Adams: Will NYC Students Have to Repeat a Grade? Can They? Should They? Or Should We Rethink What Being in a Grade Means?
This essay was originally published on the blog New York School Talk.
On April 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced that due to the coronavirus, all school buildings would remain closed for the rest of the academic year, which is set to end on June 26. However, remote learning will continue.
A few hours later, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York countered by asserting his authority and stating that nothing would remain closed until he said so. He did not specify whether schools would reopen or not.
Earlier, the city’s Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza, announced that teachers would no longer be allowed to use the Zoom platform for their lessons, with immediate effect. He then mentioned that Zoom would be gradually phased out, but didn’t provide any timelines. Eventually, he stopped giving any updates altogether.
Overall, the leadership displayed by these officials is questionable.
It’s important to note that New York is not the only district struggling with how to continue teaching and learning during this time of mandatory social distancing. Some districts are considering giving all students A grades and ending the academic year, while others have prohibited online schools from teaching while traditional schools are struggling to transition their lesson plans online. There are also districts that have allowed teachers to choose not to conduct live instruction or work fewer hours per day, and some have even banned live instruction for all students due to equity concerns.
As a result of the nationwide turmoil, there have been proposals to have all students repeat the academic year starting in September.
New York City, which has the largest school district in America, has not yet made a decision on this matter.
But is it even feasible?
The sheer logistical challenge is overwhelming. New York’s public, charter, and private schools collectively educate over 1.1 million children, with approximately 70,000 students in each grade from kindergarten through 12th grade. It would be interesting to see if private schools would participate in such an edict. On one hand, it would mean an extra year of tuition for them. On the other hand, parents might protest and transfer their children elsewhere. Maybe New York could follow Oregon’s example and prohibit school transfers during crises.
The placements for sixth and ninth graders for September 2020 have already been announced, leaving many parents anxiously waiting to hear where their kindergartners have been assigned.
If everyone were held back, would there be no new incoming kindergarten class? (Full disclosure: I’ve heard from multiple parents of children with late-fall birthdays who would actually hope for such an outcome due to New York’s December 31 cutoff.)
What would happen to those children who were scheduled to start pre-K in September? Will pre-K class sizes balloon to over 140,000 students? That is simply impossible. New York lacks the physical space and certified teachers to accommodate all the current pre-K students. Moreover, due to budget cuts, the introduction of 3PK in new neighborhoods has been halted. If the 5-year-olds repeat, and the 4-year-olds repeat, then the 3-year-olds would have to repeat as well. Therefore, there would be no new 3-year-old students entering the system.
Mayor de Blasio has championed the benefits of universal pre-K, claiming that it raises third-grade test scores and prevents teen suicide. However, there is little evidence to support these claims. Yet, would he really deny an entire cohort of 3- and 4-year-olds access to his much-lauded initiative?
Would this also mean that high school seniors won’t graduate? Chancellor Carranza is known for his pride in rising graduation rates. However, a significant number of graduating students are still not prepared for college. Carranza has suggested that the way students are graded needs to be rethought, proposing a pass/fail system based on whether they have mastered the material or not.
So, high school seniors would move on while everyone else remains in their current grade?
But should everyone else stay in place?
Whenever I dare to suggest that perhaps New York City students should be grouped based on their knowledge rather than their age, I receive backlash from teachers who argue that teaching students of different abilities in the same classroom is an essential part of their education and training. They see it as their responsibility.
If that’s the case, then what is the issue here?
The districts that have suspended remote learning due to concerns about fairness argue that it is unjust for some students to have access to computers and dedicated work spaces while others do not. It is evident that the former group will be much more advanced come September compared to the latter.
However, if all teachers possess equal expertise in instructing students with varying abilities in a classroom, as it is their responsibility, then this issue should not be insurmountable in September, right? Just as it is not a problem currently?
Certain individuals with radical ideas have suggested the absurd notion of testing students before the start of the school year in September to determine if they are ready to progress to the next grade level or if they would benefit from repeating the year.
But if we were to implement this for September 2020, what would be the justification for not doing it every year going forward? It would ensure that every student is placed in the grade level that suits them best and graduates high school with the necessary skills to succeed in the real world.
Oh, never mind, I realize that such thinking is considered outrageous. Can you imagine the consequences for the New York City school system if anyone actually attempted that?
Alina Adams is a bestselling author of romance and mystery novels, known for her works "Getting Into NYC Kindergarten" and "Getting Into NYC High School". She is also a blogger at New York School Talk and a mother of three. She strongly believes that true school choice cannot exist until every parent is knowledgeable about all the available school options and how to access them. You can find more information on her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.
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