Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/202 Wed, 26 Jun 2019 02:10:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8557-culturally-responsive-charter-school-alleges-state-bias-against-attempt-to-expand ember charter2

(image: @EmberCS_BedStuy)


[Update (6/3/19): shortly before the Board of Regents meeting on Monday, June 3, Ember Charter School's application to expand was added to the agenda]

[Update (6/5/19): the Board of Regents sent application back the city DOE with comments, no final decision has been made]

The founder of a black-led charter school in Brooklyn with a focus on African and African-American cultural education is alleging the New York State Education Department (SED) is surreptitiously blocking the school’s application to grow. As the next school year approaches, leadership of the Ember Charter School for Mindful Education, Innovation and Transformation is claiming plans to revise its charter to expand programming into high school are being denied, not on formal grounds, but through procedural techniques that have kept it off the agenda of the state’s Board of Regents, where approval is needed.

Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, the founder and managing partner of Ember Charter School, claims his is the only school to apply for a revision or renewal of its charter this year and not receive it, despite having authorization from the city’s Department of Education. The DOE, as the school’s “authorizer,” is required by law to ensure its charter changes meet certain criteria, like whether it will satisfy educational standards and improve outcomes, before sending its recommendation to the Board of Regents, which presides over SED, for final approval.

With that step accomplished, Kalam Id-Din II says the state rebuff is a new chapter in SED’s hostility towards his school and aversion to its “culturally responsive” mission. He argues that SED is far more friendly to traditional, large charter networks, often run by white executives who enjoy less scrutiny and more unquestioned support from the state power structure.

Ember, which prides itself on having black leadership, embraces an educational model centered around the experiences of its students, who are predominantly black and labelled “at-risk” to be underserved. After the DOE authorized Ember’s proposal to expand its programming, it was apparently sent to SED to be placed on the Board of Regents’ May agenda, but the May meeting passed and the June meeting is approaching without any sign that Ember’s application will be taken up.

The inaction from SED hints at the degree of discretion that may exist between the agency’s mandate to ensure high educational standards and the traditional procedures intended to produce those results.

“We are being treated in a way that is completely different than every other charter school is being treated,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

Kalam Id-Din II believes Ember’s charter revision application was ready to be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting in May, but it was left off the agenda while another school with an application submitted at the same time was discussed and approved. Through Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, whose district includes Ember, Kalam Id-Din II says he learned this month that Ember’s application would again be left off the Board’s June calendar. (Wright’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

“The New York State Education Department is working closely with the New York City Department of Education to evaluate this revision request to expand this school to a high school and ensure that all students in New York City have access to high quality educational options,” J.P. O’Hare, deputy director of communications at SED, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

But in a draft memo provided to Gotham Gazette by Kalam Id-Din II, authorizing Ember’s charter revision, the DOE wrote, “This issue will be before the P-12 Education Committee and the Full Board for action at the May 2019 Regents meeting.” O’Hare did not respond to a follow-up email from Gotham Gazette asking whether it would be on the agenda of the board’s June 3 meeting Monday, and Kalam Id-Din II had no word from SED as of 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. The school community is planning to protest at the Regents meeting scheduled for Monday, June 3, in Albany.

The Ember Charter School was launched in Brooklyn in 2011, serving kindergarten through first grade under the name Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School. The school has been expanding its program ever since, first incorporating a second grade class in 2012 and reaching grade six by 2016. When it changed its name to the Ember Charter School in 2017, its goal was to continue to expand through grade 12, according to its website.

The school’s board of trustees decided to formally pursue the expansion into high school in October 2018, which would allow it to increase enrollment by 176 students from its current K-8 program to roughly 970 total students. Both the extension through twelfth grade and the growth in enrollment require the school to submit an application for a “material revision” to its charter through the authorizing agency -- in this case the city DOE -- which is responsible for making a recommendation to the Board of Regents.

As the authorizing agency, the DOE must certify that the application meets the requirements under the state’s Education Law; that the applicant demonstrates the ability to operate the school soundly; that the changes would improve student learning; and that the school district consents to the proposal in districts where charter school enrollment makes up more than five percent of total enrollment.

On April 4, 2019 the DOE held a mandated public hearing in the school’s auditorium to solicit feedback from parents and the community about the proposed changes. Fifty-five people attended the hearing and eight spoke, seven of whom were in favor of Ember’s proposed expansion, according to the DOE’s draft memo.

Following the hearing, and after completing its required assessment of Ember’s charter revision application and authorizing it, the DOE appears to have sent the proposal to SED to be taken up by the Board of Regents.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Kalam Id-Din II said Ember Charter School “relied on the long-standing practice that our authorizer’s decision in this matter would be dispositive and that the Regents would act to effectuate their decision.” But this did not happen in May, and looks like it will not be on the Board of Regents’ Monday meeting agenda either, even as families with high school-age students prepare for the upcoming school year.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, O’Hare of SED wrote that the city DOE has informed SED that if the charter revision request is not approved, all matriculating eighth grade students at Ember will be matched to a placement in a DOE high school for the next academic year.

In May, Assemblymember Wright allegedly told Ember’s leadership that the application was being tabled out of consideration for a nonbinding resolution passed by a number of local and citywide education councils calling for a moratorium on charter authorizations throughout the city. According to Kalam Id-Din II, Wright also cited concerns that Ember’s math test scores trailed the state average, and its enrollment of students with disabilities and those who are economically disadvantaged did not reflect the make-up of the school district it is in.

Kalam Id-Din II disagrees with those characterizations. In the email to Gotham Gazette, he points out that the community education council in Ember’s school district declined to adopt the charter moratorium resolution, and questioned the motives behind holding up only one charter school application on that basis. “[I]t defies any sense of equity or fairness that Ember would be the only charter school whose material revision and expansion were scrutinized and impeded” because of the non-binding citywide moratorium voted on by the citywide education council, he wrote.

