Every Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio calls in to the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC for an Ask the Mayor segment, a conversation that all New Yorkers are invited to join by calling 646-435-7280, or tweeting a question with the #AsktheMayor hashtag. The show airs 10 a.m. to noon on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and wnyc.org.

Below is a transcript, as well as the audio, of this week's segment, where the show broke from its original format for a segment focusing on de Blasio's eight years overseeing the country's largest public school system. He was joined by Schools Chancellor Dr. Meisha Porter.

Brian Lehrer: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning, again, everyone. Now, our Friday Ask the Mayor segment. We've just got a few of these left with Mayor Bill de Blasio, and we will spend most of our remaining time with him taking the longer view on a few different topics, after he's been dealing with them for eight years now. Beginning today with education, and this will mostly not be about education during the pandemic, but again, the longer view, what he inherited and changed from Mayor Bloomberg, how the generations long work of trying to make education in the City's vast system work more equally for every child. It's one of the hardest and most important challenges for any mayor and what he feels he accomplished and what bastions or what batons I should say, he now has to pass to Eric Adams. I will also, acknowledge that, there is breaking news on this front, that will make this not just a retrospective because as the mayor is apparently setting up to run for governor next year, or at least opening that option, he announced just yesterday, a proposal for statewide 3-K, and pre-K, his signature education policy here, as well as revising the school calendar. 

So, it's more year-round with various breaks rather than 10 months straight than a traditional summer vacation. So, it will be past present and his hope for a future in this discussion. And, as a special guest, along with the mayor, we have his New York City schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. For those of you who don't know her, Dr. Porter went to Queens Vocational and Technical High School, got her bachelor's degree at Hunter College, a master's degree in administration and supervision from Mercy College. In the 90’s, she was a founder of the middle and high school called the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice near the Bronx County Courthouse, and had risen to executive superintendent of the schools in the Bronx before being tapped to become chancellor, when that job came open earlier this year and doing education from both sides, I read, she's also, getting a doctorate in education right now at Fordham. So, Chancellor Porter, welcome. And Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, thank you so much, Brian. I want to – first, a happy correction. Dr. Porter has received her Ph.D., she succeeded while running our school system in the middle of the pandemic, which is pretty impressive. And just a quick, good school-related breaking news for you, Brian, that our amazing effort, and so many folks have been doing this out in our schools, to vaccinate our kids at school buildings has been really, really successful. We're out in school buildings last two weeks, at charter schools today, as well, going back to more schools, DOE schools starting on Monday and Tuesday, but here's the good news. We are now at 82,000 vaccinations for our city, for five- to 11-year-olds. That gives us a percentage of 12 percent of that entire group of kids right now and growing all the time, compared to 10 percent nationally.  

So, we're off to a very strong start with vaccinating our youngest New Yorkers. And a lot of it is this in-school vaccination drive, and it's going to continue.  

Lehrer: Alright. And listeners for our calls, I mentioned before the news we are done with the weekly ask-the-Mayor-anything format for these remaining weeks in favor of these deeper dives. So, for today, if you have a question or comment about the decades long project of making public education work for every child, maybe we should say centuries-long project. We welcome those, 212-433-WNYC. Some of the current and retired teachers in the audience, give us your long view or questions. We will keep your cause brief. I'll warn you of that, for time sake, with the Chancellor here too. But your take on the most important successes and failed experiments too, during this mayor's tenure and those before, 212-433-WNYC. 

So, Mr. Mayor, eight years ago, I don't have to tell you, you came into office following Mayor Bloomberg, who had really embraced the No Child left Behind model that Congress had passed a decade earlier and had a lot of buy-in across much of the political spectrum. That model from George W. Bush to Ted Kennedy, who worked on that original bill together, to Barack Obama, for the most part to Michael Bloomberg, a lot of standardized testing school report cards based on whether those test scores went up from year to year, closing schools that were chronically low performing, breaking up big high schools into smaller ones and more charter schools. And some things really improved on that model. Some things not so much, but it had a decade of momentum and controversy, when you came in. So, looking back to your year one, 2014, what did you decide to keep from the Bloomberg years? And what did you most change? 

Mayor: We mostly changed things, for sure. That was a broken model. The No Child Left Behind model was the wrong model. Particularly, the focus on high stakes testing absolutely broken. It was in many ways a negative model, a punitive model. It was a model that bluntly was based on disrespect for educators in many ways. And treating educators like part of the problem, instead of part of the solution, there was obviously an anti-union model in a lot of ways, there was a lot going on and I'm very proud to say we broke that model profoundly and got out of it here in New York City.  

