New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza (263708)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza wants public school students to see themselves in the books they’re assigned to read.

This week, the chancellor displayed the New York City Education Department’s goal of culturally responsive education. Carranza spoke at M.S. 88 in Brooklyn to show support for diversifying the NYC 365 booklist while adding parent input and a new Culturally Responsible Education Fellows program to assist teachers in adjusting their curriculums to be culturally in tune as well.

“We are doubling down on accelerating learning for every student by giving schools a playbook for rigorous and consistent instruction, and helping our students see themselves in the books they read and the lessons they are taught,” said Carranza in a statement. “All students are capable of rigorous learning at high levels. We are building on the progress we’re already making with our Equity and Excellence for All agenda—record-high graduation and college enrollment rates, and the highest number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement exams—and ensuring that every teacher has the resources they need to meet our high instructional standards.”

The chancellor said that they will survey students, parents, city library partners and educators to help diversify school libraries and the books students read in classrooms.

“Creating an equitable school system means ensuring that young people can see themselves reflected in the curriculum; now is the time to create the schools young people deserve,” said Kate McDonough, director of the Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY.

In New York City’s public school system, 41% of students are Latinx, 26% are Black, 16% are Asian and 15% are white. However, with a student body that’s 85% students of color, 84% of authors in the elementary curriculum are white.

A recent report by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice noted that the DOE’s elementary school booklist has 140 books and 118 are by white authors; by the time a student is in 5th grade odds are they would have read more books with animals as characters than people of color as characters.

The report also showed that there is a high likelihood a student of color can graduate 5th grade having almost never read a book by an author of their own cultural background. Of the 82 books in the K-5th grade “Great Minds” curriculum, there is only one Asian author. In the DOE’s 365 booklist there were more books featuring cover characters with animals than cover characters with Latinx, Black, Asian and Native peoples combined.

“We support the chancellor’s announcement today about creating a more diverse book list, and developing a group of teachers who are expert in CRE and can teach other teachers,” stated Consuelo de León, public school parent from Make the Road NY. “Now it is urgent that we have a new curriculum as well. Today we immigrants are under attack from the government and our children feel invisible because nobody talks about where they are from or how they feel.”

One parent agreed and said that the more kids see themselves in education the more they’ll be open to learning.

“It is important to understand that having diverse books gives children more opportunities to read by having more books that will interest them and hear stories that reflect their own personal experience,” said Grisel Cardona, District 75, District 9 and NYC Coalition for Educational Justice parent leader, in a statement. “But reading about another culture gives them the opportunity to be more open about the world that is around them and most of all learn to respect one another for who they are and where they come from, and empathize with.”