Kalam Id-Din II also argues Ember’s state test scores should be evaluated with respect to the school district it serves, rather than the state as a whole, and in comparison to similar black and Latino student populations. “In both of these measures, Ember’s overall math state test performance meets or exceeds these indicators,” he wrote in the email, an assertion that is supported by test score data he provided, as well as information available on SED’s website.

Ember Charter School’s student body is predominantly black and almost exclusively black and Latino: according to DOE data from the 2017-18 school year, it’s students were 79 percent black and 19 percent Hispanic. The school embraces its blackness by gearing its curriculum towards the experiences of its students of color with an emphasis on “culturally relevant” and “economically relevant pedagogy,” according to its website.

Data from the city DOE indicates the total student population in the city is 26 percent black and 40.5 percent Hispanic, whereas, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s analysis of SED data, 53 percent of the city’s charter school students are African-American and 38 percent are Hispanic.

In terms of the school’s “special populations” enrollment figures, Kalam Id-Din II points out that a significant portion of its student body has been exposed to trauma, but that this is not captured in the data on students with disabilities. He added that a vast majority of charter schools approved for renewal or revision had enrollment figures that lagged behind their school district’s in at least two special population categories. Nevertheless, Kalam Id-Din II says Ember is working with the DOE to implement an enrollment preference for students with disabilities next year.

The disagreement between the way the state evaluates test scores and special populations underscores the obstacles faced by schools serving communities of color with curricula that deviate from the mainstream. “We’re the only school taking these steps and really putting...the culturally responsive commitment to our black and our Latinx students at the center of our work,” Kalam Id-Din II told Gotham Gazette in the interview. There is a growing movement among black parents in Brooklyn and throughout the country towards Afrocentric schools and curricula, partially as a response to decades of failed desegregation efforts and the feeling of marginalization many black students experience in integrated schools.

Whatever the school, Kalam Id-Din II says, black-led programs are “impeded in the same particular way...I don’t think that there is a lack of desire of black, Latinx people looking to open or start their own charter schools. I think this is one of the reasons why this sector looks the way it does now. This is a huge equity issue.”

He says Ember’s focus on the experiences of communities of color has been the subject of SED scrutiny before. According to Kalam Id-Din II, when the school tried to incorporate a study abroad program in Africa into its renewed charter in years passed, SED expressed skepticism about the value and safety of bringing New York students there and sought for the language to be removed. “All of these things...really rang hollow to us given that study abroad is pretty widely accepted,” he said.

No agenda for the Board of Regents’ June meeting had been published as of Thursday, May 30 at 5 p.m., and Kalam Id-Din II still hopes the board will take up Ember’s application. Whether or not it does, Ember Charter School plans to take students, parents, and staff to the board’s meeting Monday in Albany. “Either way SED will need to deal with us, our kids, our community face to face,” said Kalam Id-Din II.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

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Approved by City, ‘Culturally Responsive’ Charter School Alleges State Bias Against Plan to Expand Thu, 30 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8402-students-for-school-safety-solutions-not-suspensions-counselors-not-cops https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8402-students-for-school-safety-solutions-not-suspensions-counselors-not-cops mayordeblasio pay equity

(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


Recently, many news outlets have sensationalized the declining use of suspensions in New York City, framing young people negatively and attempting to discredit the progress that has been made. These stories discount the needs of students most impacted by punitive discipline, who have been very clear about the urgency around redefining what school safety really means.

And while suspensions are down across the city, too many schools still use ineffective tactics, choosing to exclude students rather than seeking to better understand them. Relying on tactics like suspensions, or even metal detectors, handcuffs, surveillance cameras, installing gates on windows, and hiring more school safety and police officers only fosters feelings of turmoil.

As two students currently enrolled in Brooklyn high schools, we understand the circumstances and we understand the impact of suspensions and policing on young people. We must end the school to prison pipeline for the sake of ensuring a better future for the next generation of children.

On March 20, we testified before the New York City Council to draw attention to both the financial and social cost of criminalizing young people in school. Last year the city adopted a budget that was going to spend $373 million on the School Safety Division of the NYPD. The mayor’s new preliminary budget shows a $30 million increase in that funding, now expected to reach $403 million. This would be the most that the city has ever spent on school policing. This isn’t a step in the right direction. This is a crisis.

The city needs to redirect funds toward positive and healing alternatives that work, such as more guidance counselors, clinical social workers, school psychologists, and access to restorative justice that all can boost the morale of students across campuses and increase the academic engagement of students to help them graduate.

The Department of Education recently released its 2019 data report on the number of guidance counselors and social workers in all New York City schools. According to that report, across 913 school sites covering grades 6 through 12, there are 449 schools listed that do not have a single social worker, and 40 school sites that do not have a single guidance counselor. Schools are too ready to push towards more desperate, punishing measures when it would be more positive and transformative in the long run to invest in what helps students feel whole.

Funneling public money towards ensuring students are policed in schools is not safety. Ensuring a future where people respond to problems with criminalization is not the answer.

We’ve both been to Albany to advocate for the Safe and Supportive Schools Bill that would encourage schools across all of New York State to shift away from punitive practices. We are both committed to helping build the schools people need to thrive. Supportive, respectful schools where students are treated with dignity is what will bring us safety.

