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Opinion

Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First?


de blasio education

Mayor de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office)


Mayor de Blasio's annual State of the City address is a natural time to take a step back and review his performance running the largest school system in the United States. For StudentsFirstNY, our most basic litmus test for policymakers is a simple question – are they putting the interests of students first? After two full years with Mayor de Blasio, we can definitively say that the answer is "no."

In analyzing Mayor de Blasio's stewardship of city schools, there are several themes that emerge. First, there is a distinct lack of urgency in delivering results for students. Second, his policies are not based on research. He has ignored evidence that programs like small schools and expanded choice work. Third, he has not shown results on failing schools. And finally, the mayor has ignored teacher quality.

Throughout the course of his time in office, this mayor has not shown much fondness for the details of his job. He seems more comfortable pondering the course of progressive philosophy or knocking on doors in Iowa, for example, than he does in setting specific timelines and metrics for results. Take his much-hyped program to have every child read by third grade. The goal is noble, but he doesn't promise results that can be measured until 2026 – long after he is gone from office. What good does that do for kids who will be trying to learn to read this year, or next year, or for years after that?

A strong education leader understands that setting realistic short-term targets is essential to tracking results and ensuring progress towards a greater goal. Without real, deliverable metrics, these programs are little more than press releases with empty promises that may never come to fruition.

Another hallmark of Mayor de Blasio's time in office has been a fundamental rejection of data and research-based decision-making. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the school system was improving – but Mayor de Blasio has rejected the use of evidence as a personal rebuke of his predecessor. In its place is a menu of nice sounding initiatives that have never been shown to actually improve educational outcomes for kids.

Time and time again, Mayor de Blasio has opted to make education decisions based on politics, even when it means rejecting policies that have a proven track record of success. Take small schools as an example. Countless studies have shown that small schools work, but the de Blasio administration has rejected them for political reasons.

The same is true with charter schools. Even though New York City has the longest waiting list in the country, with tens of thousands of parents hoping to get spots for their kids in charter schools, the mayor has fought tooth-and-nail against them. Why? It's not about serving kids; the mayor's political allies in the teachers union want to stifle their competition.

These politically-motivated decisions threaten to trap another generation of students in failing schools, with no hope of a turnaround. The "Renewal" model was supposed to be Mayor de Blasio's signature program, but so far it has accomplished little for kids in the city's lowest performing schools. Some Renewal schools hit their target goals before the program had even started – a sure sign of artificially low expectations. And despite the claims of progress, objective student achievement measures show that these schools continue to perform poorly.

Finally, Mayor de Blasio has not lifted a finger to improve teacher quality. He missed a golden opportunity to improve teacher quality with fundamental reforms during the 2014 teacher contract negotiations. Instead of reform, de Blasio caved to the UFT on every key issue – everything from merit pay for great teachers to eliminating the unwanted teachers from the ATR pool. The mayor likes to call this "collaboration," but in reality, the UFT gets what it wants at the expense of kids. So students are stuck with ineffective teachers and the teachers that no principal wants are forced back into the classroom.

At the end of the day, we need to know that students are learning and have access to the highest quality schools possible. Halfway through Mayor de Blasio's term, it's not enough to talk a good game. It's time to deliver results.

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Jenny Sedlis is the Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY. On Twitter @JennySedlis & @StudentsFirstNY.

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A Good Deal for Horses


NYCLASS horses central park

photo via NYCLASS


***Editor's note: this op-ed column was published in anticipation of a vote on legislation that did not occur when a deal fell apart at the last minute on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2015 ***

The The New York City Council has the opportunity this week to take carriage horses out of dangerous city traffic and create new protections that will help these horses lead happier, safer lives.

They should jump at the opportunity.

For all of the political back and forth, this is a smart, sensible plan – especially if your goal is to protect horses. Consider the details of the plan:

First, it reduces the number of carriage horses by nearly half and protects them from being sold into slaughter when they are done working. NYCLASS has publicly stated that we are willing to pay – without the use of a single dime of taxpayer funds – for these retired horses to be sent to a sanctuary. So ignore any false rhetoric about these retired horses being sold to slaughter - it's just not true.

Second, the plan requires that the remaining carriage horses live and work in Central Park, not in dangerous city traffic. New York City streets are loud and congested with honking taxis, ambulance sirens, and double-decker buses. That's a reality that horses should not be forced to manage. Under this plan, they won't have to.

Third, it nearly doubles the stall size for each horse to 100 square feet and provides daily time and space for horses to roam – essential elements for protecting the horses' mental and physical well-being.

Some have falsely claimed that having half the number of horses will mean that the remaining horses will be worked twice as much. This is simply not true. The legislation limits the horses to working only one shift per day and there are clear penalties for overworking any horse.

None of these protections exist today and everyone who loves horses should support them.

