The UFT is calling on the city and the state to adopt a five-point plan to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on public school students, including earmarking more than $1 billion to address the psychological effects and academic learning losses in New York City caused by the pandemic.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said: “With an estimated $5 billion in new federal education funds coming to New York City, it’s time to take a giant step forward in recognizing the emotional and learning needs of our children.
“The pandemic has been tough on all of us, but particularly on our students, many of whom will need intensive academic and psychological services, along with other interventions. New federal funds will give us the possibility of meeting the kinds of challenges these schools have faced for decades — challenges that have only increased because of COVID.
“At the same time, New York cannot waste this opportunity by using these new federal funds as an excuse for either state or local government to reduce the state's own annual investment in public schools.”
1. Mental health/academic intervention teams
Under the first initiative, the union recommends that teams of academic intervention specialists and social workers/psychologists be created for each of the 1,800 city public schools. The teams would work directly with students suffering academic losses and psychological effects from the pandemic.
The initiative would include pull-out programs for children needing additional instruction, professional collaboration with teachers on instruction and coping strategies, and individual and group therapy for students.
To provide services of the necessary depth, the average New York City public school would need three to four teams, a total of six to eight professionals, or roughly one team for every 200 students, though larger schools would need more personnel. The teams would include guidance counselors and/or social workers and academic intervention specialists.
The estimated cost for this initiative — reflecting the cost of hiring up to 10,000 new professionals — would be approximately $1 billion for New York City.
2. Smaller classes
The UFT also called for the city to create a pilot program of smaller class sizes in 100 of the city’s neediest schools.
Current New York City class sizes — limited by the UFT contract to 18 students in pre-K to 34 students in academic high school subject classes— are among the highest in the metropolitan area, and class-size reduction is an important goal for many parents.
Because many experts on the subject believe class-size reduction is most effective when dramatic rather than piecemeal, the program would reduce class sizes in the affected schools by one-third: Pre-K classes would be capped at 12, classes that currently have 25 students would be reduced to 17, classes with 30 students would see a drop to 20, and 34-student classes would be reduced to 23.
Such reductions, while not matching the class-size levels of exclusive New York City private schools, would make city schools more competitive with schools in the suburbs in class size.
The UFT estimates that a 600-student pre-K to 5th-grade school would need six to eight new teachers and classrooms. Where space is unavailable, the system should create a new assistant teacher program that would not only help students but could create a pipeline for new teachers for the system.
The estimated cost for this initiative — including the hiring of 1,500 or more teachers — would be approximately $150 million a year.
3. Extended summer learning programs
In order to increase the effectiveness of the summer learning program this year, the city Department of Education (DOE) should plan to provide as much in-person, rather than remote, instruction as possible. All current COVID-19 safety and testing protocols must remain in place for any in-person summer programs.
Referrals for both remediation and enrichment programs should be made by teachers and principals, but we urge the DOE to plan for the number of students needing summer instruction to surpass the 188,000 who enrolled in the 2020 summer program.
4. Targeted help for current high school students
Even though high school graduation rates have not fallen, applications to the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) — the colleges most of our graduates attend — have dropped significantly.
High school seniors need more help navigating the convoluted pathways into college during the pandemic when so much of the labor-intensive work has to be done remotely. Meanwhile, incoming 9th-graders have had almost no opportunity to adapt to normal high school structures.
As part of the reopening process, high schools should dedicate time during the first week of return to identify students in crisis, college and career readiness/post-secondary planning for seniors, and social-emotional and counseling needs.
Afterschool and/or Saturday academies should be created to allow potential graduating students the opportunity to complete missing work. The school system needs to provide extended school access so students can attend specialty classes and guidance services, along with completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and mock college and career interviews.
5. UFT training program for teachers
The UFT will begin this spring with its own professional development program designed to help teachers assess and respond to their own stress and their students’ stress.
It is designed to help teachers make the connections between trauma, stress, self-awareness, classroom environment and student behavior, and will recommend classroom practices to deal with students’ stress and to identify students in need of additional support.
The program — developed using the union’s own funds — will include live lectures and demonstrations and the creation of post-training support groups that teachers can attend.