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Press Releases

05.12.2022 | Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks’ announcement of plans to support students with dyslexia: 

For decades, AFC has been advocating for low-income students who are struggling with reading and have been unable to get the help they need in the public schools. We’re encouraged to see the Mayor and Chancellor tackling this issue head on. The plans announced today could have a transformative impact if implemented well, and we’re looking forward to digging into the details and working with the DOE to bring them to fruition so that all children learn to read, no matter where they go to school.

View statement as a PDF

cover page of report05.02.2022 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Reaching Every Reader: The Path Forward, summarizing key takeaways from last December’s Literacy Summit--a day-long virtual event jointly hosted by AFC, the NYC Department of Education (DOE), and the ARISE Coalition—and articulating a clear vision for improving reading instruction in New York City schools. Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks have rightly framed literacy as a pressing equity issue, and today’s report provides concrete action steps to guide the path forward.  In addition, 70 organizations are releasing a Call to Collective Action, joining together around the shared goal of universal literacy and pledging to fight to ensure that every child in every classroom has the support they need to become a successful and lifelong reader.

first page of call to collective action

Literacy is the gateway to future learning and essential for full participation in civic life; yet an unconscionable number of DOE students are not being taught how to read. Fewer than half of all 3rd–8th graders, and only 36% of Black and Hispanic students, scored proficient on the 2019 New York State English Language Arts (ELA) exam, the most recent year for which complete testing data are available; early national data show that not only are more children struggling with reading in the wake of the pandemic, but racial disparities have become even more extreme.

"Every parent sends their child to school assuming they will be taught to read. Yet when students struggle, parents often have to find help on their own,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of AFC. "As a city, we need to stop accepting that unacceptable outcome and provide the literacy instruction and support needed to make all children proficient readers.”

"Even after 19 years in DOE classrooms, I still struggled to teach many of my students how to read, because I had never received professional learning or resources on how to best meet their needs,” said Teresa Ranieri, who is now a Universal Literacy Coach supporting kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers. "I am very fortunate to have been able to learn what actually works in literacy instruction, and now, as a coach, I am able to share what research states is best practice with my colleagues so they don't repeat my mistakes. I hope the DOE will build on our important work and make sure all schools are using effective reading curricula. Universal Literacy coaches like myself are ready to help schools implement new programs and make the biggest possible impact in raising early literacy rates.”

The challenges facing New York City public schools are far from new, but the literacy summit came at a moment when the time is ripe for change: with a new Mayor who speaks frequently about how his dyslexia went undiagnosed in school, a new Chancellor who has vowed to create change in reading instruction, a massive body of research on what works in teaching reading , an influx of federal funding, with $250 million already designated for “academic recovery and student supports,” and widespread support for prioritizing the issue, the City has an unprecedented opportunity to fundamentally transform our approach to reading instruction and intervention. It will require a comprehensive, long-term plan that goes beyond band-aid solutions and a commitment to making evidence-based, culturally and linguistically responsive literacy instruction a top priority. Based on the discussions at last December’s summit, the report recommends that City Hall and the DOE:

  • Bring together stakeholders to move the work forward, coordinate efforts, and sustain support. The City should establish a structure to articulate a shared vision, align around goals and a theory of change, establish benchmarks for measuring success, and facilitate coordination of efforts. Chancellor Banks recently announced that the DOE would be forming an Advisory Council on Literacy, which has the potential to fill this role, provided all the necessary players are at the table.

  • Require all schools to use evidence-based curricula that are culturally and linguistically responsive and aligned with the science of reading, such that every student receives the explicit, systematic instruction in foundational skills that research shows is critical for success. The City should conduct a comprehensive inventory of the curricula, interventions, and other supplemental reading programs currently being used in NYC schools, determine which schools need to replace their current programs, set clear timelines for doing so, and fund the purchase of the materials and training necessary for successful implementation. 