Of course, there are some opponents now pushing the City Council to follow the "delay to death" strategy – dragging this process out even further. Enough is enough. We have debated and discussed this for years. Heck, the City Council passed – and the editorial boards of both the New York Times and the New York Daily News supported – legislation to move the horses into the Park in 1988! The time for debate is over. The Council needs to do what is right and pass this legislation.

What's more, delaying the process isn't a solution; it only allows opponents to continue to spread misinformation, particularly regarding bizarre real estate conspiracy theories. Let's set the record straight – again – on this: the stables are privately-owned property; the owners can do whatever they want with them. No one at NYCLASS, including our founder Steve Nislick, has or will have anything to do with the West Side stables. Period.

Strangely enough, some are surprised that NYCLASS and other animal rights organizations have so strongly supported the new compromise. They shouldn't be. Our number one priority is and always has been to protect the horses in the best and most practical way we know how. This plan does that.

The same can't be said for those supporting the status quo. These individuals claim that the horses are well cared for. This couldn't be further from the truth. Carriage horses are forced to live their entire non-working lives in small, confined stalls without access to open pastures. They travel to work through dangerous city traffic, forced to dodge enormous trucks, speeding cars, and bicycles, often spooking, and in too many cases, they are struck and injured. Are these proper conditions for beloved animals? We certainly don't think so. That's why numerous animal protection organizations such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States support this plan too.

Other opponents claim that the compromise doesn't go far enough. They want a complete ban on horse carriages. While we are sympathetic to these passionate voices, we believe that New Yorkers should support the proposed legislation because it helps achieve our number one priority: protecting and improving the lives of carriage horses. This compromise is a real-world solution to a problem that should have been eradicated decades ago.

It is time for us all to come together on the most important point: horses – as all animals – should be treated humanely and with care.

This new compromise is our opportunity to do just that. Because protecting our city's precious animals is not a choice, it's an imperative.

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Allie Feldman is the Executive Director of NYCLASS. On Twitter @NYCLASS.

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Reducing Organic Waste Without Increasing Costs


composting sanitation

photo via NYC Sanitation


Today, the New York City Council will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Sanitation's organic waste program started in 2013. The focus on organic waste is merited by the size of the waste stream (more than 1 million tons annually) and environmental benefits of reducing greenhouse gases through use of alternative disposal strategies, such as composting, rather than transport to distant landfills. The City plans to expand the pilot program citywide; however, a report published this week by the Citizens Budget Commission indicates the cost of doing so would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, City leaders should pursue a different strategy.

The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) currently collects organic waste from more than 186,600 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, as well as 200 large apartment buildings and 750 schools. The share of organic waste diverted ranges from 12 to 26 percent – lower than the citywide recycling rate (43 percent) – at a cost of $19 million over two years.

If the curbside program were expanded citywide, costs would balloon.

Most districts do not have sufficient unused truck capacity to substitute an organic waste collection for one weekly refuse collection or to use dual-bin trucks. CBC estimates at least 88,000 new truck-shifts would be needed for collections each year, resulting in citywide costs in the range of $177 million to $250 million per year – an increase of 10 to 15 percent on the $1.7 billion cost of residential waste collection and disposal.

Given these costs, DSNY should alter its strategy in three ways:

1. Expand curbside collections only where and when additional collection routes are not required. This could be achieved by either replacing a weekly refuse pickup with an organics pickup or collecting refuse and organics simultaneously with special trucks with two separate compartments. Achieving such efficiencies would require City Council approval and a significant boost to participation rates. Currently only one of the 59 sanitation districts would qualify, but at higher diversion rates as many as ten could.

2. Collaborate with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to expand the use of in-sink disposers. DEP and DSNY should identify neighborhoods where in-sink disposers could be used without burdening wastewater treatment infrastructure. This strategy eliminates the need for curbside collections, bringing food waste from people's homes to digestion plants via water pipes and sewers, not trucks on roads.

3. Bring down the cost of all collections in the long-term. If wider diversion of organic waste is a high priority, collection costs must be reduced. Ideas for changes to collection routes and practices range from negotiating changes to the contract for sanitation workers to opening all or some residential waste collection to a competition among private carters.

As New York City seeks to achieve environmental benefits through wider diversion of organic waste, municipal leaders should understand that unless residential trash collection costs are reduced, new program costs will greatly overwhelm any potential savings from landfill reduction. A targeted strategy could be a way to preserve municipal resources and ensure organics programs are sustainable for the long term.

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Carol Kellermann is President of the Citizens Budget Commission. On Twitter @cbcny.

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The City's Next Steps to Ensure Vibrant, Creative Communities


nyc culture

photo via @NYCulture


Earlier this month, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs announced a promising new program aimed at strengthening cultural organizations in targeted neighborhoods. The initiative, known as Building Community Capacity, was introduced in conjunction with Mayor de Blasio's rezoning proposal in East New York, where the program will be launched.

