Bloomberg’s New York: Education for the Future?
As part of WFUV's series on Bloomberg's New York this week, Claudia Morell looked at one aspect of the Mayor's education policy that will remain long after he leaves office.
In his first State of the City Speech as Mayor, Bloomberg said that when it came to reform and innovation, the Board of Education had failed.
"There are simply too many cooks over at 110 Livingston Street,” Bloomberg told a cheering crowd at City Hall referring to the Board’s headquarters in Brooklyn, “each with their own competing recipe, which produces a political stew, rather than a sound education.”
And after 12 years of being the kitchen’s head chef, Mayor Bloomberg made significant changes to the city’s school system. He closed dozens of low performing schools—much to the anger of students, teachers and parents—and replaced those schools with smaller, co-located schools. He introduced dozens of pilot programs to improve student attendance and test scores—even incentivizing them with backpacks and other school supplies. He created a more uniform curriculum for the city’s over one million students, and put a stronger emphasis on standardized test scores to track student achievement.
He also drastically expanded the number of schools, adding 656 new schools, often co-locating them in large, failed schools. This included a variety of International, Transfer, so-called “Innovation Zone Schools” and new Career and Technical Education, or CTE schools.
Source: The New York City Independent Budget Office
Since Bloomberg took office, there has been a greater focus on finding and preparing students for the careers and jobs of the 21st century. For the first time since the 1960s, the Bloomberg Administration added 28 new vocational schools, often partnering them with companies like IBM, or local colleges and universities. This includes schools that specialize in film, healthcare, software, engineering, and technology.
“The jury is still out on how that is going to work,” said Pamela Wheaton, the Managing Editor of InsideSchools.org, noting that many of these schools have yet to graduate a class. “It’s been a good idea, an interesting idea, that is forward thinking, because they are not just doing carpentry or hair styling.”
8th grader Jaden Tumma from the Bronx is interested in applying to one of those new schools. I met him outside of one of the Department of Education’s summer forums on the high school admissions process at Lehman High School.
“The Urban Assembly [Gateway] School for Technology,” he told me when I asked what his first choice was, “because it focuses on computers and stuff, and that is what I want to do.”
The Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology in Manhattan opened in 2011. It is one of 28 Career and Technical Education or CTE schools the Bloomberg Administration added. According to InsideSchools.org, students who attend that school focus on three career fields: digital animation and web design, computer and information technology, or health and information technology, along with traditional academic classes.
“For some kids that's a good thing—to have an option—but others don’t have any idea what they want to do, and I think above all you need a good, all around education,” Wheaton added that many of these schools don’t offer AP classes or higher level math or physics courses required for jobs like nursing.
Forest High School's high school admissions forum (Source: Claudia Morell, WFUV)
And while most of the students I spoke with at these high school forums were picking their high schools based on interest or college and career aspirations, few had mentioned these CTE schools as a possibility. In fact, the most common schools mentioned by students at these forums were some of the city’s eight specialized high schools—Stuyvesant, LaGuardia, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech.
Outside the high school admissions forum at Forest Hills High School in Queens, 8th grader Nury Calderon said Bronx High School of Science was her first choice. “I want to be a neurosurgeon when I grown up,” Calderon explained, “so, science and mathematics really have to do with neurosurgery.”
Calderon will be competing with tens of thousands of her peers for a spot at one the city’s specialized high schools, many of which are the top students in their class and the best test takers in the city.
Wheaton said Bloomberg's successor needs to add more unscreened, mid-sized traditional schools that aren't focused on a singular topic and cater to everyone from honors to remedial, so there is less of a segregated system of schools based on academics or career-tracks.