Teachers union, education advocates voice concerns as Cuomo looks to ‘reimagine’ education

Now that school districts know they won’t open their doors for the rest of the school year, the...
Now that school districts know they won’t open their doors for the rest of the school year, the next task is to be ready to open when the governor says it’s okay.(wwny)
Updated: May. 5, 2020 at 3:15 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that the state is collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a blueprint to “reimagine” education.

The governor wants to "reimagine" schools with more technology, saying "the old model of our education system where everyone sits in a classroom is not going to work in the new normal."

His comments prompted concerns from the union which represents New York's school teachers. In addition, an education advocacy group said the plan "could be a threat to public schools as we know them."

Cuomo said as New York begins to develop plans to reopen K-12 schools and colleges, the state and the Gates Foundation will consider what education should look like in the future, including:

- How can technology provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are

- How can the state provide shared education among schools and colleges using technology

- How can technology reduce educational inequality, including English as a new language students

- How can technology meet educational needs of students with disabilities

- How can we provide educators more tools to use technology

- How can technology break down barriers to K-12 and colleges and universities to provide greater access to high quality education no matter where the student lives

- Given ongoing socially distancing rules, how can the state deploy classroom technology, like immersive cloud virtual classrooms learning, to recreate larger class or lecture hall environments in different locations

According to the governor's office, the state will bring together a group of leaders to answer the questions in collaboration with the Gates Foundation, which will support New York state by helping bring together national and international experts, as well as provide expert advice as needed.

"The last few months have been an incredibly stressful time full of change, but we have to learn and grow from this situation and make sure we build our systems back better than they were before," Cuomo said. "One of the areas we can really learn from is education because the old model of our education system where everyone sits in a classroom is not going to work in the new normal. When we do reopen our schools let's reimagine them for the future, and to do that we are collaborating with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and exploring smart, innovative education alternatives using all the new technology we have at our disposal."

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released the following statement Tuesday regarding the governor’s comments about reimagining education in New York:

“NYSUT believes in the education of the whole child. 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. If we want to reimagine education, let’s start with 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 ultrawealthy that can go toward addressing these needs. 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.”

Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the public education advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education, released the following statement:

“Governor Cuomo’s collaboration with the Gates Foundation for online education could be a threat to public schools as we know them. New York is enduring a crisis of future-altering proportions, and we must decide whether we will move forward into a better future, or one that deepens the inequity and injustices of our past. At present, where available, technology is serving an essential purpose in providing some educational access for children to safely learn during this crisis, but we cannot allow online education to supplant efforts to get them back into schools with teachers once the crisis passes.

“Hurricane Katrina spelled the end of public schools in New Orleans, which never reopened after the storm. It is essential that New York has a plan to reopen our schools when this health crisis is over. The pandemic has proven just how vital our public schools are to communities, as hubs that provide everything from meals to child care for essential workers.

“Both the Gates Foundation and Andrew Cuomo have a history of pushing privatization and agendas that have the potential to destroy public schools. This collaboration raises a red flag and real questions about what shape our “reimagined” public schools will take post-pandemic, and whether they will be recognizable as public schools at all. In 2018 there was an attempt by a different billionaire to promote online learning in NYC public schools, the failed program led to student walkouts and dismal results. Studies have shown that the fully online learning model harms the students who need the most help.

“We need to reimagine schools with smaller class sizes, where children will be able to thrive in a classroom environment that is safe and nurturing. We should imagine schools where there are school psychologists and school counselors — services that will be even more essential as children process trauma and disruption resulting from the pandemic. Research study after research study has shown that funding and teachers are predictors of student success. Research also shows that children spending excessive amounts of time on screens is harmful to their development.

“Up-to-date technology is an essential classroom tool, but it will never replace the face-to-face interactions and relationships with caring teachers that form the bedrock of a child’s education. We must be on guard to ensure that measures to keep children safe during the pandemic do not reduce the quality of education our children are entitled to.”

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