“We’ve never been taught how to breathe,” Mayor Eric Adams claimed Tuesday, as he mandated two to five minutes of “mindful breathing” per day for all K-12 students next year.
But the mayor should save his oxygen for the real crisis in our schools —our children are not being taught how to read, if they’re even showing up to class at all.
On New York’s own 3rd-8th grade state assessments, less than half of students scored proficient in English Language Arts or Math last year.
Looking at how many students are actually attending classes, it’s not difficult to understand why.
The announcement ironically came on the last day of classes for the 2022-23 school year — a year in which more than half of NYC seniors were chronically absent.
This is a symptom of a larger trend. In New York City’s public schools, 40% of students were chronically absent this past school year. That means out of 938,000 students enrolled, some 375,000 kids are missing at least 18 days of school.
Absenteeism in New York City has been on the rise since the pandemic — though it’s worth noting that our numbers have been worse than the national average since schools were shut down during COVID.
Compared to the 2018-19 school year, average chronic absenteeism across NYC schools increased by more than half.
Absenteeism is swelling in schools that were already struggling and among families with comparatively fewer resources to mitigate its harms — the exact populations Mayor Adams should be trying so hard to help.
Nearly half of the city’s black and Hispanic student populations were chronically absent in 2021-22. The same goes for almost half of all students in the Bronx.
The Brookings Institute relays that poor kids in kindergarten are about 2.5 times more likely to be chronically absent compared to non-poor peers.
The academic consequences associated with missing school are profound. An Economic Policy Institute study estimated that missing just one or two days of school was associated with a statistically significant drop on the 2015 math NAEP exam (the “Nation’s Report Card”).
While it’s hard to exactly measure the impacts of absenteeism, New York’s recent performance on the most recent NAEP exams certainly suggests our students are falling behind.
Compared to the other 50 states, New York ranks among the bottom for 4th grade math scores on the latest NAEP exam, and had one of the largest score declines in the country. This isn’t an isolated trend either. There’s been no “significant increase” in 4th or 8th grade reading and math scores in New York for over a decade.
Persistent learning gaps remain for special needs, economically disadvantaged and minority students.
These numbers get worse when put in the context of the states’ school spending.
New York City is slated to spend about $38,000 per student next school year — and for what?
Students aren’t learning basic functions, if they’re even showing up at all. Kids learn to breathe whether they’re in a classroom or not. Math and literacy are not so instinctual.
Let’s focus on the fundamentals and get butts back into seats.
Then we can all collectively take a deep sigh of relief.
Tim Hoefer is President and CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.