New York mayor's education plan to focus on early reading

AP News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2015 1:33 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio will unveil the next phase of his education agenda in a major speech that will tout his massive pre-kindergarten expansion as the foundation for a series of new policy initiatives aimed at improving standards and leveling the playing field for students in the nation's largest school system.

During a news conference Wednesday morning at a combination middle school and high school in the Bronx, de Blasio is to outline a series of expansive new proposals meant to achieve three major goals: to have all children reading by third grade, to improve on-time graduation rates and to give all students a shot at attending college.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, the mayor said he would also be using the speech to reiterate his case to the governor and lawmakers in Albany for more state education funding and a lengthy renewal of mayor control of the public school system, though the primary audience will be the parents of the city's 1.1 million students.

"We've known for a long time we didn't have equity in our school system," de Blasio told the AP. "My goal is that every school and every child have what they need to succeed."

The mayor plans to hold up his administration's success in launching universal pre-K — there are now 65,000 4-year-olds in pre-K, more than the number of students in the entire Boston public school system — as evidence it's able to tackle sweeping changes to the sprawling school system.

One new proposal also is aimed at the early formative years of students' lives to set them on track for later success. De Blasio wants all students to be reading at their grade level by the end of second grade. Currently, only 30 percent of city public school third-graders are proficient in reading, and experts have found reading level in the third grade is a strong predictor of reading proficiency in the eighth grade.

To bridge that gap, the city plans to hire reading specialists who'll focus on helping students become literate.

The mayor also will announce a plan to expand the number of high schools that offer Advanced Placement courses. The courses, which can yield college credit, are unavailable in 120 public high schools and are available to only 44 percent of black and Hispanic students as opposed to 66 percent of their white and Asian peers.

But the proposals were not well received by all education advocates.

"This is lipstick on a pig," said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union. "These ideas all sound good, but they are not going to get at what really needs to get done to fix this system, and that is to systematically retrain our teachers to do their jobs effectively."

The mayor also will announce a new partnership with the private sector to bring more computer science and other technology programs to low-income schools and require schools to offer computer science to all students within 10 years.