By Gayla Thompson
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shocked parents, students and educators when he recently called for a “death penalty” for low-performing schools. His language was disturbing and inappropriate. We agree with the governor that urgent action to improve these schools is needed. However, the wrong steps will make things worse, not better.
What Cuomo proposed as a “death penalty” – state takeover, charter school or mayoral control – falls under the category of quick-fix, top-down ideas to replace one bureaucracy with another, not on the educational supports needed for success.
State takeovers have no track record of success. Here in Buffalo, we have recently witnessed the state closing a charter school. Mayoral control in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has failed to close the achievement gap or improve the lowest-performing schools.
In a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board last week, Cuomo suggested an alternative to a “death penalty” – turning schools into community schools with social, emotional and health supports for students. This idea provides a constructive starting point. Community schools have a solid track record, but students also need a strong academic program.
The governor’s own Education Reform Commission has promoted a different set of solutions that are educationally sound and would greatly improve struggling schools. These reforms include full-day prekindergarten, expanded learning time, teacher mentoring and a college-readiness curriculum. Since the governor and his Education Reform Commission believe these reforms are essential to improving schools, and since these reforms all have a strong basis in research, it would make sense for the governor to insist that low-performing schools implement these programs and to ensure they have the necessary resources to cover the costs.
With the new school year, the Buffalo schools are implementing a new code of conduct and with it, restorative justice strategies. This policy change will address issues within the classroom so that teachers will be able to focus on teaching and students will receive behavioral supports to keep them in the school. It provides a first step toward getting our schools back on track. Add in the student supports that community schools provide and the academic strategies recommended by the governor’s Education Reform Commission, and it’s a recipe for success.
The governor is right that we cannot accept failing schools, but rather than proposing a “death penalty,” he should provide the leadership needed to ensure that these schools have access to the very programs he holds up as innovative solutions and successes.
Gayla Thompson is a board member of Citizen Action of New York and the Alliance for Quality Education.