As voting day for New York City’s new Mayor approaches, I wanted to offer a progressive education prospective on the proposed educational reforms from candidates Bill deBlasio and Joe Lhota. What is a progressive education, though? The progressive mission statement of Bank Street is to nurture the creative, independent, and problem- solving talents of all children by “applying to the educational process all available knowledge about learning and growth.”
These are the words of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, who studied how child development and learning are intrinsically connected. Bank Street has some wonderful literature and links can be found here.
Each of the candidates has made promises to improve education in the city, but in different ways. I took a look at each candidates’ proposed education policy.
Lhota’s three main objectives for improving education are to “make students number one, create more charter schools, and empower teachers.” He is supportive of teachers using the common core in schools and also favors teacher evaluation systems, describing them as “means to guide teachers in their professional development.” Lhota also wants to work with the unions to “ensure they are in the best possible position to educate our kids.” He also promotes using the Common Core standards as a way to better our education system.
Certainly, a progressive educator would value putting children first, but in my opinion, his statement is vague. For instance, Lhota wants to increase the number of charter schools in the city. There has been much debate about Charter Schools, with some touting their improvement of test scores, and others pointing out declining numbers of ESL and SPED students. Lhota’s mission statement seems to suggest that teachers are empowered by teacher evaluation systems. Most progressive educators, such as Alfie Kohn, argue that creating standards in education is a purely political play on the part of the policy makers, and has little to do with improving learning among students. The same critique could be made of Lhota’s support of the Common Core Standards.
de Blasio outlines a more extensive vision of how to improve schools. He aims to establish truly universal full-day Pre-Kindergarten, offer after-school programs for all middle school students, ensure all students are reading at grade level by third-grade, improve special education, lower the stakes on testing, involve and engage parents and families, expand the community schools model in high poverty neighborhoods, increase focus on college and career readiness, reduce class size, recruit and retain teachers, place great leaders to lead great teachers in every school, strengthen citywide oversight and support for schools, turn struggling schools around, improve mayoral control, make school breakfasts more available, and ensure every child receives arts education.
I don’t see anything explicitly progressive about his policies, but one would have to see that he has put more thought into the many things that add up to a successful school model than Lhota has. de Blasio wants to ensure that every child receives an arts education, which the progressive approach that Bank Street embodies would certainly support. The arts are a phenomenal way to teach to the whole child. In fact, I recently wrote about incorporating music and movement into the curriculum as a way of reaching students who struggle to connect to academic concepts. In the paper, I wrote about a teacher who used a talent show in her room to promote multiculturalism and empathy. The students grew and learned through this process as opposed to rote memorization or following common core standards.
Overall, I think both candidates support common core standards and increasing the use of data and test scores to evaluate schools and students. As for the Unions, they have already backed de Blasio, even though Lhota has made it clear he wants to be able to work with them. de Balsio, with a son in the public school system and years spent as a public advocate, and Lhota with a vision for bettering schools as a way to bettering New York’s economy, seem to be pro-education and understand the importance of good teaching.
Our coursework at Bank Street focuses on meeting the Common Core Standards while also striving to consider the whole child, scaffold, and create opportunities for children to learn and show their knowledge in a way that is best for them. It is important to remember that while Lhota and de Blasio’s policies don’t appear all that progressive education-minded, there is still opportunity for progressive ideals to be in place in classrooms around the city, no matter who the mayor is.