October 8, 2021
Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. Now it's time for our Friday Ask the Mayor call in, my questions and yours for a Mayor Bill de Blasio. And as I said before the news, something different for the first half of Ask the Mayor today, as we are also joined by a very special guest, the New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter as they announce the end of Gifted and Talented programs as we've known them for elementary schools and introduce a new structure for accelerated learning for individual kids beginning in third grade, but that won't separate them into special classes. So, listeners, only questions about that right now at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, or you can tweet a question about that using the hashtag, #AskTheMayor. Good morning, Mr. Mayor, welcome back, and good morning, Chancellor Porter, welcome to WNYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much, Brian. I just want to say this is a really exciting day and the Chancellor and I are so happy that we're going to be ending something that I think was a mistake all along, a single test for four-year-olds that determined so much of their future. We're going to reach tens of thousands of more kids with accelerated learning, and so this is a really important day for New York City. We’re moving to a much better model for the future and Chancellor, thank you for all you did to make this possible.
Lehrer: And Chancellor –
Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter: Thanks for having me this morning.
Lehrer: I know it goes beyond the test for the four-year-olds, so would you start by explaining what was wrong with Gifted and Talented programs in elementary school, as you saw them, including how much they were a tool for a de facto racial segregation?
Chancellor Porter: Well, you know, as a lifelong educator, what we all know is that, you know, no single test should be – determine any child's future. And what we all saw, and what I know from being a teacher and a leader, is that there are so many more students who are gifted or talented, who are brilliant, who have, you know, special gifts, and I think this is a moment about creating opportunities for all students to demonstrate that they're powerful learning abilities and for teachers to really tap into those gifts.
Mayor: And Brian, to emphasize that your question, you know, we're going to have kids learning altogether in one classroom where the kids who do have special abilities are given the extra help, the extra attention to go farther ahead in their studies, you know, by it with help from teachers, with team teaching in some cases, with digital education. The kids who have those special abilities for accelerated learning will be getting a lot of attention, a lot of opportunity to do it, but there'll be learning with all the other kids and the tracking that used to be, you know, I think a huge, huge mistake in American education and that we've been phasing out in a variety of ways, that ends. This is all kids together in a classroom learning together.
Lehrer: How will that work, Chancellor Porter, in practice for teachers who have kids learning at a variety of paces and kids going at different paces in the same classroom?
Chancellor Porter: So – I mean, that's how many, many, many of our classrooms currently operate, and I think what is exciting about this moment is that we're adding a component of additional training for teachers to be able to recognize those talents, to provide, you know, targeted individualized instruction for young people, and it's something many teachers are doing across the city. And now we're saying we're making an investment in training them so that they know how to identify those talents, build on those talents, and provide individualized instruction for students
Lehrer: Brock on the Lower East Side, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. Hello, Brock.
Question: Oh, hi, Mr. Mayor and Chancellor. I – both of my kids were Gifted and Talented program, and they tested in every time, and we participated in this test prep industry, which I think is just wrong. And we waited those years before a seat was finally open, in the meantime we were in a progressive school and one of the side effects of all of this, it's a kind of two-tiered world, that I think needs to go – I couldn't agree more with you – and that was bullying. In the progressive school that we were in, there was no bullying, it wasn't even on our radar. When we entered the G and T school, there was bullying, a lot of it, and it was a constant program, a constant issue. And I realized after a while it came from the parents were putting so much pressure on their kids to perform at an age where –
Lehrer: And forgive me, but I'm going to go because we can't take a long speech. It doesn't sound like you have a question for the Chancellor or the Mayor, but you do support what they're doing. We'll go to another caller in a minute –
Mayor: Can I just say one thing about what Brock said? Because the point about folks, that industry, he referred to, huge amounts of money being spent to take a single test and then listen to this, 2,500 kids each year in the old system got Gifted and Talented education out of 65,000. One of the things that Chancellor and I believe is tens of thousands of kids each year have talents that can benefit from accelerated learning. We're going to be taking, I said 2,500 kids a year, tens of thousands of kids each year will get those accelerated learning opportunities. They don't have to take a test. The parents don't have to shell out money. This is going to be a much, much more inclusive model.