  • Continue and build upon the work of the Universal Literacy initiative to provide on-the-ground coaching and ongoing support to educators. Changing instruction cannot happen overnight; teachers will need time, training, and support to change their practice to align with the science of reading. The 400 Universal Literacy coaches are well positioned to provide the support necessary to drive systemic change.

  • Build out the infrastructure for a cohesive literacy ‘safety net’ that identifies students who need extra help in reading and provides them with individualized, evidence-based intervention.  The City should provide individualized, evidence-based intervention to all students, regardless of grade level, who need extra support to become skilled readers.  Using available federal COVID-19 relief funding, the City could hire and train a new corps of tutors, leverage current staff who have been trained in evidence-based approaches, and/or scale up promising initiatives like the CUNY Reading Rescue-Reading Ready tutoring corps that matches pre-service teachers with NYC elementary school students to provide evidence-based literacy interventions one-on-one or in small groups. 


“All children begin their educational careers eager to learn, and teaching them how to read is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our public schools,” said Sarah Part, Policy Analyst at Advocates for Children of New York. "When students are not reading proficiently, they have not failed. The school system has failed them. New York City has the tools, funding, and widespread consensus it needs to finally turn the page on literacy instruction, and the new Administration should seize the opportunity to effect real change.”

Read the report [PDF]
Read the Call to Collective Action [PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

04.29.2022 |  More than 30 organizations released a letter calling on Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks to use federal COVID-19 relief funding specifically designated for students in temporary housing to hire 150 shelter-based Department of Education Community Coordinators. Community Coordinators can provide crucial supports for students in shelter, helping students get to school every day and connecting them with the supports and services they need to be successful in school.

With 60% of students living in shelter chronically absent from school, it is important to have someone on the ground in the shelter who can partner directly with families, determine why a particular child is missing school, and resolve the problem. The DOE is getting American Rescue Plan-Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds specifically to support students in temporary housing. The DOE submitted a plan to use part of its funding to hire 50 shelter-based community coordinators, but 50 is not nearly enough to serve the 28,000 students who spend time in shelters each year. The DOE must submit a plan in the next month for its remaining $24 million in ARP-HCY funding. The groups are urging the City to use this opportunity to tackle chronic absenteeism for students living in shelter and create lasting change by providing families and students with support where it’s needed most.

Read the letter [PDF]
View the news release as a PDF

first page of data brief01.20.2022 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) released a new report, Not Yet for All: How the Next Administration Can Make Preschool Truly Universal, showing that preschool students with disabilities are being underserved by 3-K and Pre-K for All and are being denied access to special education programs and services to which they have a legal right—with disparities based on race, school district, housing status, and language of instruction.

More than 30,600 preschoolers had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) during the 2019-20 school year, but roughly a third of these students—a total of 10,300 children—did not receive all their mandated services. Key takeaways from our analysis of city preschool special education data, which were made publicly available for the first time in 2021 pursuant to a new city law, include: 

  • Relative to overall enrollment in 3-K and Pre-K for All, children of color are under-represented among preschoolers receiving special education services, while White children are over-represented. These demographics are starkly different from those of school-age students with disabilities, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx. 

  • There are notable differences by race in the services recommended for preschool students. More than half of all Black and Latinx preschoolers with disabilities, and 47% of Asian preschoolers with disabilities, had an IEP recommending a self-contained special education class where all children have disabilities, compared to 30% of White preschool students. The City has then failed to provide those classes, leaving children without needed intervention. At the end of the 2019-20 school year, 1,222 students were still waiting for a seat in a preschool special education class; the shortage of seats was particularly acute in the Bronx and southern Queens. 

  • White children were recommended for special education itinerant teacher services—in which a special education teacher, known as a “SEIT,” comes to a child’s 3-K, pre-K, or child care program for a certain number of hours each week to help include them in a program where they learn alongside children without disabilities—at three times the rate of Latinx preschoolers and more than twice the rate of Black preschoolers.  

  • The services recommended for children also vary dramatically based on where they live; for example, more than 40% of preschoolers with IEPs in parts of Brooklyn were recommended for SEIT services, compared to just 2.5% of those in District 9 in the Bronx.  

