Preparing Students for College Is Kind of a New Thing, Education Officials Say


A City Council hearing today brought together key players in city education policy to discuss how to improve the college-readiness of public students.

If only everyone could fit in the room.

Runnin’ Scared begged as crowds of hopeful attendees were shepherded into an additional viewing room. Eventually, we made it in to the hot, stuffy, windowless room. Woo! (Full disclosure: it was so hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable that Runnin’ Scared did not stay for the whole thing — and left in the middle of City Council members grilling education officials with questions. Apparently, we missed the UFT president slamming the mayor.)

The event was the first ever City Council joint hearing of the Education and Higher Education committees — with the context that not enough public students are prepared for college, which is becoming increasingly important in today’s job market.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and City Councilman Robert Jackson, chair of the Education Committee, presented the grim statistics before folks from the Department of Education presented the flip side of those stats (the progress we’ve made!).

Studies, the councilmembers said, find that fewer than 50 city schools prepare more than a third of their graduates for college, and only around 13 percent of black and Latino students are college ready, compared to 50 percent of white students. The hearing comes on the heels of many recent public appearances of Mayor Mike Bloomberg discussing his education priorities this year, including goals to help better prepare students for college.

“These statistics are extremely disturbing,” Jackson said in his opening remarks.

“Black and Latino young people in New York already face higher rates of unemployment and higher rates of incarceration,” Rodriguez said. “We are sending the message that we don’t expect them to go to college. We have to change that message. That message is unacceptable. While that change might be difficult it’s not impossible.”

He added, “I know the potential that students around this city have. . . . All that we’ve been missing is the political will to make the kind of policy change that needs to happen.”

Education officials, including Shael Polakow, the chief academic officer of the Department of Education and John Mogulescu, senior university dean for academic affairs of the City University, responded with talk of how the system has grown and how they plan to improve it further.

More New York City students are college ready — 25 percent in 2011 versus 16 percent in 2005 (college ready = they meet the 2012 standards for passing out of remedial coursework at CUNY), they said. The DoE officials outlined a plan for “common core standards,” which involves more rigorous standards and assessments in reading and math.

(One example of a fifth-grade math question about pizza and fractions was so difficult that Councilman Jackson said, half-joking, that he was lost. Runnin’ Scared was a tad bit confused, too.)

At one point during his testimony, Polakow, from the DoE, made this qualifying statement: “One of the things that’s really important as we talk about this data is that it’s a relatively new goal nationally and in this city for people to talk about college readiness. This is not something we were talking about in this city five years ago. We were talking about how many kids are graduating and how many kids are dropping out.”

“I’m shocked, I’m shocked, I’m shocked,” Jackson interrupted.

“You’re shocked that that’s a new goal?” Polakow interrupted back.

“Yeah, because . . . as far as any parents looking at goals, college was talked about decades ago and I’m shocked to hear you say it’s something we didn’t think about five years ago. I’m really shocked,” Jackson quipped.

“But it’s true,” Polakow said, “I think it’s true for the City Council. I think it’s true for the broader system as well.”

He continued that while officials have cared about college-readiness, “It doesn’t mean that there was public data that was being shared. . . . And it doesn’t mean it was making its way into the broad conversation publicly about, what do we want our kids to do in the city. I think that’s an important change, and I think it’s something that came out of the work of getting more kids to graduate in the first place. . . . Now we’re setting a higher goal.”

After much more talk — CUNY discussed the ways in which it is partnering with the DoE — anxious City Council members got to ask the officials questions, or in the case of Councilman Charles Barron, make a loud five-minute statement.

Barron, who is vying for a seat in Congress and who often offers reliably colorful soundbites, flatly criticized Bloomberg and the DoE as a whole.

“I’m just pissed. I don’t have no other nice way of saying it,” he said, noting that none of the guests from CUNY or the DoE were black. “When they come here today, they don’t come here to improve, they come here to justify failure,” he said.

“We’ve gotta end mayoral control of our schools. The mayor is out of control,” he said, running over his five minutes, purposefully giving the officials no response time (“I’m not asking them no questions because I’m afraid they’ll take my time and have a long, empty rhetoric answer”).

Then he walked out of the room.