimistic. De Blasio announced this September that fundraising for the initiative is “ahead of schedule” and education department officials said 246 schools are already participating in the program. Officials also praised Adams for his spirited support of computer science education.

“We thank Borough President Adams for his partnership in bringing computer science to every public school,” said education department spokesman Will Mantell.

The mayor’s initiative is meant to ensure that low-income students have the same access to computer science as their wealthier peers. The report provides a mixed picture on how equitably computer access is currently spread across Brooklyn schools. Some of the poorest districts in the report, such District 16, which encompasses Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, had above-average access to laptops, while others like District 32, which includes Bushwick, have below-average access.

Still, Adams said, high-poverty schools are in great need of Wi-Fi and computer support.

“Just as they don’t have access to Wi-Fi [in schools], they typically don’t have access in their community or in their home,” Adams said. “We need to do more to stop that.”

Zeroing in

Vote approaches on closing two Memphis schools, while cost of Hopson’s plan grows

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Dunbar Elementary School student Khamaria McElroy stands in line to speak to Shelby County's school board about why her school should stay open.

Memphis school leaders are moving forward with the first phase of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to reshape the district by closing, building and consolidating schools.

Board members for Shelby County Schools are scheduled Tuesday night to discuss Hopson’s proposal to shutter Dunbar and Carnes elementary schools, two of seven targeted in the latest recommended closures for the bloated district. A final vote is scheduled for Jan. 31.

In the meantime, the cost has grown for Hopson’s plan, which also calls for building new schools. And district leaders want some assurance that Shelby County commissioners are on board to approve the financing.

The estimated price tag is now $49 million to tear down five aging schools and consolidate students into two new ones — up from about $30 million when Hopson rolled out his plan in November. In a school system grappling with upkeep of aging buildings while its student population declines, that amount would consume about 65 percent of the district’s yearly ask for capital improvements.

Alcy Elementary School, which would absorb Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools, would cost about $25 million to replace. Goodlett Elementary School, which would absorb Knight Road Elementary, would cost about $24 million. Initially, Hopson had estimated $15 million each.

The third consolidation project, combining Lucy and Northaven into a new Woodstock K-12 school, won’t go before the board until next year.

Hopson hasn’t yet set a date to take his request to the commission but said last week that “all feedback I’ve gotten has been positive.” That aligns with commissioners’ initial reaction to Hopson’s plan last fall.

The school board’s scheduled vote next week will be the second and final one on closing Dunbar and Carnes.

Both elementary schools were built in the 1950s, both are costly to maintain, and both rank low on state tests. Carnes has seen a steady decline in enrollment, while Dunbar’s student population has been steady.

Closing the schools would save the district $1.2 million, according to staff reports on Dunbar and Carnes.

Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Budget cuts

Jeffco will propose plan to close schools to save money

Jeffco Public Schools is proposing school closures as part of a plan to save more than $20 million after the November defeat of the district’s two tax measures.

District staff is still finalizing the plan, which is to be presented Thursday to the school board, district spokeswoman Diana Wilson said. The district will wait until the meeting to release the names of schools being considered for closure, she said.

Wilson also emphasized that Thursday’s plan will be a draft proposal and requires school board approval.

The 86,000-student district has started 2017-18 budget discussions and expects a drop in student enrollment, which would mean less money from the state.

Wilson said district officials were initially looking to save $15 million to pay for raises for some teachers, since the board identified improving teacher compensation as a priority. Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resources officer, has told the board that for some teachers in the district, Jeffco’s pay is not competitive with neighboring districts, causing some teachers to leave.

But Wilson told Chalkbeat on Monday that plans changed after the November election.

“It’s now about what buildings can we afford to keep open,” Wilson said. “It’s a very different scenario.”

The district’s plan would save between $20 million and $25 million, she said.

Officials will also present the board with a plan for “cabinet recommendations” of other cuts that would be phased in over time to save $20.4 million.

As one way to gather input on budget priorities from the community, the district created a website where the people can try their hand at choosing their own combination of budget allocations working with a $6 million budget.

“Although the amount is hypothetical, it offers you an opportunity to weigh in on priorities,” the website states.

The site will be available through Feb. 10. The district will also hold telephone town hall meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 7.