  • One out of every three preschoolers with disabilities attending 3-K or Pre-K for All programs did not receive all of their mandated services by the end of the school year. In other words, these children did not receive a single session of at least one of their mandated services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or SEIT services. Here, too, there were disparities based on school district, race, housing status, and language of instruction. For example, in Districts 23 (Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and East New York) and 32 (Bushwick), less than half of preschoolers with IEPs in 3-K or Pre-K for All (42.5% and 48.0%, respectively) were fully served, while 81.4% of their peers on Staten Island received all of their preschool special education services.  


“Families who are able to navigate the preschool special education process speak proudly of the progress they see their children make after receiving services,” said Betty Baez Melo, Director of AFC’s Early Childhood Education Project. “Unfortunately, in our experience, parents of preschoolers with disabilities run into roadblocks and delays at every turn.” 

AFC has assisted more than 1,000 families struggling to navigate the preschool special education process since Pre-K for All was rolled out citywide in fall 2015. Based on our analysis of the data, our work with families, and conversations with parents of preschoolers with disabilities and early childhood education providers, the report calls on Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks to:

  • Ensure successful implementation of recently announced initiatives to integrate preschool special education into 3-K and pre-K and add integrated and self-contained classrooms, including by addressing salary disparities. The City plans to address the shortage of preschool special education classes by rolling out a “contract enhancement” for community-based organizations (CBOs) with the intent of opening 800 new community-based preschool special education class seats in July 2022. The application process for CBOs is underway. But CBOs, which already struggle to recruit and retain special education teachers and staff, will likely be unable to open new classes unless the City addresses salary disparities that are causing their staff—who have demanding 12-month jobs working with young children with the most intensive needs in the City—to leave for 10-month jobs where they can earn higher salaries. The new contract enhancement must include salaries for teachers and staff at community-based preschool special education programs on par with their12-month DOE counterparts so that CBOs can staff their current classes and open the new classes the City needs.  

  • Support preschoolers with disabilities in inclusive settings where they can learn alongside children without disabilities, starting by hiring related service providers to travel to 3-K/pre-K programs. The City should ensure that all children with disabilities receive their mandated services on site at their 3-K, pre-K, or early childhood program by hiring DOE itinerant service providers who can travel to early childhood programs as needed, especially in underserved communities, instead of relying on independent agencies that often do not have providers available to travel to programs.  

  • Center the needs of children with developmental delays and disabilities in further expansions of child care and early childhood education. As the new Administration works to further expand early childhood education, it must ensure that all early childhood programs, including center-based and family child care programs, are prepared to serve young children with a range of disabilities and that staff understand how to support families through the referral, evaluation, and service delivery processes. 

  • Ensure all preschoolers receive the timely evaluations and services they need and address disparities. For example, the DOE should take steps such as increasing access to screenings; bolstering support to families in navigating the preschool special education process; hiring additional evaluators and staff, including bilingual providers; training preschool special education staff; and launching a new data system to ensure children do not fall through the cracks. 


“3-K and Pre-K will not truly be ‘for all’ until every preschooler with a disability gets the support and services they need and have a legal right to receive,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children. “The new Administration should take immediate steps to make sure there is a preschool special education class for every child who needs one and that every 3-K and pre-K student gets needed services on site. We look forward to working with the new Administration to prioritize children with disabilities as the City continues working to strengthen early childhood education.” 


Read the data brief
[PDF]
View the press release as a PDF

12.20.2021 | Advocates for Children of New York and The Legal Aid Society commend the recent announcement that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) is creating a team dedicated to serving the unique needs of students in foster care. This announcement comes after Advocates for Children and Legal Aid released a report this year highlighting the urgent need for the DOE to launch an  office focused solely on students in foster care.

At the time of the report, the DOE did not have such an office, team, or even a single staff member dedicated to supporting youth in foster care, a group of students particularly in need of specialized support. More than 30 organizations, including foster care agencies, groups of educators, and organizations representing children and parents in Family Court, had joined with Advocates for Children and Legal Aid in calling for a DOE team to focus on this group of students and equip schools with the knowledge and resources they need to serve students in foster care and their families effectively.

