De Blasio and Farina: Stop Worrying About Testing and Coding. Worry About Student Homelessness.

It’s time for NYC to make child homelessness a priority.

There were more than 100,000 homeless children enrolled in NYC public schools in the 2015-2016 school year. That is a small city’s worth of homeless children. And that number is expected to rise.

As a public school teacher, I know first hand the effects of homelessness on children’s well-being and achievement. Homeless students are much more likely to miss numerous school days, making it hard for them to stay on grade level. When they do make it to school, they are often hungry and exhausted- in need of rest and emotional support, not primed for academic challenges. Homeless students also often face long commutes from their shelters to get to school, and are more likely to be late for school. It goes without saying that homeless children also typically lack the support and stability needed to complete homework.

This high rate of homelessness is both unacceptable and unnecessary. New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world. As the city grows wealthier by the day, there is no reason- beyond skewed priorities– for such a high proportion of child homelessness.

The inequality is staggering. While hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in shelters and on the streets, there are empty luxury condos in Manhattan owned by off-shore billionaires, high-rises going up every year, tax credits for developers who build drop-in the bucket numbers of barely affordable apartments and billions of dollars spent on vanity projects like the Hudson Yards path station. On the same block, brownstones sell for three million dollars right next to a bus station that shelters the homeless each night. In my classroom, my homeless students who commute from shelters in the Bronx are expect to perform as well as students who live in multi-million dollar lofts in gentrifying Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the NYC DOE and State Education department spends an exorbitant amount of money on testing, curriculum development and technology every year. Some of these initiatives are beneficial- but nothing should take precedence over meeting the basic needs of every child. Teaching a child to code doesn’t help them find a place to sleep comfortably at night. Spending millions on new instructional standards and resources is all well and good, but if our students are hungry, scared and tired we might as well throw that money out the window. Similarly, there is no point in pouring money into testing and accountability measures when our students don’t have homes. In an era in which we’re obsessed with data and student achievement, it is astounding to me that we are able to virtually ignore the epidemic of homelessness among NYC school children.

Mayor De Blasio did the right thing in bringing breakfast to classroom last year and making school lunch free for all children this fall. Children can’t learn when they are hungry. And they can’t achieve their full potential when they don’t have a home to go to at the end of the day. The needs of children should take precedence over the needs of developers, finance and testing companies. 100,000 homeless children should be declared a state of emergency by the DOE, the Mayor and the Governor, not ignored or treated as an inevitability. If Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo truly want to improve educational outcomes for all children, they must make ending child homelessness a priority in the coming year. If we pass the millionaire tax, close the LLC loophole and get our priorities straight we can  tackle the homelessness crisis in our city.  Every child needs and deserves a home. We have the means. We just need the will to change.

 

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Farina- take a break from career readiness please.

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything, because there is just too much to write about. It’s overwhelming confronting all the inequities and absurdities in education today, plus I am teaching a new grade and have been working about 70 hours a week just to get by.

Recently, I heard Carmen Farina speak at a town hall meeting and left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Dedicated though she may be, some of her answers were reminiscent of some of the corporate education reformers talking points. For instance, after a question about over testing in elementary school and the common core, she said ” kids need to be challenged,” and argued that both the common core and testing are giving kids job-readiness skills.

First of all, in which job do kids need to fill out 70 minute bubble tests on a regular basis? And how is that a meaningful challenge that kids can learn from? Everyone needs to be challenged, but a challenge from which you learn test-taking skills only is not particularly instructive.

Second of all, I am so goddamn tired of hearing about college and career readiness, especially when we’re talking about 8 year olds. Yes of course we should keep it in mind, but isn’t there more to education?

What about critical thinking so that we don’t continue to elect environmentally illiterate bigots to office and so people actually vote every year?

What about valuing creativity so that people have options other than going to massive debt in college so that they can work in cubicles for mega-companies?

What about teaching children to have compassion, to be able to solve problems, to be able to be happy and stewards of our world?

What about empowering children to invent their own jobs and fields?

We never know what the future will hold, so why are we so intent on creating hordes of office workers that may not even have jobs in 2030?

And when you’re talking about little kids, like 5, 6, 7, 8 year olds, can we please put job readiness on hold for a few years so that we can give these children the social-emotional skills and tools for independence that will actually matter?

What about the other important things these kids need to learn- like how to put their coats on by themselves, how to express their feelings and solve problems, how to ask questions,  how to dig in the dirt and explore the natural world, how to be healthy, how to be kind?

The rhetoric of job and career readiness should no longer be used to justify developmentally inappropriate and potentially harmful pedagogy in early childhood. I have encountered too many kids who don’t know how to play- they get overstimulated by sensory experiences, they fight, they can’t share, they can’t solve problems and they can’t cooperate. If you can’t handle play dough without destroying it or punching someone, you have a rough life ahead of you, no matter how good of a test taker you are. And let’s not forget, there is more to education than preparation for the future. Thank you John Dewey.

“We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.”
John Dewey, Experience and Education