ALBANY, N.Y. Dec. 1, 2021 — At a time of unprecedented challenges facing public education, New York State United Teachers today released a new report outlining nearly 20 federal, state and local policy recommendations from educators that they say would best support public schools as the institutions that can ensure a bright future for every student.
NYSUT’s Future Forward Report is based on the work of an exceptional group of education professionals from across the state brought together this year to identify some of the greatest challenges facing students, educators and families and bring forward recommendations for how to tackle those issues on the federal, state and local levels. The Future Forward Task Force’s goal is not only to address academic concerns and barriers to education too many students face, but also to address the ways poverty manifests in the classroom, focus on students’ social-emotional needs, fight for racial justice for every student and de-emphasize punitive high-stakes testing.
“Many are striving to return to what we considered ‘normal’ before the pandemic. But just returning to normal isn’t good enough for our students,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “Now is the time to redefine public education as a system that truly supports every child and ensures they have the tools to create a brighter future for our nation and our state. Our students deserve better.”
A sampling of the recommendations includes:
- Expanding traditional public school offerings to create community schools that provide new academic supports, physical and mental health care services, and family supports that include free school meals for all students.
- Addressing the social-emotional needs of all students by expanding universal pre-K, reducing class size, requiring that every school employ social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurses, and implementing district-level social-emotional learning plans.
- Repealing the state’s school receivership law, and implementing developmentally appropriate assessments and alternatives to standardized testing that accurately measure student learning, instead of penalizing children and schools based on flawed exams.
NYSUT’s Future Forward Task Force began convening over the summer to assess the ongoing challenges public schools faced in the 2020-21 school year and to identify possible solutions. Task force members zeroed in on issues that come from well beyond the classroom but permeate their walls daily, including childhood hunger, trauma, racial injustice and economic inequality.
Having the resources to keep up with those issues is essential but, too often, task force members said their districts struggle to meet even basic needs. For example, school counselors, psychologists and social workers report that their caseloads are too high to engage with all students on preventive social-emotional learning. Or where educators say universal free meals for all students have helped students focus on learning, instead of rumbling stomachs, their districts still lack wrap-around services that address the academic, hygiene and medical needs of both students and their families.
“Educators have been there for their students and communities throughout the pandemic, just as they always were,” Pallotta said. “But when children face poverty, when they need help processing trauma, when they don’t have the right tools to further their education, they don’t come to school ready to learn in the first place. What educators are asking for are the federal, state and local supports that every student deserves. Because when students thrive, we all thrive.”
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.