The need for these services in New York City is great: approximately 7,000 students spend time in foster care during any given school year. They are disproportionately Black and Latinx and come from the city’s poorest communities. Only 42.2% of New York City students in foster care graduated on time in 2020, the lowest graduation rate of any student group and 36.6 percentage points lower than the rate for students not in foster care

The new team will serve as a point of contact for schools, families, and child welfare professionals with questions about students in foster care. They will be responsible for training and supporting school staff as to the rights of these students and their families, including their biological parents. They will support parent involvement with their children’s education and implement new tracking to improve academic outcomes. They will also be responsible for all policies that relate to children in foster care and be tasked with improving opportunities and programming tailored to those students. 

"Students in foster care are among the most vulnerable of New York City students, and they face tremendous challenges, ranging from trauma to frequent school changes, that can negatively impact their learning,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “The creation of a dedicated office for children in foster care within the DOE provides these students with essential services and helps ensure that their local schools have the training and resources that they need to meet these students' needs, allowing them to be successful in both academics and social-emotional learning. We look forward to working with the DOE to create a greater network of support for children and families in the foster system.”   

“For too long, students in foster care have been overlooked by the DOE—with no staff to answer questions about their specific needs, help schools understand their rights, or develop programs to support them,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “With the right support, school can be an important source of stability to students in foster care at a time in their lives when so much is unfamiliar and uncertain. We look forward to working with the incoming administration to maximize the positive impact of this new team on the lives of children in care.”

View the press release as a PDF

12.08.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the announcement of David Banks as the next schools Chancellor: 

We congratulate longtime school leader David Banks on being named the next Chancellor of the New York City public schools. He will take the helm of the nation’s largest school district at a critical moment, when the pandemic has led to both unprecedented challenges and new opportunities to re-envision the role of public education and create long-lasting change. We look forward to working with Banks and the incoming administration to build a more equitable and inclusive school system that provides all students with an excellent education.

We also thank current Chancellor Meisha Porter for her leadership and hard work on behalf of New York City students and their families during a tremendously difficult year.

Read the press release as a PDF

11.30.2021 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to the NYC Department of Education’s posting of new data showing a need for more than 900 additional seats in preschool special education classes in the spring of 2022: 

New data released by the DOE show a projected deficit of more than 900 seats in preschool special education classes in the spring of 2022 for children with disabilities who have a legal right to such classes – even at a time when special education referrals and overall preschool enrollment are down due to the pandemic.  While the City and State have been expanding seats in general education prekindergarten classes, they have not met their basic legal obligation to provide preschool special education classes for children with disabilities who need them—leaving behind children with the most significant disabilities.

“The State and the City need to step up and address this legal violation,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York.  “This is the moment for the Governor and the Mayor to show they value young children with disabilities—that they will ensure there is a high-quality class for every child who needs one instead of leaving children on waitlists in violation of their legal rights.”

A bill awaiting action from Governor Kathy Hochul would help stop preschool special education programs run by community-based organizations (CBOs) from closing—a significant contributing factor to the shortage of seats.  In June, the New York State Assembly and Senate unanimously passed A. 8013 (Benedetto)/ S. 6516-A (Mannion) to provide preschool special education programs with a payment rate increase on par with the total school aid increase the Legislature approved for school districts—following years of underinvestment in preschool special education programs.  Today, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to Governor Hochul urging her to sign this bill.  With the Assembly, Senate, State Education Department, and more than 100 organizations united that preschool special education programs need equitable funding, it is time for the Governor to act. 