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Gary Edwards is a high school senior and Khushayah Morris is a high school sophomore. Both students are education justice advocates with the Children’s Defense Fund - New York, and members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign of New York.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Students for School Safety: Solutions Not Suspensions, Counselors Not Cops Mon, 08 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Lessons from ‘Renewal’ and Beyond: What It Takes to Turn Around Our Lowest-Achieving Schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8401-lessons-from-renewal-and-beyond-what-it-takes-to-turn-around-our-lowest-achieving-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8401-lessons-from-renewal-and-beyond-what-it-takes-to-turn-around-our-lowest-achieving-schools maybdbchancellorencarra

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


For decades, school and district leaders across the country have struggled to answer a fundamental question: how to turn the tide for our nation’s lowest-achieving schools. Some have resorted to school closures, choosing to start anew and relocate those students to better-performing options. Others have tried to “turn around” underperforming schools, in the hopes that an influx of resources, a greater emphasis on data, and strong leadership could spur improvements in student achievement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal program, in particular, highlighted the promise of that alternative to school districts across the country. Rather than shutter 94 poorly performing schools across New York City, he provided a slew of targeted supports that included additional teacher training, new curricula, extra mental health counseling, and resources from community-based organizations. These additional services came with the conditions that schools set clear goals and remain accountable for sustained improvement.

Over the course of four years, Renewal reflected a clear commitment to supports over school closures and a systems-wide approach; important ingredients of a successful turnaround effort. However, the initiative failed to incorporate input from practitioners and community members, creating a disconnect between policies and ideals—and the actual work of teaching and learning within their classrooms.

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio had no choice but to end his $773 million school turnaround experiment, facing scrutiny over not only a lack of local engagement, but the nearly 75 percent of Renewal schools that failed to exhibit significant improvement over four years.

In the wake of this latest setback, district leaders and policymakers across the country are still searching for the answer to this fundamental question. Atlanta Public Schools has shifted to a broader, system-wide effort to elevate all 89 schools in the district. Rhode Island continues to grapple with the ongoing struggles of its turnaround schools, even amid promising practices like common planning time for teachers, culturally responsive curricula, and concerted family engagement efforts. And Tennessee is experimenting with approaches that range from state-run school districts to innovation zones that offer extra resources and charter-like autonomy.

School turnaround remains one of the greatest challenges in education today. Yet, in response to this challenge, we are not using tools and strategies that have actually proven to increase student achievement. Research that my colleague and I conducted last fall shows that only 11 percent of service providers supporting the work of school turnaround have demonstrated evidence of impact.

While some providers may not have been evaluated yet, and others offer consultations or services that are more difficult to measure, the key take-away here is that states and districts are prioritizing partnerships with providers that have never demonstrated evidence their turnaround tools work.

For an issue as intractable as school turnaround, shouldn’t we put our best strategies forward?

First and foremost, we need to recognize that school turnaround begs a system-wide approach, a tenet that Renewal did take to heart. New York City Department of Education officials strove to leverage an ecosystem of partners to support students’ academic, psychological, social-emotional, and basic needs. Renewal’s successor, the Comprehensive School Support initiative, will offer a similar, system-wide approach, leveraging a data-driven system to surface the resources and supports that all students need.

What is still missing from this picture is deep engagement of stakeholders across the school building and broader community. In a system-wide approach, district officials must work side-by-side with principals, educators, school support staff, health providers, out-of-school time providers, and community leaders to establish an overarching change vision for each school.

They must investigate the traditional causes of decline and failure, ranging from significant teacher and leader turnover to chronic budget cuts and a lack of community engagement. And they must take on the role of offering the evidence-based, capacity-building tools and resources that this ecosystem of partners needs to successfully off-set those root causes.   

Most importantly, they must accept that effective school turnaround is a long-term effort, not to be achieved in just three years.

Over time, we have worked with Gallup-McKinley County Schools in New Mexico, one of the largest and poorest districts in the state, which has recorded substantial, enduring increases in student proficiency. And in Ohio, a network of 20 turnaround schools demonstrated significant gains in student achievement.

Undoubtedly, school turnaround will remain one of education’s most difficult challenges. However, we now know it can be done with an attention to system-wide stakeholder engagement, evidence-based tools, and the right supports from our school districts.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza should take note as they make their next attempt at turning around New York City’s struggling schools.

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Coby Meyers is associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development and Chief of Research for the UVA Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, an initiative that has supported effective school turnaround efforts in New Mexico, Ohio, and districts across the country.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Lessons from ‘Renewal’ and Beyond: What It Takes to Turn Around Our Lowest-Achieving Schools Mon, 01 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Giving Our Children Tools to Eat and Live Healthily https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8377-giving-our-children-tools-to-eat-and-live-healthily-school-food https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8377-giving-our-children-tools-to-eat-and-live-healthily-school-food school garden 2 002

(photo: 123rf rawpixel)


It’s 10 a.m. in Ms. Montalvo-Teller’s second grade science lab at P.S. 75. A group of students are happily scarfing down kale, arugula, and bok choy leaves they grew themselves. While they enjoy their snack, Ms. Montalvo-Teller engages them in a science lesson about what parts of the plant we eat. And, Ms. Montalvo-Teller says, many will then go home and pester their parents to buy more of the tasty greens for dinner.

These kids are getting great food and nutrition education that will help them develop as healthy eaters and advocates for good food. Yet there is no guarantee that students in the school down the street, or in other schools across the city, are getting similar opportunities. In fact, according to a recent study, almost half of our city’s schools lack access to external food and nutrition education programs.

We face incredible odds in helping our children eat well. Show us a parent who hasn’t had to contend with the colorful sugar-cereal aisle, the athlete’s face on the soda can, or the fast food toy promotion. And parents who struggle to put any food at all on the table face even more challenges.

That’s where school-based food and nutrition education comes in. The evidence shows, and parents know, that when children are excited and empowered to eat well, they will.