Look, Mayor Bloomberg really did care about education. I've always felt that. I’ve thanked him for that. And some schools did get better on his watch to his credit. And mayoral control, mayoral accountability for education was absolutely the right model. He achieved that, but his basic approach was wrong. No Child Left Behind was wrong. We had to get the system weaned off, of high-stakes testing. We had to focus on the earliest grades. This was a huge, missed opportunity in the Bloomberg years and before. The best focus, the best investment we could make was on the earliest years. That's why we did Pre-K for All. And now, 3-K for All. There was so much missing, And then, bluntly, a very contentious atmosphere. It was, you know, mayor against union and it was traditional public school against charter school. And everything was a culture war. That's not happening anymore in New York City. By and large, there's a lot more unity and a lot more focus on kids. So, I'm very proud of the new reality we created and I think it opens the door to much more success for public education in the future. 

Lehrer: Well, we may be seeing culture wars and other aspects of education now. But, Chancellor Porter, as executive superintendent of schools for the Bronx, what worked and what didn't from the No Child Left Behind model for the borough as a whole? And what did Mayor de Blasio change that brought the most change to the borough schools before you became his chancellor? 

Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter: Thank you, so good to be here again. You know, I'll say a couple of things. First, you know, No Child Left Behind left a lot of children behind. I mean, that was just clear. The intense focus on standardized testing as the only way to measure student performance, really left many students out, and didn't allow for the kind of teaching and learning that we want to see in our classrooms. There are a number of things that happen in this administration and, and it really moved to this laser, like focus on our equity and access initiatives and having a keen focus on our highest need communities. The Bronx plan, which provided resources and pushed resources into the highest-needs communities, increasing the number of community schools in the Bronx and across the city, so that our schools and we saw this so much in the pandemic in a real way, but it started before making the schools, the hub of our community, where families could get all kinds of resources, mental health support, medical support, social, emotional supports eyeglasses. And, of course, at the heart of it, the center of it, learning. And finally, you know, I'll say getting our schools to 100 percent fair student funding, which allows for more resources in our classrooms directly and ensuring that our students are getting access to high level courses, as well as arts and academics together. Additionally, the increase in AP classes across the borough, I can tell you, as a person leading the Bronx, increasing access to AP courses in all of our schools was a huge game changer for students that across the Bronx. 

Lehrer: So, that's good about the AP courses. Mr. Mayor, the toughest nut to crack, I think, is always the hard work of bringing up the bottom, helping kids in schools where many do not read or do math on grade-level and other markers of concentrated underperformance. The big backlash to Bloomberg, had been against closing failing schools, rather than try to improve them. You try to model called the Renewal Schools program, but that was widely criticized as ineffective by many measures. And you ended it in 2019. So, what were the lessons learned from the Renewal Schools experiment and how do you succeed in bringing up the bottom? 

Mayor: Powerful question. First of all, Brian, I'm the first to say that that experiment was a mixed bag. I'm not happy with some of it. Some of it did work and, in some schools, it did work, but overall, we didn't get enough done. But the impulse was the right impulse. One of the cardinal rules of the Bloomberg years was to shut down schools, including school community has been around for generations, that people felt incredible connection to it. It was actually missing the human and communitarian element, if you will.  The fact is schools can be turned around. We've seen it constantly, but it takes investment. The Bronx Plan is a great example. The Bronx Plan meant incentivizing great teachers to go to schools that were tough schools that were having a tough time that may not have been the first place the teacher was looking, but we said, hey, we're going to pay you extra to get you to go where the need is greatest. That's been a boom. That's been profoundly helpful. Pre-K, 3-K is changing the whole reality. Honestly, because for schools historically that had the toughest time, reaching kids earliest and, and revving up their academic capacity, their intellectual capacity early has changed those school communities. So the truth is you can turn around essentially any school and Meisha Ross Porter's experience is a great one. She has governed over schools in the Bronx that were really in tough shape, turning around. It's a lot of times also having a great principal, that matters a lot. So, great principal, get great teachers to go over there, a lot more teacher training and support and start kids early, and these are the kinds of things that work. It was broken in the Bloomberg years. We didn't do everything right ourselves, I'm the first to say, but we have certainly proven you can turn around any school. 

Lehrer: Chancellor, this is the work, right? In a place like the Bronx, high poverty rates with the many effects of poverty on education, also high percentages of English language learners. How much was this the essential work of you as Bronx Superintendent before you became Chancellor. And, you know, as we have some version of this conversation for multiple generations now, for your and my whole lifetimes, why is it so hard to find the key? 

Chancellor Porter: Well, I, you know, I think the Mayor started it by speaking about the importance of identifying strong leaders as it - when I became the Executive Superintendent of the Bronx, I made clear that we weren't hiring a principal that I didn't meet, that I didn't interview, that I didn't ensure we were putting the right leaders in the right places who were clear about the mission. I would also say, you know, in the Bronx, we really focused on what we needed to do with adults, not just with young people, right? Like our young people show up perfectly imperfect. They show up with all of their geniuses and beauty, and it's the responsibility of the adults to do the work, to transform the academic experience. And so we work closely with our labor leaders and partners. We built strong collaborative partnerships across schools. And one of the things I think that is super important about this administration, I've learned it when I became Superintendent of District 11, was moving from the space of schools being in competition to one another, but really being in collaboration and partnership, because the schools move a community together, a district moves together, and when I was Superintendent in District 11, we did a lot of work to partner across schools, to learn from strong practices, to learn strong math instruction from the best math teachers in the district, to learn strong literacy practices from the best literacy instructors in the district, and really lean into what we know best and do well so that other schools in other communities can learn from that. And in a community, in the borough of the Bronx, we have amazing schools and teachers, we just need to capitalize on those resources and spread them across the borough. And I think super important in the Bronx was the investment in early childhood education. 

