Testimony of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University before The New York City Council Committee on Education and The New York City Council Committee on Health |October 16, 2020

Good Morning Chairperson Treyger, Chairperson Levine, and all Council Members present. My name is Dr. Frank Pignatosi, and I am Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and a member of the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Education Council. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony and share my expertise on the topic of the re-opening New York City schools.

In May, the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Education Council and the Office of Field Studies submitted testimony suggesting that teacher education programs partner with the City and the NYCDOE to support learning and teaching in our communities this fall. We felt that this should be a city-wide effort and focus more on supporting the learning of Prek-12 students in diverse educational settings and aligning the experiences of our pre-service candidates accordingly, rather than seeking ways to allow these candidates to satisfy clinical requirements in the new normal. The ultimate goal was to multiply the educational resources available and to build upon the shared goal of creating equitable learning opportunities for all communities in NYC.

We believed then and we still believe now that such a collaborative effort would provide the City with a greater range of options in making the best decisions on how to re-open schools. We knew that with significant cuts in the NYC and NYCDOE budgets, and the related hiring freeze for new teachers over the summer, the NYCDOE would find itself undermanned to address student academic and socio-emotional learning. We also knew that the most vulnerable school populations and home communities would suffer the most. More than ever, we feel that the onus of the partnership should become the opportunity for the partnership to address this new challenge and ensure equity of access to learning in a greater range of communities than before. This is not solely about supporting a single teacher in a physical or virtual classroom; it is about teams of educators working together to engage all learners in schools and communities. The teacher education programs in NYC prepare candidates to teach in a variety of subject areas and to educate in a variety of school-based roles (Speech Pathology, Counseling, Nutrition, etc.) This preparation should be a collaborative thrust to meet the needs of our young, developing learners, not to comply with single needs of one partner or the other.

This past summer, New York University partnered with School District 1 to support the academic learning needs of its student population and created a web site that supported at-home learning experiences with families. This fall, we have asked our partner schools how to best support their needs in and out of classrooms, rather than start from the student teacher/mentor teacher ratio. In other words, we asked, “What can we do to support their efforts to ensure greater equity in access to distance learning rather than how many student teachers can they host?” We are ready to support existing distance-learning experiences with our students working with school educators to enable focused small-group instruction in asynchronous and synchronous modes (e.g., special education majors supporting individualization and differentiation of students with IEPs in smaller environments; targeted support for multilingual learners; science majors supporting online simulations with small groups in lieu of live labs; music majors leading break-out sessions in instrumental and vocal practice, guided interactive read-alouds; math sessions with online manipulatives, etc.) We are ready to support the inclusion of students with disabilities and language needs in daily instruction. We are ready to support the integration of fine and performing arts into a curriculum that is struggling to find ways and means to do so. Our students are ready to serve school wide, and not just in their specified area. They can provide an important support in maintaining open lines of communication with parents/guardians.

We appreciate that the NYCDOE has made efforts to help schools integrate pre-service candidates into their learning and communication systems, but the required fingerprinting process that allows initial access to school learning environments is still fraught with obstacles that negate the inclusion of the very same candidates. Many candidates do not currently reside in NYC and the requirement to be fingerprinted in person by the NYCDOE ignores the reality of university on-line instruction this fall with many students not present locally. In addition, international students who do not yet have a Social Security number have an even greater hurdle in completing fingerprinting.

We applaud the initiative of District 2 to partner with a number of teacher education programs to support specific schools, and we hope to continue our partnership with District 1. However, we worry that the lack of a wider effort by the NYCDOE in collaboration with its university partners will leave out traditionally marginalized communities in areas of the city that do not have a history of partnership with universities. Why not engage its administrators in formalizing partnerships between each district and university partners? Considering the continued uncertainty surrounding the choice of blended vs fully remote and the unknown aspect of when the COVID concerns will end, would schools not benefit from a collaborative approach with university partners to strategically coordinate distance-learning experiences? Would we not be able to better support home communities in the learning process if schools and universities collaborated on the balance of synchronous and synchronous instruction in and out of virtual school environments?

We invite the City and the NYCDOE to tap into and maximize all the available resources to explore how to best re-open its schools and ensure continued learning and to help bridge the equity gaps across home communities. In the past, the NYCDOE created shared spaces to partner with the teacher education programs in the city. We ask that the NYCDOE not only re-initiate The Teacher Preparation Partnership where teacher education programs across the city would communicate directly with DOE, but that go beyond and create a forum to join forces and collaboratively craft and adopt strategies for new circumstances.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any additional questions the Committees may have. (Please contact Konstantine Tettonis, NYU Government Affairs, kt1249@nyu.edu.)