David Bloomfield, School Policy Expert, Weighs in on New York’s Latest Plan for School Openings

David Bloomfield (Credit: Paula Vlodkowsky)

Professor David Bloomfield (GC/Brooklyn, Urban Education/Education Leadership, Law & Policy) is a widely published and cited expert on education policy, a topic of urgent concern for the parents and guardians of New York’s 1.1 million public school students. The nation’s largest school system is now scheduled to start remote and in-person learning in most schools on September 21, according to last week’s agreement with the United Federation of Teachers.

Bloomfield discussed the latest news, what he thinks would be the best way to open schools, and his cautions about learning pods in a recent interview with The Graduate Center:

The Graduate Center: What was your reaction to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that the city will delay opening schools for 10 days? Do you think schools will be ready to open by September 21?

Bloomfield: It sounds more like a labor-management compromise than a science-based decision. For example, the UFT was insisting that all students be tested. Which was pretty much an impossibility. And they’ve now backed off that to random testing of more than 10% of students and teachers every month. And that’s quite a give on the union side. So de Blasio gave a little bit, by delaying schools, and the union compromised a bit on its insistence on universal testing. Everybody can walk away, like any labor agreement, with a sense of success. Whether the decision is based on science is a separate question. It doesn’t really appear to be.

GC: What are your recommendations for how the city should open schools?

Bloomfield: One problem I have is with the [original] city plan itself is that it was arrived at without transparency or adequate explanation. They supposedly had a commission of several dozen people — experts, community members, parents — come up with a plan. But nobody really knows how often they met or how much influence they really had. And all of a sudden, in early July, they announced this plan for one, two, or three day a week, in-person learning, and the rest remote, for [those who choose] the hybrid option. And there’s also an option for all-remote. 

Why were all students included in that hybrid plan, rather than, for example, giving elementary-school students in-person learning, and having the secondary-school students who are more able to get on by themselves go remotely, which would have enabled parents to make plans to go back to work? That is a question I have. The science seems to indicate that younger children are less apt to spread the disease. And, in addition, they are clearly less able to work remotely. Why was that idea rejected? There are questions about the city’s plan that have never really been addressed by either the unions or the DOE.

GC: So you think that elementary school children should attend school full time, in-person?

Bloomfield: Yes, my preferred plan would be all elementary students going full time, in-person, and secondary-school students going [full time] remotely, except for special needs or other students who really need in-person instruction. That seems to be a simple plan consistent with science, consistent with other countries’ experiences, but for some reason, and we don’t know what the reason is, it was rejected by the city. And it’s that [lack of] explanation that I think has left people so frustrated. There’s a promise of transparency and openness, yet there seems to have been a very closed series of decisions made late in the day and without adequate explanation.

GC: You’ve written about learning pods, which is something that a lot of parents are considering. 

Bloomfield: I think there’s a lot of confusion over what a pod is. So there’s kind of the easy [type], where parents get together with some supervision, either by a parent or by some outside individual, to help the students with their schoolwork. The more difficult one is where parents are essentially pulling their kids out of school, for a majority of the school day, and teaching them independently, which raises concerns over the law and the effectiveness of that kind of homeschooling arrangement.

It obviously also raises questions of equity as to who can afford that, but the city seems to be ignoring that situation.

GC: What are the legal implications of placing children in a learning pod?

Bloomfield: A very short explanation: If students are engaged in the regular DOE or private school curriculum, then they’re enrolled in a bonafide educational program and there’s no problem. But if they’re being taken out of their previous school situation and put into an independent learning environment, that’s a home school, or that’s a private school under state regulations. We’ve entered this kind of laissez-faire situation in which the city and the state don't seem to be doing anything, but some parents are withdrawing their kids from formal education.

GC: Do you have any general advice for parents and guardians who are trying to cope with a situation that seems to be changing all the time? 

Bloomfield: It’s so cliché, but one piece of advice is to remain flexible. The other is to remain watchful of their kids’ experience, either in the hybrid situation or the all-remote situation. And make the adjustments that they feel are appropriate. Unfortunately, they can’t opt in to the hybrid model except for a few times during the school year; they can always opt out of the hybrid model into a remote situation. And so, in that sense, I think that they have to try to remain as informed as possible in this very changeable environment.

GC: Education seems to be changing in fundamental ways — remote learning might be here to stay, in some form, no matter what happens with the pandemic. How is the Ph.D. Program in Urban Education preparing students to face this changing environment and industry?

Bloomfield: The Urban Education Program is preparing students by being highly engaged with the changing situation of remote learning, and with the focus on inequities that are arising and that will arise. They’ve always been concerned with those inequities and keeping the focus on disciplinary policies, resource allocation, Black and brown students, and those who are otherwise marginalized. And we make sure that we take an interdisciplinary approach. Urban education, almost by definition, is drawing on social psychology, and sociology, and criminal justice, and other disciplines as well as instruction. And making sure that we draw on the power of our students, as well as the power of our faculty to educate.

 

Submitted on: SEP 8, 2020

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