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Op-ed | Reviving NYC: How private sector can help improve our public schools

Primary school kids standing in a row on a walkway outside their school, smiling to camera, low angle
Photo via Getty Images

New York City’s business community fought long and hard for mayoral control of the public schools. Every year there is pressure from various quarters to dilute the authority and accountability of the mayor and the chancellor to make critical decisions about school policies and operations. Most recently the controversy is over funding levels, with some members of the New York City Council and other advocates challenging the school budget that was enacted in June. This second-guessing of decisions that have been negotiated by the mayor and chancellor is not helpful to the students and undermines the governance of the nation’s largest—and most costly—school system. 

The economic success of the city depends on the quality of our local talent pool. Mayor Eric Adams and Chancellor David Banks have made it their top priority to prepare New York City students to become part of the most highly skilled and productive workforce in the world. To accomplish this task, they need the discretion to direct resources and set priorities without political interference.

Since mayoral control replaced the dysfunctional Board of Education in 2002, management of the city’s schools has improved and so has student performance. The citywide graduation rate increased more than 30 percentage points, from 46.4% in 2005—the first year the state used its current method of calculating graduation rates—to 78.5% in 2021. Over the same period, the high school graduation rate improved from 40% to 76% among Black students and from 37% to 75% among Hispanic students. The gap between graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students compared to white students contracted from 25 points in 2005 to four points in 2021.

Today, many major employers are directly engaged in partnerships with programs that expose students to the huge range of career opportunities available in the city and what they need to do to qualify for those positions. The Lazard New Visions Academy connects hundreds of 11th and 12th graders to Lazard employees to prepare students for careers in the financial services sector. Through Bank of America’s support of the Career and Technical Education Summer Scholars program, students gain access to paid internships, develop technical and financial literacy skills, expand their professional networks, and earn college credit. Paramount is partnering with Reel Works to remove barriers to entry for students interested in careers in media, and Amazon, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and other employers are sponsoring three-year apprenticeships in partnership with CareerWise New York to provide meaningful, paid work experiences to high school students. 

Building on these investments by the city’s private sector, earlier this year Mayor Adams announced a $33 million investment in career pathways programs—including the expansion of apprenticeship programs—that focus on high growth sectors of the city’s economy. Just a few weeks ago, Mayor Adams announced a new citywide talent development strategy with the overriding goal that every young person has a pathway into a successful career, regardless of the post-secondary path they choose. This new approach will align the myriad agencies that have a hand in workforce training and job placement programs, including the Department of Education and the City University of New York. 

Universal career readiness guided by employer demand is a hallmark of the Adams administration and building sustained partnerships with the private sector to support these efforts is well underway. 

Partnerships with the private sector, not more public funding, are the key to improving the outcomes of public schools, closing the skills gap, and ensuring that the city’s public school graduates are prepared to succeed in college, career, and life. This is the direction that the mayor and chancellor are pursuing and they deserve support from all New Yorkers.

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