status report

Little mention of education in de Blasio’s ‘State of the City’ address

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his State of the City address at the Apollo Theater in Harlem Monday.

Hours before Mayor Bill de Blasio took the podium to deliver the annual State of the City address, one of his harshest education critics took a preemptive swipe at his education agenda, assuming the mayor planned to discuss it.

“We expect to see and hear a lot about Renewal Schools in this evening’s State of the City address,” the pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools sent in an email blast to reporters. “Mayor de Blasio’s signature education program is mired in failure.”

But in his roughly hour-long remarks, de Blasio didn’t mention the Renewal program, an $850 million effort designed to flood low-performing schools with extra social services and academic support. In fact, he barely discussed the city’s schools, save for three lines of the 94-paragraph speech:

If you said to me, let’s talk about education, I would say, well, the state of our schools is stronger than many of us ever could have imagined. We announced on Friday the highest graduation rate in the history of New York City: 72.6 percent of our students graduated last year.

And for all of you, like me, who saw the bad old days, we also saw the lowest dropout rate in the history of the city, 8.5 percent. The disparities are finally starting to close. There’s more progress to be had. And now we have some of the tools we always dreamed of. We have pre-K for all our kids – 70,000 kids – including one of the most famous pre-K graduates now, Gershy.

We have advanced placement courses going in not just to our elite high schools or those that have been most privileged. Advanced placement courses will be in every single one of our high schools. You saw Javeria Amir from Morris Park in the Bronx. That’s an example of what you’re going to be seeing in high schools all over the city. Now, let’s take this opportunity to thank the educators, the teachers, the administrators, everyone who works in our schools to make them great.

In addition to leaving out the Renewal program, de Blasio didn’t touch on major pillars of his “Equity and Excellence” agenda, including computer science instruction for every student. Nor did he address school segregation, despite a larger plan education officials have said is in the works.

Instead, the “lofty” and “sometimes rambling” speech focused on the city’s housing and affordability crisis.

“I don’t want to read too much into it in terms of what it means for policy — we’re probably seeing the winding down of Carmen Fariña at the helm,” said Aaron Pallas, an education professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Still, he added: “It was curiously flat in terms of education.”

This isn’t the first time education — which represents roughly a third of the city’s budget — hasn’t received much airtime during the annual speech. De Blasio predecessor Michael Bloomberg didn’t make much education news during his ninth “State of the City” speech, despite standing in a Queens school when he delivered it. (His eleventh address included dramatically more education policy.) And last year, de Blasio also seemed to tack away from his schools agenda.

Asked whether the speech might signal that de Blasio doesn’t plan to pin his re-election bid to his schools agenda, Pallas said it could depend on the competition.

“I’m not seeing potential opponents who are likely to make education the heart of their campaigns. A lot will depend on how the race unfolds.”

audit findings

Audit finds educational services lacking at Rikers Island, but corrections officials dispute report

PHOTO: Matt Green/Flickr

Corrections officials “systemically neglected” to ensure that young adult inmates knew they could enroll in school courses, according to an audit released Tuesday by Comptroller Scott Stringer. The audit also found that the city Department of Education failed to put mandated educational plans in place for incarcerated students with disabilities.

“That’s wrong, because if we’re going to reverse decades of backwards criminal justice policies, it’s going to be with bigger and better schools — not bigger and tougher prisons,” Stringer said in an emailed statement. “We have to do better.”

But officials from the city Department of Correction disputed the findings, and a response from the education department suggests the audit takes a narrow approach that misses “critical context.”

In 74 percent of sampled cases, the comptroller’s office couldn’t find evidence that inmates between the ages of 18 and 21 attended an orientation and were informed of their right to attend classes. In 68 percent of the sampled cases, auditors could not find required forms from inmates either accepting or rejecting educational services. In its response to the findings, a representative for the corrections department noted that some inmates may simply “refuse to sign the form.”

The corrections department wrote that it “disputes the overall finding” that inmates are not informed of their right to educational services. Furthermore, the audit “failed to capture” additional steps the department takes to do so.