The new initiative is consistent with several of the recommendations from Creative New York, the Center for an Urban Future's recent report on the city's arts economy. The report found that a number of small and mid-size arts organizations in low- and middle-income neighborhoods are financially strained. To address this issue, it encouraged the de Blasio administration to integrate the arts into its rezoning proposals, ensuring that existing artists and arts organizations are supported, preserved, and fortified.

In recent years, government support for New York City cultural organizations has declined significantly. Adjusted for inflation, programmatic and operating grants from the National Endowment for the Arts fell by 15 percent, from the New York State Council on the Arts by 37 percent, and from the city's Department of Cultural Affairs by 16 percent. As a result, cultural organizations have become increasingly dependent on private philanthropy. Many mid-size and small organizations have struggled with this adjustment. In 2012, for instance, we identified 14 "mid-sized" performing arts venues whose revenue did not cover expenses.

Small organizations are also under pressure, particularly those located outside of Manhattan and those serving communities of color. Among New York organizations that explicitly listed their constituents as non-white, earned revenue—primarily attendance fees—covered 32 percent of their expenses, compared to 55 percent for those with a general audience. Likewise, individual and board donations covered only 11 percent of expenses for these organizations, but a much higher 21 percent for those serving a general audience.

Given the extensive challenges facing small and midsized art organizations—particularly those in communities outside of Manhattan—it's encouraging to see the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) focus on fortifying these groups.

While the specifics of the DCLA program will be developed in partnership with local community members and organizations, Building Community Capacity has several worthwhile objectives. They include: helping organizations with board development and fundraising capacity, equipping arts leaders with essential management skills, activating underused spaces for cultural activities, and streamlining the permitting process.

To address these challenges and achieve these goals, DCLA and community-based cultural organizations should look to nonprofits and other city agencies for inspiration. To assist with board development and fundraising capacity, for instance, DCLA could replicate the Robin Hood Foundation's Board Placement Program. Robin Hood helps connect talented, committed and wealthy individuals with social service nonprofits throughout the city. The DCLA could provide a similar matchmaker role for small cultural nonprofits.

Likewise, to help arts administrators develop their management skills, DCLA should look to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's Fashion Fellows, a yearlong training and networking program for rising stars in fashion management. The DCLA could introduce a similar platform for administrators at cultural nonprofits in low-income neighborhoods.

As East New York artists and arts organizations search for affordable and underutilized performance and rehearsal facilities, they should partner with the Department of Education. Schools in East New York (District 19) contain 46 "primary" and "non-primary" dance rooms, 64 music rooms, 50 theater classrooms, and 61 auditoriums. After school hours, most are left unoccupied. Opening these facilities in the evenings and on weekends could provide stable, affordable space to hundreds of local artists, helping them remain in the neighborhoods where they live and work.

Finally, to streamline the permitting process and enliven vacant retail spaces in the target neighborhoods, DCLA should look to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting (MOFTB) or the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) for assistance. The current permitting process is extremely cumbersome and expensive, requiring individual approval from several agencies, including the police and fire departments.

For film and street fairs, on the other hand, the MOFTB and SAPO have established a one-stop-shop, helping to simplify this bureaucratic tangle. Given their resources and expertise, the MOFTB or SAPO could assume permitting duties for all East New York performances and exhibitions, on a pilot-basis. If it runs smoothly, the city should consider delegating all performing and visual arts related permitting to one of these two agencies.

With the Building Community Capacity program, the de Blasio administration is redoubling its efforts to strengthen local organizations and improve access to the arts in all of the city's neighborhoods. From permitting to management training, board development to activating underused spaces, the Mayor's initiative can help build more vibrant, resilient and creative neighborhoods.

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Adam Forman is a Senior Researcher at the Center for an Urban Future.

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To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers


hersh

Lauren Hersh, the author (at podium), and other activists 


Sarah was 13 years old when she was lured into prostitution by two men from her New York City neighborhood. For the next two years, she was sold to buyers who were eager to purchase her adolescent body. Her pimp required her to meet a quota and when she didn't, she was brutalized.

There were many moments when Sarah tried to leave the life of prostitution. Each time, her exploiter would threaten to harm her or worse, her little sister. Sarah felt helpless and trapped. So, she stayed.

Sarah was bought by men who wore business suits and went home to their wives and children. The money they paid would pass through Sarah's hands and land in her pimp's pocket. While her pimp and the buyers operated with impunity, Sarah was harassed and arrested by police more times than she could count.

For years, New York court dockets were filled with women and girls who were pulled off the street, brought before judges, sent to jail, and then returned back into the hands of their exploiters. This vicious cycle was fueled by laws that failed to adequately protect victims and a public perception that people in prostitution were there of their own free will and should be punished in an effort to "clean up the streets."