On the city level, we are pleased that Mayor de Blasio announced a new initiative to provide support to community-based organizations running preschool special education classes with the goal of having CBOs open 800 additional preschool special education class seats in the 2022-23 school year.  But the Mayor has not yet committed to paying teachers and staff at these preschool special education programs on par with their DOE colleagues, jeopardizing the ability of CBOs to open new classes.  CBOs are struggling to recruit and retain teachers and staff for the preschool special education classes they already run since their staff—who work over the 12-month school year serving young children with the most intensive needs in the City—could earn far more working in DOE schools.  The City must commit to increasing salaries so that CBOs will be able to attract the teachers they need to open new classes.

“Families of young children with disabilities wonder why there are no seats for their children, why their children’s teachers are paid less than other teachers, why their children always come last,” said Kim Sweet.  “The children waiting for seats are counting on the State and the City to act now.”

Read the press release as a PDF
Read the letter [PDF]

11.23.2021 | Today, Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), issued the following statement in response to the New York City Council’s passage of Intro 150-A, creating a task force focused on the transportation of students in temporary housing: 

AFC thanks the New York City Council for today passing Intro 150-A, creating an interagency task force to assess and make recommendations for addressing the barriers to transportation experienced by students who are homeless. We are grateful to Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the Committee on General Welfare, for championing this legislation and getting it across the finish line. 

School can be a critical source of stability for children who do not have permanent housing, but far too often, transportation challenges prevent school from playing this role. The City places more than 40% of families in a shelter in a different borough from their child’s school, leading to long commutes, unnecessary school transfers, and frequent absences. Delays in arranging bus service are common, and as busing is only available at the end of the school day, students who require it are often unable to participate in after-school programs with their peers. For example, schools are offering certain special education services after school to students with disabilities this year, but the City has not yet agreed to provide bus service to students who rely on it because they live in a shelter far from school, jeopardizing the ability of many students who are homeless to receive needed services. Greater coordination across City agencies is sorely needed to address these barriers. 

The tens of thousands of students who experience homelessness every year in New York City already face a multitude of obstacles to educational success; getting to school in the first place should not be one of them. We are eager for the task force to begin work and look forward to working with the incoming administration to implement its recommendations.

Read the press release as a PDF

11.18.2021 | Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) issued the following response to the release of the New York City Department of Education (DOE)’s special education data report for the 2020-21 school year: 

The data released today show that 23,000 students with disabilities did not fully receive their mandated special education instruction by the end of the 2020-21 school year. While we are glad to see progress from January 2021, when more than 42,000 students with disabilities were not fully served, there were still more NYC students not receiving their full special education instruction in June than there were students enrolled in all of the Syracuse public schools. 

On paper, the report released today paints a better picture than prior years, when even more students were not fully served by the end of the school year. However, the numbers themselves fail to capture the full impact of the pandemic on students with disabilities, who often went without access to instruction or services for substantial periods of time, even if they eventually received services by the end of the year. Throughout the pandemic, we heard from families whose children had to wait weeks or months for an iPad and, in the meantime, received no instruction or services at all. Other families found that their children’s special education instruction or services simply did not translate over a screen, or that their children’s disabilities prevented them from accessing services remotely. Furthermore, the report shows a concerning decrease in the number of initial referrals for special education (9,457 in in 2020-21, compared to 21,922 in 2018-19, prior to the pandemic, and 16,097 in 2019-20), likely meaning that more students went without the help they needed.

Under federal law, the City has an obligation to provide students with disabilities with make-up services to compensate for what they lost, and to bring them to where they should be but for the disruption in learning since March 2020. One year ago, AFC filed a class action complaint in federal court asking the DOE to create a system to provide these make-up services (called “compensatory services” in special education law). However, the DOE has neither resolved the case nor taken adequate steps to ensure students get the services they need and to which they are legally entitled. 

While the DOE has announced that schools will be offering certain special education “recovery services” to some students after school or on Saturdays, the start date for actually providing these services has already been pushed back—the majority of schools have not yet launched their programs, and some may not do so until early December or later—and many parents remain in the dark as to what their school will be offering and when their child will be eligible to participate. 