Kindergarteners visiting the local farmers market. Fifth-graders cooking and sharing a meal together. High school seniors learning to combat how structural racism makes healthful foods inaccessible in some communities. In all its forms, food and nutrition education engages students in navigating our challenging food supply. And, with students eating up to three meals and a snack during the school day, they have the chance to put new skills into practice within hours of learning them.

With school-based food and nutrition education, we can improve our children’s health, our communities’ health, and even the health of our planet. Food and nutrition education is a key to combating childhood obesity. In New York City, one in five kindergarten students is obese and the ratio is even higher for black and Latino children.

Eating a nutritious diet improves students’ physical, mental, and emotional health. They learn better today and avoid a host of chronic diseases down the line. Many of our city’s communities lack access to healthy and affordable food. Students who have learned to look critically at the types of foods available in their neighborhoods go on to launch campaigns for better choices in their local bodegas.

And of course, we can’t ignore climate change. Children who learn about the impact of food and agriculture on the environment grow up to be conscious consumers and advocates for a more sustainable food system.

All New York City students deserve healthy, equitable, sustainable, and culturally-responsive food access and education. Yet the city’s Department of Education (DOE) does not provide any data on which students are getting food and nutrition education, how much they are getting, or who is delivering it. Anecdotally, we know there are more teachers like Ms. Montalvo-Teller in schools across the city. And according to a Tisch Food Center report, we also know that there are dozens of organizations that provide food and nutrition education to just over half the city’s schools. Yet the picture is far from complete.

That is why we are behind a bill in the City Council, Intro. 1283-2018, that would require the DOE to report on school-based food and nutrition education. DOE needs to shine a light on the gaps in food and nutrition education so that parents, students, educators, advocates, and policy-makers can craft equitable policies that direct resources to the schools and students that need them most. The City Council can’t legislate the implementation of food and nutrition education, but it can require reporting and transparency, which will help highlight and expand what is already happening.

We wouldn’t give a child a book and expect them to understand it without learning to read and analyze the words. Faced with today’s food supply, children likewise need and deserve education that empowers them to prepare, enjoy, and ask for good food. As the children in Ms. Montalvo-Teller’s class will tell you, growing your own salad is a fun way to eat your greens. Let’s make sure food and nutrition education like this is on every student’s academic menu. Passing the food and nutrition education reporting bill is just the first course.

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City Council Member Mark Treyger represents parts of Brooklyn and chairs the Council’s education committee; Gale Brewer is Manhattan Borough President; and Dr. Pamela Koch is Executive Director of Columbia University’s Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy. On Twitter @MarkTreyger718 & @galeabrewer & @pam_koch & @tischfoodcenter.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Giving Our Children Tools to Eat and Live Healthily Mon, 01 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn Girl Scouts Find City Isn’t Fully Implementing Menstrual Equity Law https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8163-brooklyn-girl-scouts-find-city-isn-t-implementing-menstrual-equity-law-seek-redress https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8163-brooklyn-girl-scouts-find-city-isn-t-implementing-menstrual-equity-law-seek-redress de Blasio menstrual equity

Mayor de Blasio signs menstrual equity laws (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


When a few Brooklyn Girl Scouts realized their middle school had no sanitary bins to dispose of menstrual products in the bathroom stalls, they sprung to action.

Putting their demands into a petition, they garnered 32 signatures from students during morning recess and presented the list to their principal. Before, girls had to throw away their wadded up menstrual products in a trash can outside of the restroom. After presenting the petition, however, their principal installed new sanitary bins, according to the girls.

“Girls didn’t feel comfortable coming to school on their period because there was no safe or secretive way to dispose of it,” said Arushi Kher, 14, of Bay Ridge.

“We realized this isn’t something that’s very hard to put into action,” added Skyler Kim-Schellinger, 14, of Park Slope. “It’s just that people aren’t realizing that it’s a problem.”

Over the next two years, these Girl Scouts of Troop 2653 focused on menstrual equity – or the accessibility of menstrual products and a fair surrounding culture – for their Silver Award, a Girl Scouts award promoting community service. They launched an investigation including public middle schools in school districts 15 and 20, which collectively cover neighborhoods in Brooklyn’s upper west and southwest corners, including Boerum Hill, Park Slope, and Bay Ridge. They found that only 18 percent of these schools met the standards of providing both sanitary bins in each stall and free menstrual products in the bathroom, the latter of which was mandated by a 2016 package of city laws aimed at menstrual equity.

To collect data on the public schools’ restrooms, Kher and Kim-Schellinger, along with a few other Girl Scouts who later dropped out of the project, called, emailed, and – when those two methods produced little – physically went to the schools. After contacting Department of Education Director of School Facilities of North Brooklyn Joseph Lazarus, they were also accompanied by Deputy Director Alea Stormer in their search.

Although some schools did not answer their requests, they found that most schools they were able to investigate failed to meet one or both of their standards. Five schools also had menstrual product dispensers that charged money, despite the city law stipulating that these products would be free. Kher and Kim-Schellinger presented their efforts to ensure that local schools were both following the law and meeting other important needs of young women during a December interview at the district office of City Council Member Justin Brannan, who helped connect the Girl Scouts with journalists when he learned of their findings and wanted to bring attention to the problems they identified.

After a September meeting with DOE officials from the Brooklyn North Field Support Center, officials said they would follow up with the schools in the district, according to the girls. One way the DOE officials said they could provide more oversight, the girls said, is by adding a section about feminine hygiene protocol to the schools’ janitors’ checklist.

“Every building with a middle or high school has dispensers, receptacles and sanitary product, as well as allocation in their custodial budget for supplying and re-stocking," said Department of Education spokesperson Miranda Barbot, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "We have followed up with all of the schools in these districts to ensure they have the resources they need, and thank the Girl Scouts for their advocacy and partnership in the work.”

