When Mayor Bill de Blasio took the stage Thursday to deliver his annual address to outline his priorities, he declared that it is “not your typical State of the City.”
But in terms of education, it was.
The mayor, who has repeatedly said education is his administration’s top priority, largely stuck to his talking points. He trumpeted the expansion of universal pre-K and his broader “Equity and Excellence” agenda, which includes adding literacy coaches to push more students to read on grade level by the third grade, something the mayor pledged to talk more about in the coming weeks.
“We have proven with the vision of Equity and Excellence that schools can get better and they can get better quickly,” de Blasio told an audience of hundreds who gathered at Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History.
The mayor’s speech, which was framed as a “blueprint to save our city,” largely centered on incremental updates and expansions to existing programs, similar to previous years’ State of the City speeches. Less than 10 minutes of the speech, which stretched over 75 minutes, focused on schools, more than some previous years.
He noted the city is planning to expand free preschool to more 3-year-olds, which will be available in half of the city’s districts this September. Meanwhile, the city has continued to struggle to meet legal requirements to provide seats for all pre-K students with disabilities. And while not focused on education specifically, the city is also boosting its early childhood efforts by offering free home visits to help new families with issues such as postpartum depression.
Also expanding: a program designed to recruit more men of color into city schools, a group that makes up less than 9% of the city’s teachers, state data show. Officials said the city would put 1,000 more men of color “on the path to becoming teachers” by 2022.
That’s identical to a promise the city made to add 1,000 men of color into the teaching pipeline by 2018, a goal officials said they accomplished. The education department hired some 1,700 men of color over three school years, running through the end of the 2018-2019 school year, officials said.
De Blasio also referenced “EduStat” a previously announced system for monitoring school data, including formative assessments, state tests, and suspensions. Top education officials meet monthly to review the data, and the city has budgeted $1.7 million per year for it, according to city council documents.
Many hot-button education issues went unmentioned, including a set of recommendations from a mayoral task force to help integrate the city’s starkly segregated schools, including scrapping gifted programs, and the mayor’s push to overhaul admissions at eight specialized high schools.
Some observers said the mayor’s focus on early childhood education and a few other incremental changes represents a contrast with his rhetoric on issues like housing and affordability, which focused on issues of fairness.
“Both [the mayor] and the chancellor have taken their licks on school segregation, but it’s a little surprising there was no attention to it whatsoever,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College.
None of the education elements of the speech, Pallas added, “seem to address the glaring inequalities that we know are out there.”