New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to collaborate with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to "reimagine" the future of New York schools. Among his proposals for shaking up the state's education system was the suggestion that remote learning could play a bigger role in children's schooling. But not everyone is a fan of Cuomo's idea. In fact, teachers unions and parent groups were quick to criticize the suggestion.
As New York begins to formulate its plan for reopening schools following recent coronavirus-related closures, Cuomo said the state would partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to examine what education should look like post-pandemic.
"One of the areas we can really learn from is education," Cuomo said during Tuesday's press briefing. "We've all been talking about tele-education, virtual education, remote education. And there's a lot that can be done. The old model of everybody goes and sits in the classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms. Why, with all the technology you have?"
While Cuomo did not say schools won't reopen eventually, he said the state should use this "experience and really learn how we can do differently and better with our education system in terms of technology and virtual education, et cetera."
"That's something we're actively working on through this process," he added. "It's not about just reopening schools. When we reopen schools, let's open a better school and let's open a smarter education system."
Earlier this month, Cuomo announced he had extended an executive order closing all school buildings in the state to the end of the academic year in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many schools have adopted a remote learning model in an effort to keep kids learning from home.
But the transition to remote learning hasn't been without challenges. Reports of virtual classroom hijacking and "Zoom-bombing" of hateful or pornographic images prompted New York City's Department of Education to order its teachers to stop using Zoom in early April, according to U.S. News & World Report. A lack of access to Wi-Fi or other technology necessary to participate in remote learning as well as working parents' inability to leave children unattended at home have also been obstacles, as the New York Post reported.
One of the state's teachers unions has also questioned how a more permanent switch to remote learning will impact the vital personal connections and bonds formed between teachers and students.
"[New York State United Teachers] believes in the education of the whole child," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement released by the union Tuesday. "Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process — which is why we’ve seen educators work so hard during this pandemic to maintain those connections through video chats, phone calls and socially distant in-person meetings."
Instead, Pallotta suggested Cuomo "reimagine education" by "addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching arts courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state."
"Let's secure the federal funding and new state revenues through taxes on the ultra-wealthy that can go toward addressing these needs," Pallotta continued. "And let's recognize educators as the experts they are by including them in these discussions about improving our public education system for every student."
New York State PTA, a parent–teacher association, echoed the desire to see educators and parents involved in any conversations regarding the reimagining of education. "We hope that any committee whose charge is to 'reimagine education' will be [led] by actual stakeholders in our educational system; parents, families, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, school counselors, and related support and professional staff," a statement from NYS PTA read.
"While we have seen gaps in technology that need to be addressed during this crisis, we know our State Education Department and stakeholders will work together to expand support for students and see that learning in the classroom will continue in a safe and meaningful way in the fall," the statement continued. "While technology is an important component in our 21st Century classrooms, in-person classroom learning and the student-teacher relationship is critical to our children’s success."
In a tweet posted Tuesday, Kyle M Belokopitsky, the executive director of NYS PTA, said it was "unacceptable" that "this is the second committee without actual K-12 stakeholders."
Others on social media have questioned the state's decision to collaborate on an education initiative with the Gates Foundation given the failure of the foundation's seven-year, multi-state education initiative in 2018. According to Business Insider, the nonprofit policy think tank RAND (which had been selected by the Gates Foundation to evaluate its effectiveness) concluded the foundation's Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, which sought to improve the quality of teaching in low-income schools, had failed to aid students. "Overall ... the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, particularly for LIM [low-income minority] students," RAND's evaluation summary said, Business Insider reported.
Romper has reached out to Cuomo's office for additional comment, but did not receive an immediate response. However, as criticism of Cuomo's proposal continued to mount Wednesday, the governor wrote on Facebook, "Teachers are heroes and nothing could ever replace in-person learning — COVID has reinforced that."
Instead, Cuomo said "the re-imagine education task force focuses on using technology most effectively while schools are closed and to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are."
In a tweet responding to criticism pertaining to reports that educators had so far been left out of the conversation, Melissa DeRosa, who serves as secretary to Cuomo, said the governor had no plans to keep teachers out of the process. "This will be done in full partnership [with] educators and administrators," she wrote. "That's the only way it could be successful!"
Because Cuomo's plan to collaborate with the Gates Foundation is reportedly in the early stages, it's unclear exactly who will be participating in conversations aimed at "reimagining education" across the state. Still, transitioning to remote learning could have major repercussions for parents, especially those who work outside the home.
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