As the presumptive Democratic nominee, Eric Adams will go into November’s mayoral election heavily favored against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa. If Adams prevails, he will control the nation’s largest school system starting Jan. 1, 2022.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s successor will have a lot on his plate when it comes to New York City schools: managing a massive infusion of COVID stimulus funding, confronting the fallout from the pandemic, and addressing the city’s segregated schools at a time when tensions are flaring over racial justice issues and culturally responsive education.
Other questions that education observers are asking: Will the next mayor be friendly to charter schools, which have seen their enrollment steadily climb and now educate about 13% of the city’s public school students? How will Adams get along with the teachers and principals unions, which didn’t endorse him? What kind of schools chancellor might Adams appoint, and what will his vision be for wrangling the vast education bureaucracy? Will he bolster early childhood education and continue to focus on pre-K, which was de Blasio’s signature education achievement?
Then, of course, is the issue of how well Adams will get along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has major influence over the state’s education funding and often asserted his authority over de Blasio during this tumultuous school year.
Here are some other big issues the next mayor will face and how Adams might respond, based on Chalkbeat reporting, previous interviews with the borough president, and his campaign platform.
New York City is one of the country’s most segregated school systems. While segregation tends to cluster resources and influence in just a few schools, integrated schools can yield improved academic outcomes and shape more civically minded students, among many other benefits.
Adams has said he would add more selective high schools and has argued that expanding gifted classes to more communities will lead to a more representative group of students being admitted to the city’s competitive schools. He has also said he would create more seats in the specialized high schools for the top performers from every middle school.
Expansion was tried before, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg added five specialized high schools in the early 2000s, but the schools have only become less representative of the system’s demographics since then. Adding more selective schools could have the opposite of the intended effect, by further concentrating students who have more academic needs in fewer campuses.
When it comes to the Specialized High School Admissions Test, an exam that is the sole admissions criteria for eight of the city’s specialized high schools, Adams would not remove it. Nor does he have plans to do away with the admissions test for 4-year-olds for seats in the city’s gifted and talented, or G&T, programs, serving roughly 16,000 elementary school students. Many integration advocates see the entry test given to 4-year-olds as a barrier to diversity.
Catching Up Students Amid COVID
The coronavirus has unearthed deep gaps in opportunity for the city’s most vulnerable students.
Many students with disabilities have gone without the services they’re entitled to but are expected to get make-up services in the coming year, thanks to federal COVID relief funds. There are also concerns about whether English language learners — who are at a higher risk of dropping out compared to their native English-speaking peers — need even more support following more than a year of disrupted learning.
The city still hasn’t installed Wi-Fi in all homeless shelters. When eviction moratoriums expire in September, that could swell the ranks of homeless students, who already make up 10% of the school system.
Adams has discussed keeping schools open year-round and having a permanent remote learning option — though he would not put 400 children with one virtual teacher, as he said at one point. He says he would fund online schooling by levying a data tax on big tech companies that sell private data to advertisers and others.
He would “create more flexibility for parents in how — and when — their child receives their education so that students aren’t left behind and we can much better utilize our education infrastructure,” he previously told Chalkbeat.
Struggling Schools and Students
The focus on COVID-19’s toll has drawn attention away from a problem that has long confounded New York City mayors: how to improve the city’s lowest-performing schools. Struggling campuses often suffer from structural inequities ranging from academic and racial segregation to teacher recruitment and retention.
Adams has said he is committed to hiring more bilingual educators and aides, particularly for the roughly 4,000 students who require bilingual special education. For students with disabilities, he would prioritize real-time tracking to uncover whether they are receiving all of their services, and if not, address those gaps before the year is over. And for youth in the foster care system, who are among the system’s most vulnerable, Adams would develop a mentorship program while also investing in employment programs.
Changes to School Policing
In the wake of massive protests against racist police violence, pressure has grown to rethink school policing. The next mayor will face major decisions about whether to reduce the role of more than 5,000 school-based officers who patrol the city’s schools — by which itself is one of the nation’s largest police forces.
De Blasio agreed to begin a multi-year process of transferring oversight of the school safety division from the NYPD to the education department, but a major part of that work — and the implementation — will fall on the next mayor.
Adams, who was in the NYPD for 22 years, has indicated that he wants safety agents to remain, but he said there should not be a “police culture” in schools.
Charter School Relations
The next mayor will also decide how accommodating the city will be when charter schools request space in public school buildings.
The issue may be less relevant in the immediate future, as the city has reached the cap on the number of charter schools that can open under state law.
Still, the mayor will set the tone and determine how friendly to be to a sector that educates about 138,000 of the city’s roughly 1 million public school students, according to projections from the state education department.
Adams has said on multiple occasions that he supports charters. (A charter school advocate started a political action committee to raise money for Adams.) And while he has indicated that he favors keeping the cap on charters, he has also said that successful charters should be duplicated while failing ones shut down.