Lehrer: Chancellor Porter, there's a staffing crisis in schools, I think it's fair to say, it's been made more acute by the vaccine mandate, but there are kids without their legally required paraprofessionals, teachers with no special ed training being asked to manage special ed classes though they don't have correct licensing. As I understand the G and T plans, they include hiring more teachers to train, and in some cases to teach accelerated material. Question is that really the best use of how the money could be used to hire more teachers or social workers at this time? - That question.
Chancellor: So – go ahead, I’m sorry.
Lehrer: No, you go.
Chancellor Porter: So, you know, we are really proud of having gotten to over 95 percent of our staff vaccinated, and we're not seeing a significant staffing problem out of, you know, 23,000 para’s across the city, a fraction of them are un-vaccinated. And so, yes, I think that this is a moment of investing in our system, investing in more teachers, you know, and social workers, because we noticed this is an important part of moving our system forward. You know, I would also say if you have listeners who feel like they have a service that's not being supported right now, would love for new opportunities to get information, and we would absolutely have our team follow up with them.
Mayor: Yeah, and Brian, two quick points, 2,000 more school employees have gotten vaccinated since the Monday deadline. So, it is a continuity here, more and more people actually thinking better of it, and coming in, getting vaccinated, that's beefing up the staff, we're getting the teachers where we need them and the substitutes where we need them. But in terms of investment, we have to make those investments. But this investment makes so much sense because we're going to reach in terms of the accelerated learning for tens of thousands of kids. Think about it for a moment, Brian, if you are a kid and you were really good at math and really good at science, whatever it was, and you didn't get into a Gifted and Talented program right now, and that means the tens of thousands of kids who are left out every year don't get that opportunity, then there's nothing for you. We are saying we’re going to train teachers and prepare schools to actually reach you as a child and bring out your gifts and abilities that would have been ignored if you were not accepted into one of those very small, very exclusive, Gifted and Talented programs previously.
Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, why now? Advocates and your previous Chancellors have been arguing for something like this for years. The New York Times headline when your previous chancellor, Richard Carranza, announced he was leaving in February, was “New York City Schools Chief to Resign After Clashes Over Desegregation.” So why now? And not when Chancellor Carranza wanted this type of thing or even his predecessor?
Mayor: Brian, I would urge you against taking headlines and stories in any paper, even that august paper and believing them wholesale. I think the chancellor's departure was quite abundantly clearly because he was going through a horrifying personal crisis. But I'd say about that chancellor and any chancellor, put together the plan, put it on the table, and we’ll act on it. The first chancellor who ever gave me a plan to fix Gifted and Talented was Meisha Ross Porter, and we're moving on it immediately. This is an absolutely coherent, full plan. We're going to go out for two months and get input from communities and perfect it and revise it accordingly. But this was the first chancellor to give me a plan that would actually work on the ground, and guess what? Because of her work, we're going to reach 10 times more kids each year with accelerated learning. That's the kind of plan I was waiting for.
Lehrer: Barbara in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC with the Mayor and the School's Chancellor. Hello, Barbara.
Question: Hi, Hello. Good morning, everyone. So, my question is really around schools that are in lower performing areas. So, I have a student who, you know, we live in a lower performing school district, and he tested into Gifted and Talented and was able to go to a school in a different district, and he thrived in that school, well, though, there was a, like a lot of emotional problems and issues that went on, but the school was able to, you know, wrap services around him so that he was able to maintain in that program. And right now, he attends Mark Twain. And so, my concern is that, you know, in some of the lower performing schools, children are not really going to equally thrive as you're stating. If that makes sense?