In 2013, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman created Human Trafficking Intervention Courts after recognizing that the vast majority of women arrested for prostitution were, in fact, victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation. These courts sought to provide people in prostitution with exit strategies and comprehensive services, instead of jail time and criminal records.

Simultaneously, a widespread movement to change the New York State Human Trafficking Laws was gaining momentum. Survivors and advocates were frustrated that in New York, sex trafficking was still a non-violent felony and people who purchased children for sex were receiving lower penalties than those who committed a purse snatch.

District Attorneys needed better tools to prosecute exploiters. Victims needed better protections. Change was necessary to reflect the growing understanding that in order to eliminate trafficking, it was necessary to hold traffickers and buyers accountable, not people in prostitution.

Albany responded to pleas for progress. In October 2015, Governor Cuomo signed the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act into law, a comprehensive bill that increases accountability for those who exploit, while providing protections for some of society's most marginalized. Last week, survivors around the state cheered as this law went into effect.

The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act can absolutely be a game changer. But, like any law, it makes no difference if it is not enforced. And this is a significant task.

Sarah's experience with our criminal justice system signals a need for change.

Specifically, we need widespread police training not only about the new law, but the complexity of exploitation and best practices for prevention. Police departments must continue to shift perspectives on prostitution.

Government resources must be used to prosecute traffickers and to eliminate the demand for prostitution by going after buyers. It's a simple case of supply and demand: without buyers, there's no profit for the sellers. Successful trafficking prevention must include sex-buyer accountability.

Law enforcement cannot eliminate trafficking alone. Resources must be allocated to heighten community awareness and provide in-depth training for those on the front lines. School teachers, medical professionals, and those working with children in foster care, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations often meet young victims, but without adequate trafficking training, they may miss critical signs of exploitation.

Today, Sarah* is a lawyer and one of the fiercest anti-trafficking advocates you will ever meet. But she can't do it alone. The notion that prostitution is a victimless crime must be banished from our vernacular. People in prostitution must be seen for what they are: victims of modern-day slavery and sexual violence.

It's incumbent on all of us – including our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels, the judiciary, law enforcement, and everyday citizens – to do what we can to prevent even one young girl from living the hell that Sarah endured.

*Note: Sarah (a pseudonym), is now in her late twenties and still receives threats against her life from her former pimp. Her safety requires full anonymity.

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Lauren Hersh is Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy and Advocacy at the NYC-based Sanctuary for Families, a leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.

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What To Do When The L Train Closes


mta out of service

Out of service (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)


The denizens of Williamsburg and Bushwick have responded to news of potential multiyear L train closures with a mix of shock, despair, and irritation. People are talking through the alternatives: taking the G, J, and M trains; boarding the East River Ferry; or even (gasp!) riding the bus. Quite likely Williamsburgers will also summon a swarm of UberPools and Lyft Lines unlike any seen in our time.

Hysterics aside, it’s unlikely that the MTA would do a full, year-long double-tube shutdown. The most plausible plan is a long series of “nights and weekends” shutdowns for tube repairs, with the possibility of a brief total closure of both tubes to finish them “Fastrak”-style while rehabs of the 1st Avenue and Bedford stations and additional electrical substations are built. The latter service upgrades, which would permanently boost the line’s peak-hour capacity by 10 percent (a big deal for a subway line often at “crush” capacity during rush hour), depend on the timely success of Senator Chuck Schumer’s request to expedite federal funding. Nothing is certain until the upgrade funding comes through, but some Sandy-related stretch of nights-and-weekends closures is sure to come, as the MTA’s initial bid requests describe a contract lasting about 40 months.

If the MTA does indeed briefly close both tunnels—or even just one at a time—what should be done to limit the carnage? First, carpool restrictions (HOV-2, or even HOV-3) on the Williamsburg Bridge during train closures—just like during transit strikes and natural disasters. Previous nights-and-weekends closures of the L have brought “Carmageddon” to the bridge, especially during UberPool and Lyft Line promotions. Ensuring that solo drivers don’t hog every lane is a surefire way to keep everyone moving.

I personally remember the bridge congestion during the UberPool $2.75-a-ride L train closure special, as it was both the first time I shared an UberPool and the first time I rode with a carsick middle-aged woman being ill out the back window into the East River.

So to minimize the stop-and-go, nausea-inducing congestion—and maximize the potential efficiency of ridesharing services—the city should cooperate with the MTA in implementing HOV restrictions on the bridge, and even dedicating a lane to shuttle buses and the B39. It’s not at all radical to take away a car lane for more efficient transportation modes: The Williamsburg Bridge was built for streetcars.

This potential L train crisis is a reminder that better transit redundancy plans are needed for high-volume chokepoints, even if they inconvenience a comparatively small number of drivers. A truly radical long-term proposal would involve permanently replacing some car lanes with transit-only lanes and re-opening the abandoned streetcar terminal under Essex Street on the Manhattan side of the bridge. Current proposals include replacing the terminal with an odd subterranean mushroom park.