It’s unclear if all the schools have been brought up to compliance with the law or with the girls’ dual standards, which Gotham Gazette asked the DOE about. It's also unclear whether there are major gaps in implementation at other schools around the city.

The girls’ project comes at a time when menstrual equity is having an important extended moment in the national, even international, spotlight. Multiple states have moved to eliminate a controversial “tampon tax,” the sales tax often attached to feminine hygiene products despite the fact that other ‘basic-necessity’ products are exempted. The state of New York ended its tampon tax in 2016.

Just before the state ended its tampon tax, New York City enacted its package of menstrual equity legislation, which officially passed after Kher and Kim-Schellinger’s initial middle school petition. The legislation, spearheaded by then-City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, required certain public facilities, including public schools, homeless shelters, and jails, to provide free feminine hygiene products to students and residents. Earlier this year, New York State also passed a law mandating public schools to provide free menstrual products in restrooms.

“When New York City passed the historic law to ensure all public school students had access to free tampons and pads two years ago, we celebrated. But what's the point of fighting to pass laws if they ultimately aren't being implemented or enforced?” said Brannan, a first-term Democrat who represents souther Brooklyn’s 43rd Council District, in an emailed statement. “I applaud the Girl Scouts for doing this important investigative work which will force the DOE to finally comply with the law. We adults can all learn a lesson from their example.”

Kher and Kim-Schellinger officially received their Silver Award from the Girl Scouts in October, after the completion of their two-year menstrual equity project, although the effects of their work are just beginning to be felt.

“I know in my eighth grade year, some girls were talking about getting their periods and how it sucks to have cramps and whatever,” Kher said. “But, then I just remember someone saying, ‘But, we have those bins which is really nice. No guy ever has to see us throw out our pads.’ And I was like, ‘That was me.’”

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated with comment from the DOE, provided shortly after the story first published.

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Brooklyn Girl Scouts Find City Isn’t Fully Implementing Menstrual Equity Law Fri, 28 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7719-former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7719-former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test Shael Suransky DOE

Shael Polakow-Suransky, right, with Carmen Farina (photo: Bank Street College)


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools through changes in admissions policies. The schools currently enroll very few black and Latino students, while, relative to their numbers in the larger school system, white and Asian students are highly over-represented.

De Blasio’s plan involves a first step of setting aside 20 percent of seats at these schools for low-income students whose scores fall just under the qualifying threshold, which the city can take on its own, as well as pushing for phasing out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and implementation of a new admissions system based on state test scores and middle school grades, which requires approval from the state Legislature.

The mayor’s initiative was quickly met with both widespread praise and consternation. Supporters, including some educators and elected officials, applauded the administration for taking the first step in desegregating the city’s top high schools while some parents, elected officials, and alumni groups cried foul that the changes would be unfair to students who work hard to do well on the test, that it is a piecemeal reform that will largely punish low-income Asian students, and that it will exacerbate inequities in educational achievement.

In Albany as well, the mayor’s proposal was met with resistance and the state Senate looks like it may reject his push to scrap the SHSAT even if it is successful in the Assembly in the final few weeks of this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the problem the mayor is targeting, did not take a set position and predicted the issue would be taken up next year alongside a variety of other education topics.

Among those who are more full-throated in calling for change is Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who oversaw the city Department of Education’s SHSAT contract as the DOE’s chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor. After the mayor’s announcement, Polakow-Suransky tweeted that the SHSAT is “not a particularly strong or predictive test.” He said “a multiple measures approach” to admissions with both qualitative and quantitative data “is long overdue.”

Gotham Gazette spoke with Polakow-Suransky about the mayor’s plan, the problems with the current system, and the administration’s overall approach, or lack thereof, to school desegregation.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Gotham Gazette (GG): What you think about the mayor’s plan? How is it going to work and what are the issues with the existing system?

Shael Polakow-Suransky (SPS): I think the biggest challenge here from my perspective is that the current system is missing a lot of talented children who have the right skills to be in these schools, but because we’re looking through a very narrow and pretty blunt instrument at who has those skills, we’re missing a lot of talent that could really strengthen these schools. So that’s a real shame and if the ideas of these schools is to take the most talented young people in the city and accelerate learning for them so they can be leaders, then we need to be looking for the best talent in the city and in order to find that, we can’t use an instrument that you need to game and we can’t use an instrument that only focuses on some narrow set of math and reading skills.

As someone who used to oversee the accountability office, one of my responsibilities was managing the contract with Pearson [the testing company] around this test and…we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked, and I think that’s still true, to spend on this and you kind of get what you pay for.

GG: To spend on the test?

SPS: Yeah. Tests are expensive and the quality of the instrument depends on how much you’re going to spend on it. And so this is a really basic one, like as far as tests go, it’s about as simple an instrument as you can create.

GG: So, what are the problems with it exactly? You’re saying it’s too simple?

SPS: I’m saying that the kinds of skills it’s measuring are the kinds of skills that you can measure through multiple-choice questions, and the content area it’s focused on are English and math. So it’s multiple-choice questions, there’s no writing. If you look at good exams out there today, there’s a combination of multiple-choice and writing and we aren’t looking at any writing. We’re not looking at kids’ problem-solving skills. We’re not looking at their ability to work with others. We’re not looking at their presentation skills. You know, those are the kinds of things you would see if you took into account the grades that they’re getting in middle school, references from teachers, they’re asked for writing submissions.