Mayor: Yeah, Barbara, I appreciate that question. And bluntly, I'm really glad you raised it and I'll certainly have the Chancellor speak as well. This is exactly what I have said to the Department of Education officials for years. Show me a plan that recognizes the fact that many of our schools are still not where they need to be. And for struggling parents, working class parents of all backgrounds, they're looking for the very best for their children. What Chancellor Porter has done is come up with a plan where there's real, tangible progress. A lot of training of teachers, getting teachers to schools that previously were deprived of the kind of teachers who could help build a Gifted and Talented or accelerated learning program. This is the first time again, I've seen a plan that actually responds to the point you're making. We can't pretend a lot of our schools are in a better place than where they are. We have to bring them up. But the way to do that is by sending in more quality teachers, more teacher training, building a whole new reality, where we bring out the gifts of those kids. Because every single school in our system has kids, everyone has kids that can benefit from accelerated learning. Just a lot of them have been ignored and left out. So, Chancellor, over to you.
Chancellor Porter: Yes. And Barbara, I hope to hear your voice in our engagement sessions because you are the parents we want to hear from. This moment is about making sure that you don't have to cross district lines, that you don't have to go outside of your neighborhood. But that your neighborhood school can actually provide the support, the services, that type of learning that your child needs. And you know, my commitment and I think the job of our school systems is to make sure in every neighborhood, in every community, regardless of socioeconomic status, parents have a school that they can walk to, that provides their child with the education that they deserve. That's what we're looking forward to do. That's the Teacher Corps we're looking to build. And so, I hope to hear you and see you at our engagement session.
Lehrer: Barbara, thank you. And here's the follow-up Chancellor, on Twitter about engagement. Listener Remy writes, ask the Mayor and DOE Chancellor, what is their plan for parent engagement regarding citywide G and T programs and for screened middle school admissions, since they didn't engage parents at all in developing this newly announced elementary G and T program, despite multiple promises to do so? So, Chancellor, obviously there's at least some people out there who think there was not engagement on this.
Chancellor Porter: Yes. So, this is where we're at. This is our blueprint. We want to hear from parents, community leaders, educators, and students. Brilliant NYC is a vision. It's our vision for New York City. But I know like when we get out into communities, they will make it better. They will add more. And so, we're looking forward to engaging citywide and district-based conversations. We're looking forward to covering every – all of the 32 districts, community, school districts, and really engaging with families over the next two months.
Lehrer: I’m not sure I understand that. Are you saying this is just a blueprint or is this a plan that's going to be implemented?
Chancellor Porter: This is a blueprint for the plan that we intend to implement. Engagement is a critical part of moving this plan forward.
Mayor: Yeah. Brian, I want to square that real quick. You're asking an important question. We know where we want to go and we're going to get this done. But we also understand, even with COVID, with everything it’s been a very difficult time to do everything we want to do. But what we do know is we're going to bring this plan out to communities. The Chancellor's going to go out there personally. A lot of the other key DOE officials are going to go out, meet with parents, meet with parent leaders, community education councils, hear their feedback, and then adjust a plan according to what we hear. And then that's what we finally implement.
Lehrer: One more call for the Chancellor before I know she has to go. Bob in Manhattan, you’re on WNYC. Hello.
Question: Hi. My question is if any consideration was given or any estimate was done about any parents who will leave the New York City school system or the city entirely because they don't have the Gifted and Talented option available to them?
Mayor: Bob, I understand the question. It is a fair question. This is what I would say, first of all, we respect the parents who worked hard to get their kids ready for a test that I think was a mistake to begin with, those tests, but they did exist. And we don't want to take away from people who got something. That's why we're phasing it out. So, all the kids going into first grade through fifth grade next year, who are in the existing Gifted and Talented programs, they will continue. They will see them through to completion. But for the kids going into kindergarten and beyond in the years ahead, we're going to find the right approach to getting accelerated learning to not just the 2,500 a year. And Bob, I would suggest this, the 2,500 winners per year, we want to take care of those kids, but we also want to reach the tens of thousands and more who have kids with real skills, real ability, who can benefit from accelerated learning and never got the opportunity. And that was especially true in many communities in the outer boroughs and many communities of color. So, we need to do – we need to reach a much bigger universe of kids, and that's what this plan will do. And I think parents will be happy that there's a much greater chance their kid now will get the opportunity they deserve.