But if the real estate industry ever gets serious about funding a public-private waterfront streetcar through Williamsburg, perhaps restoring the rail lanes to the old streetcar terminal could be added to the plan. No matter what the MTA decides, the coming L train closures are an opportunity to start getting creative with our transportation systems and our waterfront. Let’s hope at least some of these mitigation proposals get a serious hearing.

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Alex Armlovich is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. On Twitter @aarmlovi.

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As Federal Aid System Advances, Our Outdated Way Leaves New York Students Behind


cuomo suny 2020 podium

Gov. Cuomo and SUNY 2020 (photo via The Governor's Office)


If New York wants to put students first, it must align financial aid statute
with the updated federal FAFSA.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the form that has been used to determine how much federal financial aid, and in some cases institutional financial aid, students receive since the early 1990s. Over the course of the last several years, the Obama Administration has worked to streamline the process, including an Executive Order announcing that beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year, FAFSA completion will utilize tax data from the year prior to the previous tax year (also known as "prior-prior") to make it easier for students and families to complete this critical form.

This is a change that advocates like NYSFAAA and Young Invincibles have been pushing for years. And, New York must act this year to bring its processes to meet the same type of standards.

So why are these changes such a big deal for students? In short, it can be incredibly difficult for students to find and use their previous year's tax information. Let's not forget that in many cases we are asking high school students to understand, process and use complicated tax information. Many students who complete the FAFSA before April of any given year end up using estimated tax information if they or their parents have not yet completed the most recent tax return.

This causes complications for both students and colleges, as families end up having the difficult task of trying to estimate their income information, and in turn schools end up having to award aid based on these estimates. Corrections to the data after taxes are actually filed can throw students who are already enrolled in a college for a serious and detrimental loop. What's worse, the aid pool can dry up while these institutions wait for accurate information. Either way, in some cases the aid they thought they could have suddenly seems to just disappear and with it, potentially the dream of going to school.

Most states are equipped to accommodate this transition to prior-prior year income data without a change in state law. New York, however, is one of the states that cannot seamlessly make this transition, and right now because of this students are going to bear the burden.

Completion of the New York State financial aid application for TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) requires by law that only prior year income be used in the determination of awards. This creates a disconnect between the federal aid application and the state aid application, making the system incredibly confusing and difficult for students to navigate. Fixing this disconnect and eliminating this burdensome requirement, as the federal system has done, could be the difference between a student going to college and a student being left behind by our state.

To remedy this problem and ensure that the application itself doesn't become an unnecessary barrier to aid, a statutory change in New York is needed that would require TAP to use prior-prior year income data. While there are a number of necessary reforms needed to bring the Tuition Assistance Program into the 21st century, this statutory change to align with federal regulation is common sense and an easy lift, and it must be done before the end of the legislative session in Albany.

The rising cost of getting a college degree is already a barrier to many New Yorkers, the financial aid application process should be the least of their concerns.

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by Sue Mead, Government Relations Chair for the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association, and Kevin Stump, Northeast Director for Young Invincibles NY.

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Common Core Mistakes Worth Not Repeating


maryellen elia school visit

State Education Commissioner Elia visits a school (photo: @NYSEDNews)


Political expediency is terrible policy.

This idiom is crystal clear when it comes to the criticisms of the Common Core. To hear the cynics tell it, repealing the Common Core learning standards is as easy as 1, 2, 3; repeal them, increase scores, then everything is fine.

But it is not nearly that simple.

As policymakers consider the next steps in strengthening New York's education system, and legislators enter yet another session fraught with politically motivated self-interests in Albany, it is important they learn from the mistakes other states have made.

There are real costs associated with replacing Common Core, and perhaps even more importantly, the process of doing so results in chaos in our classrooms. The warnings are clearly spelled out in a new report from High Achievement New York – and our state's leaders would be foolish to ignore them.

Despite the heated debate and rhetoric about Common Core around the country, including among presidential candidates, only two states, Indiana and Oklahoma, have actually repealed the standards and tried to replace them with something new and different.

What perhaps sounded like a quick fix designed to appease political agitators turned into a costly waste of taxpayer dollars and left confused teachers in both states.

Indiana spent $170 million to repeal the Common Core. The change came at a time when educators in that state were indicating they were just getting comfortable with the standards. Learning and preparing to teach new education standards is a difficult process; and one that teachers are usually given a year or more to adapt to. In Indiana, they only had three months. The haphazard change resulted in frustrated and flustered educators which hurt the education of every child in that state.

