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Back to basics: What Richard Carranza and Bill de Blasio ought to be most concerned about this school year

2019-09-05

Equity, but excellence. (Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News)

Welcome back, kiddos. Happy relief from long summer days, moms and dads. Here’s to a year in which as many children as possible in America’s largest-by-far public school system learn to read more carefully, write more clearly, do math, understand science, absorb history and more, in safe, supportive and academically demanding environments.

That is, let’s remember, the core job of teachers in classrooms across the five boroughs, one from which we’ve seen mission creep in recent months as the city has plunged head-first into an important but incomplete conversation about how to mix children from different backgrounds.

Where, in this tremendously diverse city, we can eliminate any arbitrary barriers to educating black, white, Hispanic, Asian children, rich and poor and middle class side by side, we must.

But while the city is consumed by debates over whether to change criteria for entry to crown-jewel public high schools where a small fraction of high school students excel, and whether to entirely eliminate rather than reform gifted and talented programs where a few youngsters are well served, and whether to hold the line or open more charter schools that do a better job educating (predominantly black and Latino) students than their traditional public school peers, the vast majority of children in the vast majority of schools still get less rigorous educations than they need and deserve.

In New York City last year, 47.4% of third-through-eighth-grade students scored proficient in reading on state tests. A smaller number, 45.6%, scored proficient in math.

Though apples-to-apples comparisons are next to impossible given ever-shifting standards, those numbers are incrementally higher than they used to be. They are still far, far too low.

Most classrooms where most kids sit don’t help kids master the basics, much less challenge them daily. And a massive de Blasio investment in transforming the city’s struggling schools didn’t pay off.

Integration matters mightily. But improving the quality and content and rigor of instruction day-in, day-out, guided by models that work, ought to be the consuming obsession of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, of Mayor de Blasio and of the city as a whole.