NYC Students Will be ‘Environmental Stewards’ Despite Lack of Math and English Skills

City spending $23 million on solar panel installations

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio / AP

Thousands of students in New York City schools are failing to meet math and English proficiency but they will learn to be "environmental stewards" as a result of a major school investment in solar panels announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio. As calls mount this week for de Blasio to reform the city’s failing school system, the mayor announced the investment of $23 million in city funds for solar panels at some city schools. In a report issued last week, Families for Excellent Schools detailed the city’s problems. In 2013, less than 10 percent of students met academic standards in the city’s 257 elementary schools. In 2014, 87 of those schools failed to improve 1 percentage point. Of 925 schools surveyed, only 46 had an average proficiency rate in math and English above 50 percent. Additionally, 185 schools had proficiency rates below 10 percent. Only five percent, or 46, of the schools which are Title I schools, which are designated federally as "high poverty," are delivering a quality education by achieving more than 50 percent proficiency with their underserved student populations. The small number of successful schools, FES pointed out, are public charter schools. The FES also reported approximately 143,000 NYC students were trapped in schools in which less than 1 in 10 students were proficient in Math and English. FES found that in 371 city schools in 2013, 90 percent of students failed to read and do math at grade-level. In 25 percent of the schools, 9 out of 10 students were failing. The latest NYC progress report cards on schools also point to the failure of many of the city’s schools. A major rally is planned on Thursday October 2 at Foley Square in New York City demanding de Blasio act and expand access to quality schools. Thousand are expected to attend the rally in support of NYC school children. The Coalition for Education Equality, which is organizing the rally, indicated in a prepared statement they seek to "end the persistent failure in New York City’s public schools." "The rally will draw attention to the inequities of New York City’s education crisis that leaves hundreds of thousands of children without the skills and knowledge to succeed in life," the CEE said. The advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, which includes former educators, has been vocal in detailing the failures of the city’s schools. "Thursday's message will be loud and clear—more than 10,000 of New York City's parents refusing to wait while 143,000 of our children are trapped in persistently failing schools. Our focus is on demanding access to excellent schools, district or charter, for every child in New York City," said Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, in an email. The FES highlighted a "failing schools crisis" in an advertising blitz this week airing on numerous radio stations. The ad, "Don’t Steal Possible," drives home their message that every child deserves a chance at a bright future. The group reportedly spent $479,000 on its ad campaign. The hashtag #Don’tStealPossible has been active on Twitter, much to the chagrin of the United Federation of Teachers, which opposes the FES. UFT took to twitter to disparage the group, demanding FES release its donor information. UFT tweeted out with hashtag #RevealYourDonors: "Hedge fund money=toxic money. New Yorkers deserve to know who is funding $479K in attack ads." The UFT did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier this week, de Blasio sided with the union, saying the FES should disclose its donors. He also praised the NYC school system. "My job is to serve all the children of this city," de Blasio told Capital New York. "Over 1 million of those kids go to traditional public schools. That's our first obligation to get it right. … I'm very proud of our public schools. Our public schools have turned out extraordinary leaders, internationally famous leaders." Despite pleas for greater funding for school choice, de Blasio announced the city would spend $23 million on installing solar panels at city schools. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will provide another $5 million for the program. The mayor’s office believes New York City school children will learn from this solar panel project. "Teaching children to be environmental stewards is crucial as they have a critical role in making sure that New York is sustainable for centuries to come. Our New York City schools are showcases for being good everyday citizens, and this is what we need our children to be—good everyday citizens now and in the future."