It was complaints about overtesting that, in part, drove Indiana to make this rushed change. The state's plan truly backfired and parents and students bore the brunt of the change. Indiana rolled out a new exam in 2015, which included 12 hours of testing time, double that of the previous year. That number is now at nine hours of testing time, again more than when the Common Core standards were in place.

In Oklahoma, the cost of repealing Common Core totaled $125 million. The state reverted back to old standards – which had failed to adequately prepare students for college and careers. In fact, 40 percent of Oklahoma's high school graduates under those standards needed remedial courses as college freshmen.

Elsewhere around the country, there are countless states that reviewed the Common Core looking to solve their political problems yet ended up leaving the standards themselves largely intact.
South Carolina's new standards are 90 percent aligned to Common Core and it is much the same for West Virginia's new standards.

In New Jersey, a review resulted in the recommendation to keep 85 percent of standards and to continue administering the PARCC exam developed by a consortium of states and aligned with the Common Core.

The story is much the same in Florida, Arizona, and Iowa where the standards were simply rebranded with new names.

Experience elsewhere clearly indicates that forcing the repeal of Common Core is the wrong move for our children and would be a colossal waste of time and money.

Instead of putting politics first, our policymakers, from the Governor to the Regents and Education Commissioner, should work towards customized standards that meet the unique needs of our students, while remaining closely aligned to the Common Core.

So what should we take away from all these efforts to help us make the right decisions here in New York right now?

First, and most importantly, trying to repeal or substantially replace the Common Core standards would be a waste. It would be a waste of time, a waste of money, and worse it would plunge classrooms into confusion, setting yet another generation of children back.

Second, new "New York" standards must be as or more rigorous than the Common Core. We cannot forget why these rigorous standards were implemented in the first place – to actually prepare children for college and 21st century careers. Standards that promote critical thinking and reasoning are essential so that our children have the tools to succeed in an increasingly global economy.

Rigorous standards based on the Common Core and assessments aligned with those standards give us the baseline to ensure that all children are advancing together. We cannot go backwards on this.

Third, when politicians become too involved in the mechanics of what happens in the classroom, nothing good happens. That is why any review process should be driven by the professionals at the State Education Department – the people who know education policies the best.

Fourth, and similarly, classroom teachers must be the driving voices in any revisions. Teachers are on the front lines and understanding what is working in our classrooms and what is not.

And finally, a new name actually matters. Renaming the standards, yet keeping them based on the Common Core, removes from the debate what has been a name easily demonized for political purposes. Instead, New Yorkers would be able to turn their attention to the standards themselves. When that happens, as shown in a recent Center for American Progress poll and in countless states, rigorous standards are overwhelmingly popular.

Students, teachers, and parents in other states learned the pitfalls of replacing Common Core the hard way. In New York we don't have to.

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Stephen Sigmund is the Executive Director of High Achievement New York and Denise Toscano is an Elementary Principal in Suffolk County. She is a member of High Achievement New York and an America Achieves' New York Educator Voice Fellow.

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Give New York Manufacturers the Space They Need


manufacturing background

photo: William Alatriste


In November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released a manufacturing policy that makes a strong commitment to the city’s Industrial Business Zones (IBZs). This is the culmination of a growing consensus among certain sectors of the city, from the Progressive Caucus of the City Council to the Hotel Trades Council the editorial board of Crain’s NY Business.

The ten-point plan includes investments in city-owned manufacturing facilities such as the Navy Yard, the creation of a shared advanced manufacturing incubation space, and, controversially, strengthening the prohibition of residential uses within IBZs. Naturally, however, some developers and real estate investors are skeptical, according to Politico New York:

"Several developers…were predictably troubled by the idea that they could not build apartments and condos in these zones … “There are areas of the city that manufacturing is never going to return to. With the housing crisis being what it is, it doesn’t make sense to preserve them for jobs that aren’t coming,” said one developer."

Steve Cuozzo at the Post goes farther, calling it “delusional:”

"What’s looney is the misallocated priority. While the city moves at a snail’s pace to rezone East Midtown, chief engine of the city’s tax base, and buries shopkeepers and small businesses under an avalanche of fines and regulations, it’s throwing the kitchen sink into massaging a sector that counts for peanuts in relation to a financial-, media- and service-driven economy."

As outlined by Saskia Sassen in The Global City, New York’s economy today, like most global cities, is built on producer services like finance, law, and marketing, which make New York into a command-and-control center for the global economy. When Cuozzo tells us to focus on rezoning East Midtown and the “financial- media- and service-driven economy” that operates there, he is arguing that New York should further specialize in producer services, on the assumption that they can sustain the city’s economy and finances indefinitely.

It’s natural to ask, why not? Why make space for manufacturing, when other sectors are contributing so much to the region’s economy, and with affordable housing in such short supply?

For one, cities need manufacturing. Urban production is a self-sustaining engine of prosperity. Not large-scale industrial monocultures like the Detroit auto industry in the “big three” era, but a large variety of small manufacturers buying and selling to one another, like New York’s economy was built on.

