Fixing What Wasn't Broken

NYC students headed back to school this morning for a year full of new challenges -- some to new schools, to new teachers, new subjects, new experiences. Unfortunately, one of those experiences will be learning without extra academic support.

When NYC and the UFT ratified a new contract last spring, one little mentioned change was that tutoring would no longer be built into teaching schedules. It was the end of the school year and getting struggling students up to speed wasn't a top subject as summer fast approached. But here we are, thousands upon thousands back in classrooms, rigorous common core standards more firmly in place, test scores not improving nearly as much as was anticipated, and students have less academic support than ever before. Add to the mix that the mayor and the chancellor are vigorously trying to change the admissions policy at NYC's esteemed specialized high schools, the goal to broaden diversity, but without supporting underperforming students their changes would most likely lessen rigor and standards. One can only wonder who's looking at the bigger picture?

In statements posted on NYC's website Mayor de Blasio said, "Everyone needs to play a positive role in our children's future, and this agreement deepens parental engagement, recognizes quality teachers, and ensures our students will benefit from a new era of educational reforms that will improve learning and performance in the classroom."

Chancellor Farina commented, "Today, you are seeing the results of educators coming together and doing what is best for our students."

UFT President Michael Mulgrew noted, "This agreement--which works for students, parents, teachers and the city--is proof that with leadership like his, we can do it."

(please note, this author added bold and italics above)

But how? How can anyone expect students to do better in a continually changing and increasingly challenging learning environment while taking away academic support?

Who is taking responsibility of helping them succeed?

As the parent of 8th and 11th graders, both of whom have been in public school since kindergarten, I know how invaluable that extra support can be. But, as my junior now will be starting her day with pre-calculus, AP English and physics I had to explain to her that the after school tutoring she'd taken advantage of in the past no longer existed. It's not that teachers don't want to help. It's that the 150 minutes in their weekly schedules that had been set aside for academic support have been repurposed. Now that time will be spent on parent outreach and professional development. Not that those aren't worthwhile options. But in an educational system serving so many it feels almost criminal to expect more and more from these kids and then pull the support rug out from under them.

Schools now have to work within these altered parameters to find effective ways of supporting those who need intervention. Families, if they can afford it, will have to take on added financial burden of private tutoring. Dedicated teachers could very well end up volunteering personal time to accommodate those they see struggling.

The question I'm left with: do the people in charge have the backs of our kids? Looking at these new challenges NYC students now face, it appears the answer is no.