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Mayor's school goals are tough but critical

Mayor Bill de Blasio visits a Pre-K class

Mayor Bill de Blasio visits a Pre-K class at the Brooklyn Chinese American Association Early Childhood Education Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Linda Rosier

There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, or so the Disney World song goes.

If Mayor Bill de Blasio's education plan is as successful as he projects, future NYC schoolchildren may see such a bright world. But it's still a long way off, and the plan will require strong leadership, a commitment from the city school system, and lots of money.

That's no easy task -- and de Blasio has a lot riding on it, as the plan could become a symbol of his desire for permanent mayoral control of schools.

City Hall has to commit to clear, achievable benchmarks in the short term so that current students benefit and progress is measurable. The plan would benefit from having a designated executive to manage and lead it under Chancellor Carmen Fariña's guidance. And costs have to remain under control.

If all goes according to plan, there'll be a time when every NYC student reads on grade level by the end of second grade. Each will have access to algebra in eighth grade, Advanced Placement classes in high school, and computer science throughout. Middle school students will visit college campuses, and students in need will have individual support. And 80% of students will graduate from high school on time, compared with 68% now.

Meanwhile, district schools will partner with charter schools, sharing best practices. Amid the progress, commitments to the arts and other subjects won't wane.

It's an ambitious wish list, with grand potential to positively impact 1.1 million kids across city public schools. The goals are critical to NYC's future. Studies have shown that students who can't read by third grade are four times more likely not to graduate high school on time. Algebra opens doors to math, science and more.

But logistics, costs and potential pitfalls are extensive. De Blasio says the plan will require $186 million a year. The city is leaving a lot up to the hope that the economy and city budget will remain strong.

De Blasio and Fariña also need to secure the buy-in of superintendents, principals, teachers and staff across the city. They'll have to figure out how to handle already-overcrowded classrooms and small schools with fewer resources. They plan to share supplies, staff, AP classes and more. That's ripe for challenges and concerns, but it can work.

And then there's the timeline. City Hall says it'll start next fall, and there'll be interim goals. But officials must think in a shorter time frame. The idea that 10 classes of second-graders will come through without full literacy while the program ramps up is simply unacceptable.

Perhaps dreams of the Disney variety will come true -- but it'll take more than pixie dust to get there.


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