Any high-performing university, any high-performing private school, and most of the other high-performing screen schools in the city all look at a range of measures in order to find the best talent and we don’t for the specialized schools. We just look at this very narrow set of English and math skills that you can measure with multiple choice questions. And it leads to an inequitable outcome because we’re relying on the students who are participating in this test to kind of focus on how do they do well on this set of questions that this test is measuring, which is not really the right set of things that we should be looking for to find the best talent. And then people spend lots of money and lots of time doing test prep to get good at taking this test which doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re great writers or great thinkers or great leaders.

GG: Have there been efforts to change it over the last couple of years?

SPS: There haven’t been meaningful changes. I think there have been small changes around the edges. But, nothing meaningful.

GG: Did you try to implement changes when you were there?

SPS: I didn’t because it wasn’t something that I could convince others was an important area of focus.

GG: Where was the pushback coming from?

I think the folks at the leadership level felt that this was something that had been in place for a long time and they didn’t really want to open this issue up. They were more interested in investing in trying to provide more supports for kids in middle school, which is also really important. I think there wasn’t major focus at that point.

GG: And by leadership level, you mean just the DOE or just in terms of the City Council, the administration? No one was pushing for it?

SPS: I mean I was working in the DOE, I can’t really speak to things beyond that, but this has been in place for a long time, and it’s a fairly new thing that people are seriously considering changing the state law.

GG: Mayor de Blasio’s plan, what do you think about it? Could it have been better? Is it a good first step?

SPS: I’m not sure what the right solution is. I applaud him for taking the issue on. I think trying to think about how should the state law change so that we can use multiple measures to find the most talented young people in the city for these schools is important. It’s important in order to have more diversity, but it’s also important to make sure that we’re really rewarding talent and not a narrow set of test-taking skills.

GG: Do you think in terms of the larger efforts to desegregate the city’s schools, is this a good first step, and what needs to happen next, in your opinion?

SPS: Well, I think the larger question on segregation is much more complicated than this small group of schools. I think that, if you look at the school districts in the city at the elementary and middle school level where there really is a lot of diversity in terms of different races, those school districts could pursue policies that allow for more choice at the elementary and middle school level that would increase diversity.

But, that is a process that needs to be negotiated in partnership with the local Community Education Council. It’s not completely up to the Department of Education and the mayor to change those zones that currently exist. It’s to include a process with the community and I think that’s happening in District 3 now. It’s happened in District 1. There’s efforts in District 15. But I think it’s that type of work that is needed in order to sort of move away from zones that completely track to where people live.

GG: What do you think of the resistance to the mayor’s plan?

SPS: I think that there are people who are afraid that they’re going to be winners and losers with this shift and they’re trying to protect their current status, which positions them with an advantage in the system. So any change is hard. The truth is that there are many, many other good high schools in the city that are not specialized high schools…so, the notion that these are the only places where you can get a good education is just ridiculous.

I think it’s sort of become a symbolic issue and symbolism is important and we’re a city that has a public school system and 70 percent of the kids in that school system are African-American and Latino. And it’s not right that we aren’t identifying this talent among the African-American and Latino students when we have schools like this that are meant to serve the most talented young people in the city. So, we need to figure out a better way to do it. And, I think with any change, there’s going to be a process where folks push in different directions and that’s part of the nature of making change in a large school system.

GG: Are there comparisons with other cities - is there a path that New York City could follow that some other cities have already done or are there similar issues?

SPS: Most cities have magnet schools like this. So, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know a lot about their admissions processes in other cities, but I do know in the private school world and I know in the university world, it’s very rare that you rely on a single test as a way to do admission for the elite programs in this country. There’s almost nothing left in the world that relies on a single test as the way the admission is granted. So this is really a relic. And, it’s a really blunt instrument to do it because it’s only measuring a really narrow set of skills. And so we’re missing tons of talented kids that could be great in these schools.

GG: What do you think of the mayor’s leadership in general on schools, on school segregation?

SPS: I think he’s moving in the right direction. I think it’s good that - I think it’s impressive that the new chancellor has decided to take this on and that he’s supporting him.

GG: People have been critical that the mayor didn’t take this up until his second term when it’s sort of politically safer for him to do it. And of course the new chancellor seems a bit more willing to take a line that’s not the same as the mayor’s. So, you think that’s promising?

SPS: I think they’re on the same page, actually. I think it is politically complex to do this well because if you force changes through the system that generates conflict in communities between parents or within schools, between teachers, that can distract from the education. And, so, you have to be really strategic and deliberate about the changes you make and to the extent that you can build support within communities and make the changes in ways that bring all stakeholders along, that’s the ideal. So, you know, I don’t have an opinion on the pace of this or when it’s happening, but I do think it’s great that we have a chancellor that wants to take on this issue and it’s great that the mayor is supporting him.

The only other thing I would say is that one of the things that a lot of folks who are lay-people, who don’t know the school system that well, think when they think about specialized schools is that these are the only good schools and the truth is that that’s not the case. I currently run a graduate school of education and as part of that we also have a lab school that is a K-through-8 independent school. And so our eighth-graders apply all over the city to the top schools, some of them private, some of them public. And for many really talented kids at our school, the specialized schools are not the right set because they have a fairly traditional education model with lots of direct instruction by teachers, very large schools, large classes, not great at personalizing the education to the individual child and so I certainly want folks to understand that these are wonderful schools for young people who thrive in that larger environment, but they’re not actually the best schools in the city. There are better public schools that exist that are doing much more innovative work and I think that we need to be thinking about this less from this being the sort of pinnacle of the school system and more in terms of this is one option within the school system that is an important option, but there are many other really interesting options as well.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Mayor’s Much-Needed Investment in Culturally Responsive Education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7653-the-mayor-s-much-needed-investment-in-culturally-responsive-education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7653-the-mayor-s-much-needed-investment-in-culturally-responsive-education de Blasio Carranza

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Carranza visit a school (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last week that the City is investing $23 million in culturally responsive education and anti-bias training in schools -- likely the largest investment of its type nationally -- is welcome news for New York City parents, educators, and researchers.