Lehrer: And I hear what you're saying about the individual accelerated learning programs, hopefully reaching more kids who might not have been included in the past. But Chancellor, the caller, reflects a concern that this change that eliminates G and T classes per se, could drive more of the mostly white, mostly more affluent families to choose private schools. And that'll wind up with an even more segregated system. Do you want to talk to some of those parents before you leave, to try to talk them out of leaving the system?
Chancellor Porter: I think the Mayor started us off in the most important place. Those were 2,500 kids. This is making our entire system better for all children. And so those families that were vying for 2,500 seats, don't have to do that anymore because we're building the schools that our students and families deserve. And so, you know, I think it's important to lean into that number, because that is not representative of the vast majority of really brilliant New York City public school students.
Mayor: Yeah. Brian, I bet you a lot of parents are now going to look at this plan and say, this is a reason to stay. Because there's a much greater chance that their kid will get the opportunities they deserve and the ability to do accelerated learning in every grade and elementary school. Not just either make a cut on arbitrary tests or not, be in or out. Every child with gifts, every child with the ability for accelerated learning is going to get that chance. If I'm a parent, I'm like, that's a reason to stay in our schools.
Lehrer: Chancellor Porter, thank you very much for joining us with the Mayor today. We really appreciate it.
Chancellor Porter: Awesome. Thank you. Have a great day.
Lehrer: And Mr. Mayor, before we pivot, is this fair to the next mayor to make such a policy change with less than three months left in your term rather than allow your successor and their Chancellor to determine whether to have such a major change in policy?
Mayor: Of course it is and I'll tell you why. This is something we've been working on for years. There's been a big public debate around it. We're now going to have a two month engagement process. I think this is something that's going to be embraced by the people of this city as a more fair, more inclusive system. And we got to get going with it. Of course, the next Mayor and future mayors, future chancellors will make adjustments. That's always the case on any policy. But this is something we've got to do. It's the right thing to do. We finally got a plan that works and I'm moving forward with it. And we are going to take that input from communities over the next couple of months, make whatever revisions and then get it done.
Lehrer: And now listeners we're going to clear some lines so we don't only have G and T calls for the rest of the Mayor's time. And our Ask The Mayor lines open again at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0. We apologize to some of you who we are going to bump now. And since the open lines will still be a little scarcer than usual, also do use Twitter to submit a question as an alternative. Use the hashtag, #AskTheMayor. While some additional calls are coming in. Mr. Mayor, I have to ask you about the Department of Investigation report that came out yesterday, saying that you misused your NYPD security detail for personal benefits, ranging from helping your daughter Chiara move, to driving your son, Dante, back and forth to college at Yale multiple times, to incurring $320,000 taxpayer dollars of expenses on security during your presidential run. I'm going to play a clip of the investigation’s Commissioner, Margaret Garnett, appointed by you. She was on NY1 last night and was asked if it's really a big deal or anything she could call corruption, if the Mayor's kids get police protection? Here's what she said.
Commissioner Margaret Garnett, Department of Investigation: I might agree, and the City often recognizes in its ethics rules that, you know, something that's incidental, de minimis, occasional doesn't necessarily amount to corruption. But I think this whole arrangement is what, you know, in Catholicism, we call a near occasion of sin, right? Where – it is when you see a pattern of conduct and a culture, that public resources are available for your personal benefit, that's incredibly destabilizing to good government. It's not a good use of the public's money. And it, I think, you know, corrupt – like, things can often snowball, right? You reset a baseline of what is an accept unacceptable barrier between personal and official, and it just can lead to even worse things. So, you know, I might agree that, oh, one time, you know, a child was dropped off, I don't think we'd be sitting here if that was what was going on.
Lehrer: Commissioner Margaret Garnett, with Errol Louis on NY1. Mr. Mayor, your response to her conclusion that there was an unusual pattern here that sets a bad precedent?