As Jane Jacobs argues in The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, with support from many economists, cities grow and thrive when small enterprises start producing things they previously imported from other cities, creating new markets for suppliers, maintenance, and distributors, while creating knowledge spillovers that lead to new innovation. The cycle continues as the new imports are replaced in turn. This cycle, she argues, is the very process of economic development.

Jacobs even went so far as to criticize Mayor Bloomberg’s rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in the last year of her long life, in part because it robbed the neighborhood of manufacturing land. Even Bloomberg recognized the importance of production, since his administration created the IBZs and, with great success, redeveloped the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a productive manufacturing space.

Producer services may result in high profits, but the majority of working-class jobs they create are precarious, low-wage service jobs. Without manufacturing jobs to fill the gap, workers can’t keep up with the rising rents and fares on the paltry wages they make mopping floors and mixing lattes. Fighting back against that inequality, whether through struggles for a $15 minimum wage, against racist police violence, and to preserve and expand affordable housing are crucial. So is building a stronger, more sustainable economic base for working-class New Yorkers.

To create that base, the city must reserve space for job-creating production to occur. Forget the market balancing supply and demand: in such a hot market, there is more demand for various land uses than the city will ever have the square footage to supply. Without public action, only the highest-margin uses will win out, so reserving space for manufacturing, just as it does for affordable housing, is exactly what the city should be doing. Affordable housing, public services, and manufacturing all contribute to the needs, prosperity and culture of the city, but if they are caught in a bidding war with finance and high-end real estate, they will lose. The city isn’t just a space to consume, it’s a place to produce.

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Matthew Rigney is a Master of City and Regional Planning Candidate at Rutgers University.

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Criminal Justice Reform Act is No Alternative to Broken Windows Policing


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NYPD ceremony in Times Square (photo: @CommissBratton)


Monday morning the City Council will begin consideration of a series of bills, called the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which would limit the use of criminal penalties to manage a variety of low level “quality of life” offenses such as public drinking, park code violations, noise, and public urination. City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said she hopes these changes will reduce the problem of excessive criminalization in communities of color, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the courts committee, on WNYC radio last Friday. Lancman noted that too many areas of the city have experienced overpolicing and overcriminalization.

The Act, being spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito,  already has broad support in the Council and the endorsement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and thus, Mayor de Blasio. It's encouraging that political leaders in New York City are exploring ways of reducing the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, but this package of reforms is at best a baby step, and at worst, may open the door to more racially discriminatory police actions.

The bills, if passed, would create new civil penalty options for these offences by allowing police to choose between a criminal summons and a civil one when encountering an offender, a choice made based on departmental guidelines. The criminal codes remain on the books per Bratton’s insistence, which he says is necessary so that officers can demand identification, conduct searches, and perform background checks.

With a criminal summons, people must appear in summons court and if they fail to do so a warrant is issued for their arrest. Over a million such arrest warrants are currently on the books, leading to numerous unfortunate encounters with the police, such as being arrested on the way to work or to pick children up from school.

The new civil process, to be administered by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, will be more like traffic court in which people must pay a fine or perform community service, but no warrant will result from failure to comply. Instead, a civil judgement will be issued, which could result in the garnishment of wages or bank accounts, or seizure of property. This might also affect one’s credit rating. None of this will result in incarceration, which is positive, but the penalties can still be substantial, with fines ranging from $25 to $250 for a first offense.

In addition, these financial penalties are likely to fall heaviest on areas where quality-of-life, or broken windows, enforcement is the most widespread, removing resources from already poor communities. While some will escape these penalties through community service programs, many working poor will not.

Vincent Riggins, chair of the public safety committee of Community Board 5 in East New York has actually called for the return of half of all those fines to the local community board to be spent on community development projects. It is a great idea that would reduce the financial incentive that has driven excessive and discriminatory summonsing in places like Ferguson, MO.

Riggins has raised another important point. By leaving these offenses on the books, rather than truly decriminalizing them, the door is left open for the kinds of invasive policing experienced under stop, question, and frisk in recent years. By keeping open alcohol an offense, police will have “reasonable suspicion” to stop anyone drinking a beverage in a bag or unmarked container, potentially leading to exactly the kinds of unwarranted police intrusions that we have worked so hard to reduce. While Bratton rightly touts reductions in police enforcement encounters, racial disparities persist.

Another area of concern is the discretionary nature of the new rules. The NYPD insisted that it would only support the bill if it retained the ability to treat these offences as criminal when officers felt it appropriate. This gives them the ability to demand ID and run people for warrants. But what will determine who gets a civil summons, who gets a criminal one, and who gets run for warrants? There is a real risk that the more punitive practices will become heavily concentrated in exactly those poor, non-white communities that bore the brunt of stop, question, and frisk, and who bear the burden of most criminal summonses and low level arrests now.

