Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

De Blasio's High-Reaching Education Initiatives Promise Bold Changes for NYC Public Schools

By Toni-Ann RichardsPublished October 18, 2015

Will NYC public schools have enough funding and expertise for computer science programs?

In late September, Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out an ambitious set of goals to improve the rest of New York City’s School system. While the overall $186 million commitment over the course of ten years has caused some people to balk at the proposal, we need investment in the underperforming school system. In addition to expanding full-day kindergarten and launching turnaround programs for struggling schools, de Blasio aims to encourage more college readiness in students at younger grade levels.

One goal is adding reading specialists to elementary schools to ensure that two-thirds of students are reading at grade-level by the end of the second grade in six years, which will be a challenge since less than one-third of New York City’s third-graders earned a proficient score on last year’s state tests. Access to Advance Placement courses and prep courses, currently not offered at four in 10 city high schools, will be rolled out by next fall with the hope of expanding availability to all high schools by 2021. There are some notable challenges, which include the increase in small high schools that have less scheduling flexibility and therefore less room for advanced courses. However, deciding which AP courses to add can be decided on a school-by-school basis with the option of expanding courses eventually. Of course, success in advanced courses in high school won’t happen without prior basic knowledge on subjects like algebra, which 40 percent of middle schools don’t currently offer. The city is hoping to expand the number of middle school classes that offer algebra so that students take the class by ninth grade.

One aspect of de Blasio’s plan that seems particularly daunting is his plan to significantly increase the number of students receiving computer science training beginning in the fall of 2016 and expand to all grades by 2025, which is expected to cost $81 million in the next ten years. Currently, more than 90% of public schools offer no computer science classes and only 1% take the courses in the schools that offer them. Since 2013, the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC) has been funding and promoting pilot programs at test schools to work out the shortcomings of computer science education, indicating a genuine interest in the expansion of these programs.  Donors from organizations such as Union Square Ventures and the Robin Hood Foundation have already promised to donate $5 million a year to the computer science effort, indicating the viability of these programs. As it stands, about 30% of the private money for this initiative has been committed.

​De Blasio’s plan has come under much criticism from charter school advocates who believe his administration’s refusal to grant charter school’s space in “under-utilized” city public school buildings is doing a serious disservice to poor students for whom charter schools are free alternatives to underperforming public schools. While the mayor’s former attitude towards charter schools has often been harsh, he seems to be more willing to cooperate with them in his hope to crate and fund at least 25 partnerships between district and charter schools to better reach English language learners, something that charter schools have had trouble with.

It is important to realize that de Blasio is trying to connect the universal pre-k program and initiatives to help failing schools to subsequent stages of educational development into the New York City public school system. By pushing initiatives that try to build and expand on early education, de Blasio is hoping to ensure that every city public school student is afforded the opportunity to have an equitable and solid education and hopefully pursue a college degree. In 2014, New York City’s four-year June graduation rate increased nearly 3 points to 64.2 percent, the largest jump in some years and dropout rates fell as well. The mayor’s initiatives, while not completely fleshed out, are definitely guiding city schools in the direction they need to go.