News and Speeches

Testimony of NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Council Resolution Supporting the City’s Plan to Establish High-Quality Universal Pre-Kindergarten for All Eligible Four-Year Olds and a High-Quality After-School Program for Middle School Aged Youth

2/11/2014

As Prepared for Delivery Before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Women’s Issues - February 11, 2014

Good afternoon Speaker Mark-Viverito, Chairs Dromm and Cumbo and all the members of the Education and Women’s Issues Committees here today. I am New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. It is my pleasure to be here to discuss Resolution No. 2 in support of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to establish high-quality full-day universal pre-K and high quality after-school programs for middle school students in New York City. I would like to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Council for your support on this important issue and for your longstanding support of full-day pre-K and after-school programs. Seated with me is Sophia Pappas, the Executive Director of Early Childhood Education at the Department of Education.

During my 40 years in education, I have learned that the only way to improve education is to focus attention on the classroom and quality instruction. And as Chancellor, I want to see all of New York City’s students receive the best education possible, as early as possible.

The opportunity to attend high quality, full-day pre-K is an essential step in this trajectory. We know that significant growth in speech, language, and brain development occurs before kindergarten. By getting children into language-rich environments that promote higher-order thinking as soon as possible, pre-K helps develop the critical vocabulary, oral language, and problem-solving skills that serve as a foundation for academic success throughout the remainder of their education. And by establishing strong partnerships with families from the beginning, we set the tone for continued, active family involvement throughout a child’s time in our schools.

In cities and states that currently have universal pre-K, research has documented significant academic gains across all income and racial groups. In Tulsa, Oklahoma participation in pre-K was a powerful predictor of children’s pre-reading and pre-writing scores and helped narrow the achievement gap.

New Jersey’s Abbott Districts’ pre-K programs are designed to overcome chronic education disparities and have demonstrated substantial impacts on achievement in language, literacy, and mathematics. A recent study found that Boston’s universal pre-K narrows the achievement gap and produces gains in vocabulary and math skills for children from all backgrounds.

Another step in setting up our young people for success in college and careers is to focus on the quality of their middle school experience. After-school programs have the potential to be a support system for students, both academically and emotionally. Just like pre-K, these programs offer crucial resources that may not be otherwise available to students. Not only do they help our students improve academic performance, they foster community at a critical time in a child’s development.

You understand that by providing free, high-quality, full-day pre-K to an estimated 73,250 four-year olds by the 2015-2016 school year, we have the opportunity to dramatically alter the academic and life paths of our City’s children. You understand that given the importance of pre-K for our children, families and city, we must start this two-year rollout with a significant increase in full-day options starting this coming school year.

You also recognize that middle school is a pivotal time for our students. As early as summer 2014, we can begin after-school expansion for middle schools in targeted neighborhoods and expand to the 116 stand-alone middle schools currently without out an after-school program in September 2014. As I visit middle schools throughout the City, this has become clearer to me: at an age where the alternative can lead to dropping out or incarceration, a good after-school program has the power, not only to change the course of a student’s academic career, but to change his or her life.

So how do we turn this information into real and long-lasting change?  The central challenge is sufficient, sustainable funding. Without multi-year, guaranteed funding, agencies and providers will be unable to secure the quality educators and space necessary to serve every child in New York City.

Thank you for recognizing that a small tax increase will allow an enormous investment in the future of our City. Every child not already in a pre-K program has already lost critical learning time. Filling the gap in full-day pre-K access cannot wait. Providing quality after-school programs for middle school students is a must if we are truly committed to increasing the number of NYC students who graduate from high-school college and career ready. The children we could potentially place in programs this September will not get another chance at experiences that set them up for achievement and increased opportunities later in life.

Thank you so much for your support on these fundamental issues. I am proud to stand with you in consensus on this issue and I look forward to working with you in the future. I would like to once again thank you for the opportunity to testify today and I would be happy to take your questions.