Mayor: I think, with all due respect to the Commissioner and DOI, this report is so inaccurate, so unmindful of security realities and of how every mayor has been treated for decades, Just consistently inaccurate, consistently – stunningly, Brian – consistently ignorant of the reality of security so much so that when I told the Commissioner and her team, the ultimate voice on all matters of security is the Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller at the NYPD, they scrupulously managed to never interview him and never include his decisions and his understanding of the threat environment. Yesterday morning, he explained the number of threats directed not just at me, not just at the First Lady, but both of my kids, why he directed that security be provided consistently, including for the kids, as is done clearly at the federal level, as has been done for previous mayors and their children. I mean, this is just unbelievably inaccurate and unfair. And everything was answered yesterday. And I'm just stunned that instead of saying the truth – and she knows the truth. There's no – there's nothing that was violated here. There's no written guidance that was violated. There's, in fact, potentially a much clearer need for written guidance. Great, let's go do that. But it was nothing done wrong. In fact, I very consistently put the public interest first and did what was appropriate. And every effort to explain that, and document that, and to encourage DOI to talk to the people in charge of security, they ignored.
Lehrer: Well, she apparently feels that the effort to document things was the opposite of that, that things were obscured. I'm going to play one more clip of Commissioner Garnett on NY1. Her report criticized those coordinating your security detail for what she saw as an extreme lack of transparency, because they routinely deleted records about how they made these decisions. She calls it a lack of retention of records in this clip.
Commissioner Garnett: There's no retention universe in which it's appropriate to have regular routine, constant deletion of all records of the executive protection unit’s business. And, you know, we found evidence, which we discussed in the report, that it was actually discussed among members of the detail that we have to delete things, we have to use City Hall phones, because our NYPD phones can be imaged by the Department at any time. We have to use this encrypted app instead of this one. So, you know, it's not just that, oh, they happened to delete it and they didn't get training about retention, but really an active culture that no records of our business should be retained for any purpose, which is just not consistent with, you know, any retention regime that I'm aware of after 16 years in public life.
Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, an active culture that no records be retained, inconsistent with anything she's aware of and public life. Your response to that alleged lack of transparency?
Mayor: Alleged. The entire report is riven with inaccuracies. There's hearsay throughout it. There's not comprehensive research. They didn't talk to the people in charge. Just look across this report and you see so many things that were not included that should have been, so many facts that were left out, allegations without proof. It's very sad to me, because I have a lot of respect for the Commissioner. And, in fact, when she came out with a very extensive, comprehensive, well-documented, thoughtful report last year on the events of 2020, the protests in the spring of 2020, including some very tough criticisms for City Hall and the Police Department, I accepted it. I said, these are fair criticisms, fair recommendations. Didn't agree with every last thing, but I thought it was a really thoughtful, fair, balanced report. Unfortunately, this one is the polar opposite and it's stunning to me. It is not even a professional report, because they didn't talk to the people who had the greatest knowledge. They ignored the entire history of threats directed at me and my family. They ignored the entire history of how security has been provided to mayors. Remember, previous mayors – Ed Koch ran for Governor of New York State; Rudy Giuliani ran for U.S. Senate; John Lindsay ran for president. They all were treated in one way during those experiences. Other mayors had children who had security. They were all treated one way. My experience was the same as all my predecessors, and yet this DOI suddenly decides that there's something wrong. I think that's patently unfair. If we want to have a conversation about how to improve things, going forward, or set new policies, that's absolutely a smart and worthy conversation. But this report was shockingly inaccurate.
Lehrer: Will you pay, if you accept this premise, the City back the $320,000 for the presidential campaign security out of your campaign accounts or something?
Mayor: It's a democracy. And so, we exercise the right to appeal and sent a letter, which is public, to the Conflict of Interest Board and said, all previous mayors had security covered in all circumstances. Some mayors traveled the world. Some mayors took vacations all the time, including overseas. Mayors, again, ran for governor, senator, president – in all instances, by everything we've seen, their security was provided and covered. So, the letter says to the Conflict of Interest Board, please consider all these facts and please consider the threat environment and a variety of other things. And we want to appeal the original thinking and see where you want us to go. I respect the law. I respect – I believe the Conflict of Interest Board will have a thorough, thoughtful, careful process. I will follow the law, of course. But I think it's really important to look at the facts, and the history, and to listen to the security experts before they make a final decision.
