March 30, 2012
Poor students and their families should get the health care, counseling, and other services they need.
That idea sparked little dissent at a panel discussion Tuesday about students’ non-academic needs. But exactly how to deliver those services was up for debate.
Advocates of the “Broader, Bolder Approach” — a coalition that formed in 2008 to counter the “no excuses” message of former chancellor Joel Klein’s Education Equality Project — said responsibility for providing and paying for the services should fall to the city. But a top city official said it should be up to individual schools to assess their students’ needs and find ways to meet them.
The panel discussion took place at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez Campus, a Washington Heights campus that works with the Children’s Aid Society, the social services provider that is launching its own school this fall to model a setting with “wraparound” services, and it was moderated by the CAS president, Rich Buery. It was hosted by the Campaign for Educational Equity, a think tank aimed at influencing policy, whose director, Michael Rebell, was one of four panelists.
Rebell stuck to an argument he has outlined before in policy papers and court documents as part of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that resulted in new funds for city schools. Students have a constitutional right to receive access to more resources in schools, and it is the state and city’s responsibilities to provide them, he said.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and New York University professor Pedro Noguera, a co-chair of the Broader, Bolder coalition, said the city should be able to deliver services relatively easily. One of the theoretical blessings of mayoral control would be collaboration among city agencies to bring health care, social workers, counseling, support for the homeless, and other wraparound services to city schools, they said.
But that collaboration hasn’t always happened under the Bloomberg administration, said Stringer, who is eyeing a 2013 mayoral run.
“I think we can do this in a cost-effective way, and despite the current political and economic environment, it is a constitutional right one way or the other,” he said.
Some schools have managed to find ways to provide social services on their own, Noguera said, pointing to P.S. 28, which has partnerships with the local hospital and a job training agency, and charter schools that use their flexibility to spend funds on social services. But he said school leaders should be expected to go it alone.
“We can’t just think you wave a wand and suddenly coordinated services are happening. It takes time,” Noguera said. “But right now what’s happening is we have enterprising principals with vision who can raise money, and they are making it happen. We know the communities in the city that are the most disadvantaged. Let’s start there with some careful planning.”
In response, Shael Polakow-Suransky, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, cautioned that advocates might be asking city officials to do too much, too quickly, in a process that requires time and local support to be successful.
“This is not a fell-swoop process. It’s a step-by-step process, a school-by-school process,” he said. “I don’t totally agree that the city could engineer what you’re seeing at P.S. 28. There is something very powerful that happens when a leader who is situated in a local community and knows the needs of that local community, who has relationships across the network and the fabric of that community, thinks about how to pull things in.”
There are ways to help communities bring service providers together, Polakow-Suransky said, but New York City’s size means any centralized efforts would have limited impact.
“It’s just really really hard to do that in a city of this scale in a way that’s nuanced enough and thoughtful enough to make it work,” Polakow-Suransky said. “You kind of need to create the space for those leaders to do that work, and then get out of their way.”