The staffing and implementation of these recovery programs are being left to individual schools, meaning the type and quality of the recovery services available to any given student will vary based on the school they happen to attend. We are also concerned that many of the students hit hardest by the pandemic will not have access to these programs. For example:

  • The DOE recently indicated that schools can choose to provide recovery services remotely, which will be of little benefit for those students who experienced regression precisely because online instruction was ineffective or impracticable for meeting their specific needs.
  • Children needing bilingual services were especially likely to have missed out last year—for instance, the data show that 17% of students needing bilingual speech therapy did not receive a single session of this service in 2020-21, compared to 5% of students recommended for monolingual speech therapy—but many schools will not have bilingual providers available after school or on Saturdays.
  • The DOE has not yet committed to providing bus service for after-school or Saturday services, despite the fact that many students will be unable to participate without busing due to the nature of their disabilities or because they live in shelters or foster homes far away from school. 

While special education recovery services, as currently outlined by the DOE, can be part of the solution, they will not be sufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities following multiple years of unprecedented educational disruption – or to meet the City’s legal obligation. We fear that the City is leaving families with no choice but to file administrative hearings against the DOE to get the full make-up services their children need and have a legal right to receive—putting further stress on an already over-burdened system, delaying the students’ access to these services as they navigate a hearing system that often takes more than a year, and favoring families who have the time and resources to hire an attorney and navigate a lengthy process. 

“The DOE’s plan for supporting students with disabilities in the aftermath of COVID-19 continues to fall short,” said Kim Sweet, AFC’s Executive Director. “It is critical that every student with a disability gets the extra help and make-up services they need, in a way that works for them and their family, without having to fight with the DOE to get them. The clock is ticking, and unmet needs from the pandemic will only snowball the more time passes.” 

View the press release as a PDF

11.08.2021 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York released new data showing that more than 101,000 New York City students were identified as homeless during the 2020-2021 school year, a 42% increase since the start of the decade and a number that has remained stubbornly persistent in recent years: last year marked the sixth consecutive school year that more than 100,000 New York City students experienced homelessness.

Last year, as the pandemic raged and most students continued to learn remotely, nearly 28,000 of them did so while living in New York City’s shelters, and approximately 65,000 lived “doubled-up” with friends or family, staying temporarily with others in overcrowded housing. An additional 3,860 students were unsheltered last year, living in cars, parks, or abandoned buildings. While the total number of students identified as homeless was 9% lower than in 2019-20, some of this decline is likely attributable to the drop in overall public school enrollment (3.3%), as well as the difficulty schools experienced identifying students whose housing situation changed while they were learning remotely.

While COVID-19 has further magnified the educational challenges facing students who are homeless, this group of students has long experienced tremendous obstacles to success in school. For example, in 2019, only 29% of students experiencing homelessness in grades 3-8 were reading proficiently, according to the state tests, 20 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently housed peers.  Students living in shelter—94% of whom are Black or Hispanic—face even more barriers to educational success. Prior to the pandemic, 57% of students living in shelter were already chronically absent—missing at least one out of every 10 school days in 2019-20—and only 52% of students living in shelter graduated high school in four years, 27 percentage points lower than the citywide average graduation rate. 

“No child should be homeless, but while Mayor-elect Adams’ administration makes plans to tackle New York City’s housing and homelessness crisis, they must meet the immediate, daily educational needs of students who are homeless,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children.

Today, AFC is joining more than 40 organizations in releasing recommendations calling on Mayor-elect Adams to take bold action to address the educational needs of students experiencing homelessness. The groups are calling on the new administration to overhaul the educational support system in shelters, starting by hiring 150 shelter-based DOE Community Coordinators who have the skills and knowledge needed to help families navigate NYC’s complex school system and connect students with educational supports. The groups are also urging Mayor-elect Adams to launch an interagency initiative to tackle the educational barriers these students face, such as chronic absenteeism, transportation, and delays in enrollment and services.

“With the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless,” said Kim Sweet. “The next administration should bring together city agencies and charge them with ensuring every student who is homeless gets the support needed to succeed in school.”

Read the data brief [PDF]
Read the joint recommendations
[PDF]
View the press release as a PDF