Harlem educator Billy Green was named New York State’s Teacher of the Year this month, but some parents say he’s focusing too much on social justice — and not enough on teaching basic skills.
Green, who teaches chemistry and sometimes math at A. Philip Randolph Campus High School and also specializes in helping LGBTQ youth, too often prioritizes “wokeness” over coursework, members of parent advocacy group Undercover Mother told The Post.
On Jan. 6, 2021, just after the Capitol riot, for example, Green tweeted a list of discussion points for his algebra class. “I will use the vocabulary of inequalities to empower my identities in America,” it read. “Students will develop a deeper understanding of how the vocabulary of inequality impacts their lives and the communities they ascribe to.”
Accompanying the discussion points was a message that read, “Cultivating genius in black and brown children is an intentional act by teachers,” referencing the book “Cultivating Genius” by Department of Education consultant Gholdy Muhammad, who advocates an “equity framework” for teaching.
“If you want to know why public schools are underperforming it’s because we have allowed education officials to focus and revere activist teachers like Billy Green and Gholdy Muhammad who prioritize social justice over serious classroom subject matter,” said one of the leading members of Undercover Mother, a loose national network of anonymous moms who formed in NYC in 2021 and have since expanded nationally.
Green has a slightly checkered work history as a New York City public school teacher, including being fired at least once for his activism, he told The Post. One of the last schools where he taught chemistry, Frederick Douglass Academy, falls far below the state average in test scores. Chemistry, which is Green’s main subject, had the lowest test scores at Douglass, with only 9% of students getting a passing grade.
“I chose to work at those schools, they didn’t choose me,” Green said. “They need me at the worst schools. Billy Green isn’t working at Stuyvesant (High School) or Brooklyn Tech. You’re getting the best teachers at the failing schools for a reason. The true work comes from the teacher with the grind. They need to fix the DOE, not just Billy Green’s high schools.”
Green has been teaching for 20 years, including a stint at the tough East River Academy on Rikers Island. He said he overcame a childhood that began in East Harlem and included ten years of frequent homelessness. After his mother was evicted from the family apartment because she couldn’t afford a $15 monthly rent increase, the family ended up in city shelters and Green even spent time sleeping in abandoned buildings, he said.
He still managed to graduate from Williams College and is now working toward his doctorate at Columbia University, he said.
Green has a record of excellence in schools like the High School for Environmental Studies in Hell’s Kitchen where his students got high grades in chemistry, he said.
“I teach chemistry and some math and I sprinkle some social justice in,” Green, 42, told The Post Thursday. “I have been studied by the greats. I come in here every day and win. The city tried to fire me but the state recognizes diversity and social justice. I am a champion for these kids. And don’t say I am doing the Gholdy Muhammad framework. She is a friend but I am doing the Billy Green framework. I will never let anyone put me in a box.”
“I’m Puerto Rican, black, ghetto, gay, too many ism-s,” Green added. “I’m not the person people want to see succeed. The DOE doesn’t want me to succeed. The mayor of the city hasn’t said anything to me. Why are they looking to tear me down rather than uplift me? At the end of the day I am teaching chemistry first, everything else comes after that.”
One activist parent said she is impressed by Green’s background, if not his activism. “I respect that he has taught at Rikers Island,” Maud Maron, a parent advocate and former Democratic congressional candidate, told The Post. “My issue is more with the people who are handing out these awards. They don’t seem to prioritize teachers who are just quietly getting the work done. They go after these larger-than-life characters who are gender fluid or are men who wear nail polish but it’s not something that’s really helping kids learn math and science. They are rewarding performativity. Children are being conscripted to be the audience which isn’t fair to them. The criteria should be academic success.”
When asked about Green, a DOE spokesman emailed a statement to The Post.
“We are constantly in awe of the many ways that our dedicated teachers serve students daily. Having an educator like Mr. Green in our public schools is a privilege, and we are so proud that he is being deservedly recognized by the New York State Board of Regents as Teacher of the Year. Whenever any one of our educators is honored, it uplifts our entire city.”