We are at a crucial moment in the history of New York and an entire generation of young people is at risk. State and city leaders propose massive cuts in educational budgets at a time when additional funds should be poured into schools and a greater investment made in our children.
The last time New York schools faced a crisis of this magnitude was when the city went bankrupt in 1975. Thousands of teachers were laid off, and children were stuffed into overcrowded rooms and forced to sit on tables and radiators. It took a decade for the city’s school system to recover and the education of millions of children was sacrificed for financial concerns.
Many children have fallen behind during the coronavirus pandemic, despite the heroic efforts of families and educators. Teachers estimate that in some communities half of the children do not have access to computers or the internet. Advocates who claim online instruction is ushering in a new age for K-12 education are off-base. According to a Network for Public Education survey, fewer than 10 percent of parents reported that “their child prefers remote learning to classroom learning.”
In response to intense pressure from parents and teachers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has backtracked on his plan to “reimagine education” as a complete shift to online instruction.
“There is no substitute for classroom teaching,” Cuomo conceded. “Saying a kid is going to be on the other side of a computer remotely, that is the classroom experience. It’s not. There is no substitute for the teacher-student relationship.”
In September, school districts will need more teachers and smaller classes to help children catch up. We will need health professionals in schools to ensure that our children are safe and healthy. We will need social workers to help young children and teenagers grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, including the deaths of loved ones. We will need attendance teachers to knock on doors and convince disengaged youth to return to school. The schools will need a lot more money just to tread water.
Innovations in online instruction made during the coronavirus pandemic can provide support and enrichment, but New York needs to get back to in-person teaching.
Alan Singer is a professor of education at Hofstra University.
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