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Eric Adams Is NYC’s Next Mayor. 3 Key Education Issues He’ll Face

By Asher Lehrer-Small | November 3, 2021

Eric Adams will assume the post of NYC mayor at a critical moment for the city’s schools. (Pablo Monsalve / Getty Images)

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Democratic candidate Eric Adams handily won Tuesday’s New York City mayoral election, placing him at the center of ongoing debates over gifted and talented education and pandemic recovery efforts in the nation’s largest school district.

New York City schools are reeling from COVID-19 and have yet to fully assess the damage wrought by three academic years of disrupted instruction. Adams will take charge amid concern for missed learning and disenrollment, in addition to issues that pre-date the pandemic, including persistent school segregation and inequitable access to early childhood education.

With mayoral control, Adams has wide discretion over the Department of Education, though how deeply he will seek to leave his imprint on the city’s roughly 1,600 schools over the next four years is unclear. Though mayoral control is technically set to expire in 2022, Adams is likely to request an extension from the state.

Multiple political observers expect Adams to tap his close advisor David Banks, founder of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, as the next schools chancellor. But the Brooklyn native may also maintain current Chancellor Meisha Porter, a longtime NYC public school teacher and administrator who is a friend and former employee of Banks.

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The mayor-elect is a retired police captain known for his dedication to racial justice within the department, and will be only the second Black New Yorker elected to run City Hall. His commitment to education is closely tied to his experiences with the criminal justice system.

“If we don’t educate, we will incarcerate,” he said in a recent mayoral debate.

Adams also shared that, as a young person, he struggled with a learning disability that went undiagnosed until college. 

“I overcame a learning disability and went to college and was able to obtain my degrees. And now I will be the mayor in charge of the entire Department of Education,” he joked in his victory speech Tuesday night.

Adams plans to expand screening for dyslexia in city schools, and has articulated his intent to reconceptualize the education system as “birth to career” rather than K-12, including an emphasis on career and technical education.

But even as he prepares to take office, few specifics of the incoming mayor’s education agenda are known. 

Here are three key issues that will demand his attention:

1 Gifted & talented education

In October, Mayor Bill de Blasio made headlines for announcing that he planned to overhaul the city’s gifted and talented education program, long criticized for its stark failure to include Black, Hispanic and other students. 

The program, which uses a single test administered to 4-year olds to determine admission, serves about 2,500 of the city’s roughly 65,000 kindergarten students each year. De Blasio announced that he sought to scrap the test and implement “accelerated learning” for all youngsters through second grade, with screening for subject-specific advanced coursework not coming until the start of third grade.

Adams, however, said that he plans to keep and expand the city’s gifted program. In a debate, he noted that he intended to make the tests opt-out, rather than opt-in, so that more families have access.

“This way, we would catch all the children who are capable of being gifted and talented,” said Adams.

But the mayor-elect has also signaled that he harbors misgivings over the program’s admission process.

“I don’t believe a 4-year old taking an exam should determine the rest of their school experience,” he said during an Oct. 20 debate.

For older students, Adams does not plan to remove entrance tests to the city’s selective high schools, which have infamously let in single-digit counts of Black students. Teen activists calling for integration of the city’s schools have also demanded their overhaul and have a federal civil rights complaint pending against the use of all NYC school screening practices.

Related

Problems With NYC’S Gifted and Talented Program Shared Across the Country — Along With Fears for Gifted Ed’s Future

2 Student vaccine mandates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed coronavirus vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 on Tuesday, meaning virtually all K-12 students are now eligible for shots. 

Naturally, questions swirl over whether the nation’s largest school system will require children to be inoculated. De Blasio enforced the city’s vaccine mandate for school staff, which took effect in early October and prompted thousands of teachers to receive their shots, but he has taken a softer approach on student vaccinations. The outgoing mayor has supported schools to set up clinics, but has not gone as far as to require shots. On Wednesday, he announced that every school serving students aged 5 through 11 will host vaccination sites starting Monday.

Adams, however, is mulling student vaccine mandates, and has said he is “open to having the remote options of education” for unvaccinated learners.

K-12 vaccine mandates for students remain relatively rare, with a handful of California school systems, including Los Angeles and Oakland, as well as Hoboken, New Jersey among the only districts with such policies.

3 Disenrollment

Enrollment in New York City schools dropped 1.9 percent this year, with 938,000 students now in traditional public schools, down from 955,000 last year and slightly over 1 million in the 2019-20 school year.

Though the relative drop is less than other major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, the continued bleeding of students provides further evidence of the profound disruption that the pandemic has had on NYC public education. The Department of Education has yet to release figures on the share of students missing so much school that they may be academically at risk, and some officials fear that wide swaths of students, especially in under-resourced communities, may be disengaged from school.

Related

Fewer Students Left NYC Schools this Year than Other Major Cities, DOE Data Say. One Official Worries Those Tallies Obscure Truth

Re-engaging disconnected students will be a chief challenge of the mayor-elect’s effort to bounce back from pandemic schooling.

​​As district schools lost students, enrollment in independently run city charter schools rose 3.2 percent this year, to 143,000, following national trends. Adams has said that he intends to keep the current cap on charter schools, while also adding that successful models should be duplicated and failing ones shut down. De Blasio was known for his battles with the city’s charter sector.

“We look forward to working closely with [Mayor-elect Eric Adams] and his administration to create a partnership that will benefit all NYC public school students, including the 143,000 attending charter schools,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center in a statement.

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