Council Member Gibson says that there will be a process of determining policies for guiding officer discretion, and that the City Council is calling for the default to be a civil summons. This outcome, however, is far from assured, since the ultimate decision rests with the NYPD and the officer on the street. Therefore, there is a real risk that the police will perceive the need to take harsher and more invasive action in exactly the same places they do now, with milder penalties reserved for more prosperous parts of the city. If these changes are enacted, this must be monitored closely, something Council Members Jumaane Williams and Mark Levine are proposing through a bill mandating reporting by the NYPD.

Any reduction in the use of criminal penalties is welcome, but this measure retains an adherence to using punitive mechanisms to manage so called quality-of-life problems in keeping with the deeply conservative Broken Windows theory. There is nothing in the bill to develop non-punitive mechanisms for addressing community problems.

As one caller to WNYC pointed out, the current criminal penalties seem to be largely ineffective in reducing the amount of public urination, why should the civil penalties be any more effective? They won’t. The reality is that public bathrooms are largely non-existent in New York City. Other major cities around the world have much more developed amenities in place and have largely avoided this problem. If you don’t want people to pee in public, give them functional and accessible public bathrooms, not a choice between criminal and civil sanctions.

In addition, a lot of quality-of-life problems are driven by pervasive underemployment for youth of color, a lack of positive social activities for young people, and widespread homelessness. While the Mayor and City Council have started to acknowledge the extent of some of these problems, their focus has been primarily on hiring more police and tinkering with what kind of punitive sanctions to use, rather than a major redistribution of resources away from police, courts, and prisons, and towards housing, healthcare, and youth services.

In his book The Silent Black Majority, Michael Fortner shows that the push for criminal justice solutions to community problems was supported by many in poor black communities and my own research on the rise of quality-of-life policing in the ‘90s shows the same thing. But what I also found was that these communities also called for youth centers, improved housing, and better schools, but what they got was only the policing and prisons. It’s time our political leaders quit asking the NYPD for permission to really shift resources away from the criminal justice system and towards improving communities in positive ways.

In Los Angeles, the Youth Justice Coalition has called for redirecting 1% of all criminal justice spending ($100 million) in the county towards youth jobs, community centers, and violence reduction outreach workers. That would be real reform. The Police Reform Organizing Project here in New York is currently exploring a similar initiative on an even broader scale. Crime and disorder matter and need to be addressed, but we must strive to develop affirming rather than punitive solutions whenever possible. If the City Council is serious about reducing the negative impacts of the criminal justice system, it should start by revisiting its decision to expand the NYPD. More police with more discretion is not the answer.

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Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

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Time to Support New York Students with Billions Still Owed from Campaign for Fiscal Equity


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Council Member Dromm (middle), the author, at the Queens Library


Governor Andrew Cuomo's recently proposed budget plan for education is a mixed bag, but represents a major shift from his attacks on public education in years past. Ultimately, however, his plan falls short by allocating less than $1 billion in new education money this year at a time when public schools are still owed more than $4.4 billion in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) funding.

The CFE was a lawsuit brought by parents against the State of New York over a decade ago. These parents charged the State with failing to provide public school students with an adequate education. In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the State in violation of a student's constitutional right to a "sound and basic education" by underfunding schools.

Nearly ten years later students have still not received the money due to them. The State still owes New York City a staggering $2 billion, leaving our public schools woefully underfunded.

Even the $1.3 billion school aid increase provided in the 2015-16 budget was not enough to restore the massive cuts our schools suffered earlier in the decade. Public schools in immigrant and low-income communities are particularly affected, most of which are owed over 77% of outstanding CFE dollars.

Just imagine the transformative impact a $4.4 billion dollar investment in public education would have on our children's lives. If adequately funded, schools would have the ability to hire additional teachers and school support personnel. Among other things, these sorely needed dollars would provide our students with a more robust physical education and help expand arts education in our schools. These CFE funds would bring about a dramatic reduction in class sizes in New York's most overcrowded school districts. The possibilities are endless.

Credit where credit is due: I am excited that the Governor sees the value of the community school model and recognizes how successful community schools have been in New York City. Supporting students holistically—by offering support groups and child daycare for parents, access to physical and mental healthcare, mentors for students and other valuable services—will make them successful in many ways.
The $100 million he has allocated for community schools is welcome news, but falls short of the $500 million needed considering that these schools have grown exponentially over the past year.

I am hopeful that the Governor's budget plan signifies a renewed interest in public education. But it's high time he settles this ten-year-old debt. New York State must deliver the entire $4.4 billion in CFE funding it owes in order to truly do right by our children. Their futures deserve no less.

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Daniel Dromm is a City Council member from Queens and chair of the Council Committee on Education. On Twitter @Dromm25.

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