Lehrer: Here's another call on the elimination of the elementary school Gifted and Talented programs. Lanell, in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC. Hello, Lanell.
Question: Hi, Brian. Hi, Mayor. My question, I guess, is – I was in what was called the Eagle Program, which was what was the Gifted and Talented program back in the 80s. At the time that program had no test. You had to be referred into it – or, my understanding is it didn't really have a test. You had to be referred into it by your teacher. And my understanding was when they started with the Gifted and Talented test, the point was to eliminate inherent biases amongst some of the teachers that would prevent them from referring their minority students to the Gifted and Talented program, or not recognizing that the minority students they had in the class who may belong in the Gifted and Talented program. So, now that you're eliminating the test, how – and I understand there were disparities with the test too – how are you going to then ensure that there aren't teachers who are not focusing on their minority students and recognizing when they should have extra work or when they should be pushed forward, because now you're putting it back on the teachers to be professional enough to – and, you know, not whatever inherent biases they have – that they're not going to project them onto their students and perhaps hold some of them back needlessly.
Lehrer: Great question, Lanell. Thank you.
Mayor: That’s great – really great question. Lanell, thank you. Profound question, in fact. So, of course, let's start with our Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, who is in very forceful fashion, because she, in fact, was in New York City public school child who was told by teachers that she was not cut out for a professional career. And she says – she's told her story. They said, maybe you should go into one of the trades like plumbing. And there's nothing wrong with going to the plumbing, but here's a brilliant public leader. She literally just got her PhD and she was ignored, because she was a young woman of color. And now, what we're going to do is, in addition to take teaching anti bias training to all of our educators, we're going to put the responsibility on principals, and make clear to all schools – the superintendents of the different districts – that every child has to be reached. And, in fact, we're going to be now providing accelerated learning in districts that never had a single – and, Brian, listen to this – never had a single Gifted and Talented classroom. There are a number of districts in Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and Queens, primarily communities of color, not only did they not have a Gifted and Talented school, they didn't have a single Gifted and Talented classroom under the old system. So, we're wiping all that away by this proposal and saying, every school will have the ability to provide accelerated learning, because we're going to train teachers intensively. And that's going to take resources, but it's going to be worth it. And then, require of superintendents and principals that they make sure that the gifts and the abilities of each child are recognized. Some, it might be in one subject area alone – that's great. But that it must be every school, every classroom in the elementary school level, because I know in every grade year there are tens of thousands of kids with special ability. And most of them have been ignored up to now. This will allow us to finally let those kids reach their full potential.
Lehrer: I know you’ve got to go, let me sneak in one last one. It's kind of a yes or no question, because multiple sources are telling us that the City is planning to implement a full vaccine mandate for the NYPD. In other words, you're thinking about eliminating the option to submit to weekly testing. Are these plans happening?
Mayor: Well, Brian, I appreciate your audacity, because I've been asked the question all week and I'm certainly not going to do a yes or no. I'm going to answer it very simply. We're looking at all options. We've put a number of mandates in place and other tools. In the coming days, I'll speak about additional steps for different parts of the city [inaudible] work our workforce and beyond. Different things we're going to be looking at. Different things we're going to be doing. But that's still several days away, because we're doing a very meticulous analysis of what is the next step that makes sense.
Lehrer: So, you're not ruling out this for the NYPD? You're still considering it?
Mayor: I'm not ruling it out for any City agency. I'm not ruling out additional mandates beyond. So, we're looking at a variety of tools. So far, I like a lot how the mandates are going. They're driving up vaccination. They're driving down COVID. There's a lot of other tools we have and we'll be talking about them in the next few days.
Lehrer: Thanks, as always, Mr. Mayor. Talk to you next week.
Mayor: Thank you, Brian.