Education researchers have long-known that culturally responsive education (CRE) -- the practice of aligning curriculum and instruction with students’ backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures -- has a positive impact on improving student outcomes, especially for students of color. Just in the past two years, research has shown growth in student outcomes from having Black teachers, fostering positive racial identity, and taking Ethnic Studies courses.

Results from a new survey concur. They show that New York City teachers are eager to use CRE as a strategy to improve educational outcomes. According to the survey of nearly 400 city public school teachers conducted by the NYU Metro Center, a majority of teachers believe that CRE would improve their practice. However, a lack of preparation and expertise has limited the extent to which teachers can put CRE to practice.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) felt that teachers are responsible for helping students acquire the skills to critically understand, analyze, and respond to issues related to race and ethnicity. An even greater majority (93%) said they would be willing to modify their lessons to connect with students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Until now, support for teachers to do this has been scarce, both in teacher preparation programs and in professional development offerings. Fewer than one in three (29%) of the teachers surveyed reported that they receive ongoing professional development on issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom, and only 10% indicated that they rely on the city Department of Education for this support. When tensions related to racial, ethnic, sexuality, or other identities arise between students inside schools, over half (55%) of respondents said they felt unprepared to intervene, and 93% said their colleagues would be unprepared to intervene.

The mayor’s announcement can begin to change that.

However, the city’s program must become bolder. In order for them to actually shift their practices to teach more effectively across differences, teachers will need a program of deep, ongoing training – not just a one-day workshop. Unlearning biases, being reflective about one’s identities, reconstructing curricula that are sustaining and relevant to students, and bridging the distance between student and teacher does not happen overnight.

Survey respondents call for more training on integrating race and ethnicity into their lessons, more resource materials, and more opportunities for relevant discussions with colleagues. They will need ongoing support to work effectively across lines of race and ethnicity, to ensure that teaching and learning is culturally responsive for all our children, and that teachers are culturally competent to teach them.

In this time of heightened visibility and awareness of racial bias in education, teachers are eager for ways to reach beyond differences to close gaps not only in student achievement but also between student and teacher. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, with his extensive history and track record with bridging cultural divides, is the right leader to make New York City a national model in the area of culturally responsive education.

We hope that New York City can now finally and truly make culturally responsive education the core of its strategy for educating all students, particularly those most implicated by cultural bias.

[Access the full survey findings here.]

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David Kirkland is the Executive Director and Jahque Bryan-Gooden is a Research Analyst at the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Mayor’s Much-Needed Investment in Culturally Responsive Education Wed, 02 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Assignment for the New Schools Chancellor: Address Race Head-On https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7616-assignment-for-the-new-schools-chancellor-address-race-head-on https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7616-assignment-for-the-new-schools-chancellor-address-race-head-on mayorbdbschool

(Credit: Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office)


When I was in 5th grade at a public elementary school in Manhattan, my teacher was Mrs. Camiji, and I loved her. She taught us about diverse cultures all over the world, and pushed us to think about what roles we could serve in our community. It was empowering to see her in front of the classroom. She was the first African-American classroom teacher I ever had, and the last African-American classroom teacher I had until college.

Ms. Camiji was part of the reason I have been so committed to education as an adult. Over the past four years, I dedicated hundreds of hours serving on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy and voting on hundreds of policies affecting the students of color who make up the vast majority of the city’s public school students. But extremely few of those policies have directly addressed the racism and bias in our schools that are obstacles to academic achievement.

In his State of the City speech a few months ago, Mayor de Blasio said, “We face an achievement gap today that is rooted in the enslavement of Americans and the pervasive discrimination against people of color over centuries. We know exactly where the problem comes from, but to defeat structural racism and to overcome this achievement gap, we have to flip the script. We have to do something different when it comes to education….”

The mayor is right, and he is in a position to change this. Former schools Chancellor Carmen Farina made many positive changes in New York City public schools - elevating the role of educators, diminishing the role of standardized tests, expanding community schools, and other great initiatives. But over the past four years, this administration has danced around issues of systemic racism in schools, unwilling to confront it directly.

Despite a deep body of research showing that students are more likely to succeed academically when they see themselves reflected in the books and curriculum they read, in the courses they take, in the issues discussed in class, I have seen very few system-wide policies that reflect this approach to advancing the success of students of color, beyond small and excellent initiatives like NYCMenTeach and Expanded Success Initiative.

I hope that the new leader of the school system, Chancellor Richard Carranza, will take up this issue and do more than the administration has so far.

Chancellor Carranza has seen first-hand, as a principal and a superintendent, the incredible impact on students of color when they learn about their own history and culture, and from educators who understand and connect with their history and culture. He has a reputation for engaging families in genuine and culturally appropriate ways, and knows the investment in schools that approach builds.

My daughter graduated from high school last year, and she never had an African-American classroom teacher in New York City public schools. In elementary school there was one African-American music teacher; in high school there was an African-American substitute science teacher. The students loved that science teacher, and my daughter confided in him and relied on his input to shape her decisions and keep her focused. But it’s a disgrace that my daughter’s teachers were no more diverse than my own, 25 years earlier.

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza, let’s make this the last generation of New York City public school students who have to experience what my daughter and I have. Let’s grow the number of teachers and administrators of color, increase cultural competency among all teachers, and diversify curriculum and course offerings. This is the path to expanding academic success among our students of color, and for all students.

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Elzora Cleveland is a former mayoral appointee on the Panel for Educational Policy, and a parent leader with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. On Twitter @CEJNYC.

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Assignment for the New Schools Chancellor: Address Race Head-On Mon, 16 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Let Carranza Lead https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7579-let-carranza-lead https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7579-let-carranza-lead Carranza de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


According to press reports, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray, and First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan were the key decision-makers in appointing our new schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza. They now must let Carranza lead.

De Blasio had worked with Carmen Fariña for decades, so her appointment was a no-brainer. But when it came to finding her replacement, his secretive process blew up. Alberto Carvalho, the mayor’s first choice, publicly repudiated the job after taking it, reportedly because City Hall attached strings to his hiring authority. The micro-managers are now doing the same to Carranza. It has to stop.

First, soon-to-be-former Chancellor Fariña appointed herself to some ambiguous job placating warring co-located schools. Then Aimee Horowitz, the senior administrator for the beleaguered Renewal Schools program, was transferred from that post to assist Fariña’s efforts.

Installing the old chancellor in another job and reshuffling other leadership positions before Carranza arrives belittles an already hobbled second-choice candidate.
Mayoral control should not mean that chancellors become lap dogs to political expediency. In setting an agenda of continuity from on high, the mayor is sacrificing educational improvement to claim his previous education agenda as the single path to quality.

That’s nonsense. Whatever Fariña’s accomplishments, the system has yawning failures. Barely 40% of 3rd through 8th graders are proficient in reading, fewer than 30% for black and Latino students according to 2017 state test scores. Citywide math scores are even lower, with only one in five black students meeting proficiency standards. Graduation rates stand at about 70%, but only half of grads are deemed “college ready.” Add to that severe shortfalls in educational attainment by students with disabilities, English language learners, and students experiencing homelessness, and the mayor’s rosy picture seems less about progress and more about his next campaign.

Leadership untethered from claims of “Mission Accomplished” is needed for further progress and mid-course corrections. This can’t be done by a mayor wedded to his own record.

First, of course, is giving Carranza the ability to select deputies who know the system but are answerable to him, not City Hall. Next, he needs to be able to speak out not as a ventriloquist’s dummy but as someone who has already led two urban school districts.

Carranza’s statement that there is “no daylight” between him and the mayor better not be true. We are not talking about the Sun God here. De Blasio is prone to mistakes and it is up to Carranza to push back when issues arise, as when he needs to take on the politically powerful teachers union in upcoming contract negotiations.

Then there are policy matters where the mayor needs to take a step back. Carranza actually used the word “segregation” at his initial press conference, something the mayor regularly avoids. Taking on the multiple achievement gaps left to him will mean confronting widespread enrollment issues that de Blasio has so far refused to tackle.

Coming from outside the system after a secret search, a runner-up already scarred by gender-bias allegations and mixed reviews of his previous experience, our new chancellor must bring new thinking and new energy to the table. De Blasio has already done him a disservice by cocooning Carranza, who faces great challenges. But the greater challenge is the mayor’s to let his hand-picked leader lead.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law and Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Let Carranza Lead Sun, 01 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7569-attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7569-attacks-on-yeshivas-present-a-dangerous-slippery-slope eric ulrich1

Eric Ulrich, the author, right, and Cardinal Dolan (photo: @eric_ulrich)


In the coming months, the city and state education departments are expected to rule on an issue that may have huge repercussions for parental school choice and religious freedom. A small group of former yeshiva graduates have alleged that religious schools in Orthodox Jewish communities are failing to provide adequate education to students. As an avid supporter of parental choice, I worry education leaders will side with these critics, posing a threat to private schools well beyond the Jewish community.

Many years ago, I attended P.S. 63, an elementary school in Queens. My mother, a single parent and devout Catholic, made the decision to transfer me to the former Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, a Catholic elementary school. She wholeheartedly believed Catholic school was a better environment for me at the time – and it was. Appreciative of the opportunities Catholic school afforded me, I continued my religious education at Cathedral Prep Seminary High School.

As the product of both public school and Catholic school education, I recognize the importance of parental school choice. The values instilled in me through my religious upbringing and education paved the way for my career as a public servant. Attending Catholic school ignited my passion for helping people; and at one point in my life, I seriously contemplated becoming a priest. If my mother did not have the freedom to enroll me in the school of her choice, I might not have taken the path I’ve taken, which I have found extraordinary fulfilling.

During my time in office, I have visited many yeshiva schools. In each of those visits, I saw a vibrant atmosphere. It is clear to me the Orthodox community takes education seriously. The school day begins just after sunrise, and the majority of yeshiva students study long after they are dismissed. Their studies are deeply rooted in the Torah and Talmud, which encourage discussion and debate at a very young age. Their studies focus heavily upon religious and legal texts, and teachers employ a method of Socratic dialogue with students more commonly found at law schools. That may not be a familiar experience for graduates of traditional secular schools, but tens of thousands of parents choose these schools each year because yeshivas have served them – and their families – well for generations.

The narrow issue before officials is whether these yeshivas are adhering to a vague state regulation requiring private schools to provide a substantially equivalent education to that of public schools. What that means in practice is enormously subjective; private and religious schools throughout the state are awaiting the results of a looming “clarification” from the State Education Department with deep trepidation.

Government officials are being subjected to a pressure campaign by anti-yeshiva activists, who continuously attack the Orthodox Jewish community under the guise of educational quality. We must continue to protect freedom of religion and the rights of parents to send their children to religious schools – whether they are Catholic, Islamic, or Jewish. If we do not stand-up for yeshivas today, the future of other private schools may be next.

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Eric Ulrich is a City Council member representing parts of Queens. On Twitter @eric_ulrich.

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Attacks on Yeshivas Present a Dangerous Slippery Slope Mon, 26 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000