New York City students may face longer school days coupled with Saturday and summer classes for the school year. Incoming School Chancellor David Banks is looking to change the city’s existing school system.
During an exclusive interview with NBC New York, Banks explained that everything is on the table, including some unorthodox methods, to improve public schools.
“A longer school day, coming to school on Saturdays and summertime has been absolutely critical,” Banks said of the programs that have been instituted at his Eagle Academy Network of schools. “We’ve got to use the summer! We’ve got to use Saturdays! We’re behind!”
While there may be some objections to his proposals from the teacher’s union, Chancellor Banks insisted on making necessary changes to improve student learning.
“Teachers very often may say ‘I don’t want to work on Saturday, I don’t want to work all year long.’ But if we continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them? We’ll continue to get the same results,” said Banks.
However, if teachers are not willing to work extra hours on Saturdays and during the summer, Banks said he would recruit community groups to fill their roles. All are part of his plan to break the mold for education.
Banks added there are learning alternatives for students outside of their assigned teachers in their school building. He said that one positive takeaway from the pandemic might be how technology can be utilized to expand classroom boundaries, adding that “the city should be the classroom,” NBC New York reported.
“You can have access to the best teachers around the world. It shouldn’t be limited to just the teacher that’s in their classroom,” Banks said at a press conference Thursday.
“Imagine a great science teacher who’s on the other side of town. And yet the young people who go to this school may not have a great science teacher. We can use technology and innovation to see, how do we connect the dots?”
While incoming Mayor Eric Adams and his administration are looking to make additional changes to city schools, corporate responsibility may soon be added to the Department of Education’s core pillars like reading and writing.
The incoming chancellor said he wants to merge private sectors with public schools to increase funding and mentorship, similar to the success he gained from his Eagle Academy Network of schools in multiple locations across the city and New Jersey.
Though it is unclear if Banks would push the city to make it a voluntary program or a required one, a partnership between companies and public schools will be at the forefront of the administration’s education policies, per NBC New York.
“That is going to be our North Star,” Banks said. “I don’t think the clarion call has ever gone out for them to be more involved in the lives of public school students, and that call is going to go out under our administration.”
The longtime educator also wants to expand mentorship by providing programs citywide.
“The young men at Eagle have mentors, and these are men who are lawyers, doctors, bankers and architects … we can scale that across the city,” he told News 4. “You may not be able to do that for every single child, but at every single school there are young people who are screaming out for additional help. They may not have a dad at home.”
Adams said Thursday that 65 percent of Black and brown children in the city never reach reading proficiency “and we act like that’s normal” — adding that if white children were in that situation, parents would “burn the city down.”
To improve that, Banks told NBC New York that he plans to change how children are taught to read, believing that the current approach is “fundamentally wrong.”
For the past 25 years, the NYC school system has been using outdated learning methods that are reportedly not working for students. Part of Banks’ plan would involve re-educating early childhood teachers to emphasize phonics and sounding out the words, rather than the method of “balanced literacy,” an approach that has not worked, especially for Black and brown children.
“I know how I learned to read was through a phonetical approach to reading, and I think we’re going to look to get back to that,” Banks said. “Because if you don’t establish a strong foundation, everything you do, you’re just fighting an uphill battle.”
While he said he would like to implement the changes “as fast as we can,” Banks admitted that they will take some time and won’t “happen overnight.”
For the time being, some have suggested one solution would be to open more charter schools. Last week, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $750 million to support charters across the country, but as of now, the city has exhausted funding to open new charter schools unless the state votes to lift its cap. But Banks knows “it’s a very political question” to raise the limit, even if it is what he would want to do.
“We want to scale excellence, so if that means opening a few more charter schools, that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “If we can get the state to approve it.”
He also hopes that Bloomberg and others like him will co-sign his vision for the future of New York City public schools.
“I’m encouraging Mayor Bloomberg, the philanthropic community, CEOs of major companies, to lean in on the traditional public school system,” said Banks. “Because at the end of the day, most of our children will continue to go to our traditional public schools.”