A Longer School Year. In the United States, the average number of days students are in school per year is 178 days, and children in New York are in school only 180 days. Countries that are more academically competitive like England, Italy, and China have their students in school much longer:192 days, 204 days, and 260 days per year, respectively. Consequently, in the United States, many students, especially those from historically disadvantaged groups, start the academic year each fall with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of the summer break. This summer learning loss, often called the “summer slide,” occurs when students are out of school for extended periods of time. A longer school year and a shorter summer should be enforced to facilitate academic improvement and to stem summer learning loss.
Reopen Schools Five Days a Week. During the pandemic, many students are not attending school at all, and other students are attending in-person classes only sporadically. This not only shortchanges our children from the education they deserve but also fails to consider the impact that this amended schedule has on minority children and the disadvantaged. Studies have shown that schoolchildren are unlikely to contribute to COVID super-spreader events and statewide testing results have showed that relatively few students have tested positive. We must assure that children have the option to attend school safely on a full-time basis. Aaron will encourage outdoor learning when possible and turn vacant office spaces into classrooms to facilitate social distancing. COVID-19 remains a concern in our community and Aaron’s plan to reopen our schools keeps safety at the forefront.
Support Charter Schools. Today, our educational system fails to innovate. No child learns the same way, which is why we need different models of education to fit the needs of each child. In many New York City-run public schools, a majority of students are not passing statewide tests—and more African-American and Latino students are failing than their white counterparts. Students who attend a New York City-based charter school instead of a traditional public school do much better on New York State math tests and English language arts tests. Moreover, charter schools offer parents a choice in deciding where and how their children will be educated based on their child’s unique needs.
Charter schools fill the crucial performance gap that exists between different groups of children. 79% of charter school students in the City are economically disadvantaged. While charter schools continue to see the number of applications grow, their capacity to accept these students struggles to follow suit. In an average year, 81,300 students apply to attend charter schools while there are only 33,000 available seats, because of a lack of space. Given the success of charter schools and how they address the specific needs of the communities they serve, Aaron will fight to expand charter schools and give them more physical space to provide adequate education to more children.
Mandate Textbooks in All Schools. Unfortunately, schools in New York City continue to move away from the use of textbooks and towards digital resources such as tablets and computers. According to research, students are able to better comprehend information in print for texts that are more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. Further, scrolling through text has been found to drain more mental resources than turning a page, which is a simpler and more automatic gesture. Even in Silicon Valley, a number of low-tech schools have emerged to accommodate anti-tech parents who themselves work in the IT field but who recognize the importance of getting back to the basics. Children should not waste mental energy on tasks like scrolling and be encountered with the many distractions that electronics present. We should no longer use technology as a crutch, and we need books in our classrooms for our students to effectively learn.
The Need for Vocational Education. Students have a diverse range of skills and learning styles. Some students prefer math and science, others literature, and others yet mechanical or shop classes. Teaching students on a one-size-fits-all track that supposedly prepares them for a college education—one that they may or may not even have an interest in pursuing—leaves many of our students without viable job prospects based on their skillsets and interests. Still, our city continues to cut vocational programs from which these students could benefit. Aaron supports preparing our students for jobs in the manufacturing sector through substantive vocational education and expansion of vocational schools.
Special Education Reform During the Pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed educators in uniquely unknown territory, in particular those who work with some of the most vulnerable students—those with disabilities. Currently, the city has done little to address the unique needs of these students and educators. We are leaving behind the children who need our help most during this global pandemic. It is essential that local government helps by creating useful community partnerships between schools and learning programs. Organizations such as The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (COLSD) have been using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to research how to best engage K-12 learners with various disabilities through virtual learning. It is essential that we support all special educators to develop collaborations with these programs so as to help meet the increased demands of special education.
Empower Our School Teachers. My parents were elementary school teachers. I am passionate about training our children in the critical thinking skills that I was lucky enough to learn from them. Kids need these skills more than ever today to prepare them for our increasingly demanding job market, which requires specialized, 21st century skill sets. Unfortunately, our teachers in New York City are burdened by excessive bureaucracy and hamstrung by the single-minded goal of “teaching to the test” in order to artificially boost standardized test scores. This is short-term thinking at its worst. We must make school teaching a desirable profession, one in which school teachers have the discretion to actually do their jobs and enable our children to become educated, thoughtful citizens.
Actually Prepare Our Children. Studies show that only 37% of students that graduate from our City schools are actually prepared for college. Our career politicians trumpet “rising graduation rates,” but in reality, we are merely passing our kids through the system—particularly in low-income neighborhoods. We must revamp our school curricula to ensure that they challenge our students and impart the critical thinking skills our children need to thrive.
Support for the Arts. I have been a musician for most of my life and trained as both a singer and a drummer. This gave me first-hand experience in how arts education can inspire other types of learning, and therefore, I am passionate about educating our children in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts. Unfortunately, with the inordinate emphasis on standardized test scores, City schools have failed to adequately invest in arts education. In fact, schools in the City are often lacking in auditorium space and thus, are generally unable to hold concerts, theatrical performances, and other events even if extracurricular arts programs and staff were offered.