In responses to the findings, included in the audit, corrections and education officials said all eligible students are offered the opportunity to attend classes. Every school day, the education department prints a list of eligible students who are in facilities with school programs, and the list is shared with corrections staff in the housing areas. Inmates who are interested can attend an information session and enroll immediately.

The corrections department’s response also states that inmates receive a handbook that includes information about enrolling in classes, and that signs are posted in common areas to inform inmates of their right to request educational services. Furthermore, the department conducts regular focus groups to create alternative programs of interest to young offenders who choose not to go to school, according to the response.

The audit also found that 48 percent of eligible students did not have a Special Education Plan, based on their Individualized Education Program, created for them within 30 days of beginning classes, as required. Those plans were never created for 36 percent of sample students, according to the audit.

The Department of Education responded that it is working to implement a new electronic system to track progress on education plans for students with disabilities, and that students who had such plans before being incarcerated continue to get the services they need.

The audit does note that all 16- and 17-year olds were receiving the educational services required by law. Those students have to attend school, whether they are incarcerated or not. Older students are eligible to receive educational services if they are under 21 years of age, have not already earned a high school diploma and will be incarcerated for 10 or more days.

Community voices

Memphians weigh in on Hopson’s investment plan for struggling schools

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson speaks Monday night to about 175 educators, parents and students gathered to learn about Shelby County Schools' plan to make new investments in struggling schools

After years of closing struggling schools, Shelby County Schools is changing course and preparing to make investments in them, beginning with 19 schools that are challenged by academics, enrollment, aging buildings and intergenerational poverty.

This May, 11 of those schools will receive “treatment plans” tailored to their needs and based on learnings from the Innovation Zone, the district’s 5-year-old school turnaround initiative. The other eight schools already are part of a plan announced last fall to consolidate them into three new buildings.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin talked up the new dynamic Monday night during a community meeting attended by about 175 educators, parents and students. In his proposed budget for next school year, Hopson has set aside $5.9 million to pay for supports for the 11 schools dubbed “critical focus” schools. 


Here’s the framework for the changes and which schools will be impacted.


Monday’s gathering was first in which Memphians got to publicly weigh in on the district’s new game plan. Here’s what several stakeholders had to say:

Quinterious Martin

Quinterious Martin, 10th-grader at Westwood High School:

“It really helped me to hear that the label of ‘critical’ is going to help us out, not pull us down. I was worried when I first heard our school would be on the list of critical schools, but I get it now. The point is to help the schools out, not make them feel worse. To me, one thing Westwood really needs is more classes to get us ready for our future careers, like welding or mechanics. My commitment tonight was to always improve in what I do.”

Deborah Calvin, a teacher at Springdale Elementary School:

“I enjoyed the presentation tonight. I think it’s so important to know everyone is on the same page. The plan will only be successful if everyone in the community is aware of what the goals are. I think they made it really clear tonight that just more money doesn’t help turn a school. It takes a lot of community support. We really need more parent involvement at Springdale. Children need support when they go home. They need someone to sit down with them and work through homework or read.”

Catherine Starks, parent at Trezevant High School:

“Honestly, I think this is just going through the motions and something to keep parents quiet. Some schools may be getting the supports they need, but not all of them are. Trezevant is one that is not. … We need good leadership and we need someone to be advocates for our kids. I want to see the kids at our school get the support they need from the principal, the guidance counselor, the superintendent. Trezevant has had negative everything, but now we need some positive attention. And we really need the community to step up.”

Neshellda Johnson and daughter Rhyan

Neshellda Johnson, fourth-grade teacher at Hawkins Mill Elementary School:

“Hawkins Mill has been in the bottom 5 percent for awhile and has been targeted (for takeover) by the state for about four consecutive years. …  It’s refreshing to see that, instead of putting us on the chopping block, the district is looking to actually invest in us and give us the tools we need so we can continue to have growth. … I’m looking to the district for academic supports with regards to reading, more teachers assistants, more time for teaching and less time for testing, and more after-school and summer enrichment programs. And in addition to supports for our students, I’m hopeful there will be supports offered for our parents. We have a need for mental health and counseling services in our area.”

You can view the district’s full presentation from Monday night below: