Urban Matters: The Center’s education work has basically come in two flavors: Looking at individual schools through InsideSchools; and also analyzing City and State education policy. Do you expect school-by-school reporting at InsideSchools to continue? How might it evolve?
Lynch: You’re right to say the work has often fallen into policy and fieldwork, and we’ve started already to change that. Our school visits will continue, and we will be enhancing our systems for conducting them in ways that better inform our policy work as well.
As a former teacher, school official, and also as a parent, I know that the more policy informs the field, and vice versa, the more our communities benefit. So, as we finalize our policy agenda for the next 1,000 days, we are explicitly carving out space to understand what parents, teachers, and students are concerned about. We are also soliciting insight from members of our team who spend thousands of hours reviewing schools.
One issue that piqued everyone’s interest is funding. It’s the mysterious variable of education, but it’s also the common denominator. That is, very few people actually seem to understand how funding is awarded, how schools spend it, and how those choices directly affect children and families. In that sense, it’s this big “X” factor. At the same time, any issue you really care about in public education can be better understood by analyzing funding. That makes it the issue all other education issues have in common.
Where it gets really interesting is when we look closely at how individual schools choose to spend their funding – and how principals’ hands are tied in other ways. Policy determines how much funding a school gets, and it also determines how a school leader can and cannot spend that funding – which manifests itself in very real classrooms with very real children.
UM: Much of the Center’s policy analysis in recent years has focused on economic and racial integration in the schools. Do you intend to continue that work, and in what form?
Lynch: The Center’s work on integration and segregation has been really excellent. The question for us isn’t whether to continue it; it’s how. In fact, that’s how we arrived at the idea of focusing on funding. What happens if we take some of the rich analysis and recommendations from the past several years and see how funding policies and models interrelate? Do principals of schools who are doing really unique work with integration have commonalities in their funding models? Or, do schools that continue to struggle to close both the achievement and the opportunity gap make similar funding choices that lead to stagnation? Whatever direction we go will not be a departure from previous work. It will be a second act.
UM: Are there other areas of education policy you want to address?
Lynch: I’ll share three things that are on my mind lately.
With my English teacher hat on, I want to better understand what the City is doing to support quality writing and reading practices in schools. What instructional policies are in place? For instance, I was surprised to learn the City created its own middle school writing curriculum, but when I worked with English Language Arts teachers very few of them knew about it or used it. At InsideSchools, we get requests from parents pretty often for more information about the curriculum being used in schools. But we don’t consistently know because the City doesn’t report it.
With my computer science education hat on: I would love to see better data about the quality of computer science education. It might be listed on schedules, but what’s the quality? Basic data about technology use isn’t easily available, either: school-level bandwidth, numbers of devices, quality of use. Having worked at the City’s education headquarters to launch both iLearnNYC and WeTeachNYC, I appreciate the Herculean lift it is to get an initiative like Computer Science for All off the ground. But launching it alone is insufficient. It has to be implemented well to justify its hefty price tag, not to mention the opportunity costs that accompany such initiatives when they distract schools from other focus areas.
Finally, as a parent, I have a simple policy I’d love to see enacted. I’ve been in more than one school setting where City officials convene a community meeting to announce an initiative or decision that stirs up discord. What happens is that different officials say different things over time, and/or parents hear different things, and productive dialogue flops. The City could fix that easily. Any time there is a community meeting about schools, the City should audio record the meeting, transcribe it in multiple languages, and archive the recording and transcripts for future reference. It would be more efficient and build trust
UM: Last month you asked InsideSchools readers for input on the 1,000-day plan. What kind of responses did you get? How are you incorporating them?
Lynch: We received lots of responses in a wide array of forms: emails, feedback on our website, comments on social media, and, yes, we are absolutely using what we are hearing. Here are a few trends. One is that readers want more information about schools, especially curriculum, afterschool options, and current student and parent perspectives. Another trend relates specifically to special education. Parents of children with special learning needs have said that they feel like they are left in a lurch. Finally, readers also expressed a desire to have even more guidance in navigating the school system, not just up to the point of admissions but beyond that. And not just for parents. Parents usually lead the school search for Pre-K, elementary, and middle school. But in the move from middle school to high school, we know that 7th and 8th grade students themselves often drive the process. We can do more to support them, too. We are going to do everything we can to add value in these ways, and much more.