learning to remember

Ten days before 10th anniversary, city launches 9/11 curriculum

As the city prepares to observe the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Education is making curriculum materials — and grief counseling — available to teachers.

“As educators and parents of children who grew up in the years before and after 9/11, we have a responsibility to help them learn that the attacks of 9/11 were an attack on all New Yorkers, our nation as a whole, our freedoms, and our way of life,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in an email to teachers today announcing the new materials.

High school seniors had just started second grade on 9/11, and most city students have “little or no recollection” of the day, Walcott noted in the letter to teachers. That’s one reason why a team of teachers and administrators at the DOE worked with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, scheduled to open next year, to develop a collection of 9/11-themed lesson plans. Those plans went online today.

The lesson plans are meant to be used in social studies, history, English, and art classes across all grade levels. The 10 to 20 lessons for each grade level are divided across the themes of “historical impact,” “community and conflict,” “heroes and service,” and “memory and memorialization.”

Children in kindergarten through second grade might learn about bravery and examine mementos, now in the museum’s permanent collection, that children sent to firefighters after 9/11. Middle schoolers might analyze memorial songs released shortly after 9/11. And a high school class might study the recent history of Islamist extremism or develop museum exhibitions of their own. Each lesson is connected to new Common Core curriculum standards being rolled out this year.

The department is also planning to offer counseling services to teachers, staff, and students who need them, Walcott said.

Walcott’s letter to teachers is below.

Dear Colleagues,

September 11, 2011 will mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On that day, our nation will honor those killed ten years ago, as well as the brave men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives to save them. The ceremony in New York City, where 2,753 people were killed on 9/11, will be attended by President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, thousands of families who lost loved ones, rescue workers, and other dignitaries.

As we plan for the opening of school on September 8th, it is important that you are prepared to engage students in a meaningful discussion about the events of 9/11. For those of us who lost someone close that day or otherwise experienced it, thinking and talking about 9/11 may still evoke strong emotions. Many of your students, however, will have little or no recollection of the event itself. To help you and your staff engage in lessons about the attacks that are both meaningful and academically enriching, we have partnered with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum to create a curriculum for students in grades K-12.

The lesson plans are divided into four themes: Historical Impact, Community & Conflict, Heroes & Service, and Memory & Memorialization. Each lesson approaches its theme in a different way, drawing upon artifacts and oral histories from the collection of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is scheduled to open in September 2012. They are written for use throughout the school year and across subjects, including Social Studies, History, English Language Arts, and Art. Each lesson is also aligned with the Common Core State Standards to ensure relevance to your teaching and goals for the school year.

The brutal nature of the attacks raises difficult emotions and challenging questions. To broaden the resources at your disposal for discussing the attacks and their aftermath, we have developed a 9/11 FAQ, a basic primer on the history of the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers, the 9/11 attacks and their perpetrators, and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. Information will be posted online about counseling resources available to you to support students and staff who may need assistance on this special anniversary, especially those who were directly affected either by the attacks or the rescue and recovery efforts.

These materials can be downloaded for classroom use from the 9/11 Memorial. The DOE has also developed a 9/11 Resource page, with links to the 9/11 Memorial, as well as additional instructional resources and professional development opportunities for educators.

We must never forget those who lost their lives and the heroism of our first responders on that terrible day. As educators and parents of children who grew up in the years before and after 9/11, we have a responsibility to help them learn that the attacks of 9/11 were an attack on all New Yorkers, our nation as a whole, our freedoms, and our way of life. I hope that you review these resources and urge your teachers to make use of them in the classroom.

Dennis M. Walcott

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.