Good morning. My name is Michael Mulgrew, and I am the president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On behalf of our 190,000 members, I want to thank the members of the State Senate for the opportunity to testify today on the important topic of school discipline and suspension policies. I would like to give special thanks to Senators Shelley Mayer and John Liu for your committee leadership.
As educators, we know that learning happens in the classroom. We strive to create safe and joyous learning environments for our students that keep them in schools, where they can be nurtured and supported throughout their academic, social and emotional development.
That is why the UFT created the Positive Learning Collaborative (PLC), a program that is at the forefront of efforts in New York City schools to improve school culture and reduce classroom removals and suspensions. I’d now like to share with you the successes of PLC.
Positive Learning Collaborative
For nearly a decade, PLC has worked with schools throughout New York City to provide the tools, techniques and coaching needed to change school culture and overcome the systemic barriers that make it difficult for students to learn.
Our research-based approach equips educators with complementary tools that integrate culturally and historically responsive education, mindfulness practices, restorative justice, community-building circles and more. We hold our program accountable for delivering results and annually survey each of our schools to gauge impact.
Our work in school communities means that teachers can teach and students can thrive. From 2014 to 2019, our PLC schools experienced, on average, a near 50% decrease in behavioral incidents and suspensions. At the same time, they outpaced the city’s rate of average academic gains: PLC schools showed three times the gains in ELA scores compared to other city and state schools.
Since the disruption of the pandemic, our PLC schools have increased students’ social-emotional skills and enhanced school culture: PLC schools have experienced a 65% increase in positive relationships between students and educators. We have also expanded our services to meet evolving school needs by providing over 16,000 sensory tool kits to help students adjust back to the classroom.
PLC provides schools with the resources and support to identify and change behavior. We intervene before someone gets to the point of suspension. We build trusting relationships between students and staff.
Hire School-Based Mental Health Professionals
Even with our work, and even with the state’s investment, our schools are still struggling to provide the resources and people necessary to proactively address students’ needs before they become disciplinary issues.
Right now, our city public school system has 2,300 social workers for over 900,000 students. That's one social worker for every 400 students. The recommended ratio by professionals is one social worker for every 250 students.
New York City has 1,500 school psychologists, or one for every 600 students. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one for 500 students.
New York City has 3,300 school counselors, or one for every 270 students. The recommended ratio of students to school counselors is 250:1, but professionals say 100:1 is better.
There are funds that have been made available to hire school-based mental health professionals, but they need to reach the schools.
To start, the New York State Department of Education still needs to release the $100 million allocation from last year’s budget for the New York State Recover from COVID school program to expand school-based mental health services.
And this year’s recently enacted budget includes another $30 million to expand mental health services for school-aged children — $20 million for school-based services and $10 million for wraparound training and professional development.
The resources need to be in the schools for meaningful progress to be made.
Solutions Not Suspensions Act
We applaud the intent of the legislation, as we also believe that students are best served in our classrooms. However, we believe there are parts of this bill that fall short of addressing the root problems holding back our students and educators.
The bill does not address the lack of resources in schools to properly implement evidence-based practices in a long-term sustainable way. The bill does not address our failure to meet the recommended student-to-mental-health-professional ratios described. The bill does not address the issues plaguing our students outside of our school buildings that eventually manifest in detrimental ways in our classrooms.
The bill does not offer common sense pragmatic solutions to improving school culture, but rather attempts to legislate a predetermined goal. This work is difficult, and it is challenging. But with the right resources in place, matched with our commitment to our students, we can get this done.
Thank you once again for holding today’s hearing. The issue of school discipline and suspensions is not an easy one, and there is no magic wand. However, we know what works, and we know the types of services and programming that our school communities need to develop joyous and productive learning environments for our students.