Lehrer: And we'll certainly get to that with 3-K and pre-K, but if there is one successful smaller program, Chancellor, that you wish you could scale up to be truly universal, what might it be? 

Chancellor Porter: I would absolutely lean into the community schools model. I think it's important to continue to build on to continue to expand. I think we've learned that school is the center of the community and we saw it, you know, in the last couple of weeks doing the vaccinations for elementary school students, our parents told us having that resource and option right at the school. And so I think as we talk about, you know, building out our school system, I think increasing community school models, and also building off what we learned this year from Summer Rising, expanding summer opportunities across grades to all students so students have the enriching summer experiences they deserve. 

Lehrer: Let's take a phone call from Peter in Queens who says he's a former New York City public school teacher and his wife is one. Peter, you're on WNYC with Chancellor Porter and Mayor de Blasio. Hello. 

Question: Hi, Brian, thanks very much for taking my call. Morning, Mr. Mayor, Dr. Porter. Yeah, I mean, one quick fix that would solve a lot of problems is smaller class sizes, but one thing that's a lot more complicated is that education is run like the military where orders are given from the top down, and that means that the people with the least classroom experience are the ones making decisions. And they're well-meaning, like there's well-meaning initiatives, but every year the initiative will change, and then teachers gets told what to do, and we say, okay, which of these other 75 initiatives should we de-prioritize? And the answer comes back, no, no, no, no, keep doing all those other things, but now just add this additional thing and it becomes like just impossible to manage. Teachers, know what we're doing, you've just got to let us do it. 

Lehrer: Thank you very much. Chancellor, what do you think about that? You know, I think the top down management argument, if there is one, is when there was something like 80,000 teachers in the system, there's going to be a range of teachers who were really good and teachers who were not that good and do need some kind of standardized directions, not totally standardized, but some kind of patterns of, you know, knowing what works. But, so how would you respond to Peter or that theoretical argument I just articulated? 

Chancellor Porter: Well, two things. First of all, there's no one size fits all approach in a system of our size, but I would fundamentally agree with Peter that our teachers know what they're doing and our job and what I've led with [inaudible] in the system is, the job of the Central Office should contribute and should continue to be forward in the next administration to work in service of schools and school communities, and that means working with leaders and teachers to identify the supports they need and provide it, and not continue to just push out initiatives, but really let schools get good at what they're doing and really hone into the supports that they need. We pushed out very few initiatives, but we pushed out things that we believe were important for students in this moment, coming back from the pandemics, ensuring that we knew what our students knew and were able to do, and that we were in touch with their mental health needs by administering our social emotional screeners and our academic screeners. That's been the priority as we entered the school year. And our supports and resources are all around that. 

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, the caller brought up class size, people debate how much it matters, but it makes common sense to most people that it would matter a lot. And the wealthy, independent private schools seem to make it a centerpiece. So, I don't know if that's changed very much on your watch. Has it? And how compared to the past? 

Mayor: Yeah, we – this is a – 

Chancellor Porter: I mean, I think – no, sorry. 

Mayor: Okay, you start. You start, Meisha. 

Chancellor Porter: I was just going to start with we've made a historic investment from 100 percent fair student funding, to the resources we received from the federal government, to provide resources directly to schools, to provide additional support through teachers, social workers, to address some of those issues. And I'll let you take it on, Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Yeah. And we also focus – you know, one of the big things,  and I give the Chancellor a lot of credit, where we went from a 3-K and pre-K, which all has small class size, which is wonderful, it was built that way, to now focus on literacy in kindergarten, first grade, second grade into third grade. And what we've done in this last budget, if we added teachers to a number of the schools that need them most, so we could reduce class size in the places where it would have the most impact. Look, this is, Brian. The perfect world here is to keep building out school space and capacity where it's needed. We have a massive, you know, tens of billions of dollars going into school construction over the next 10 years, and to keep adding where we can teachers where they're needed and, you know, with a space and more teachers, that's what leaves allows you to reduce class size over time. 

But that is going to take real time. We need to be honest about that. In the meantime, I think the qualitative piece really matters here. Teachers getting the support. I heard what Peter said loud and clear about teacher capacity, I agree with that, but when we give teachers a lot of support, for example, literacy, a lot of literacy coaches now are out in schools. This has been a major priority of the Chancellor. We need to make sure every kid is reading on grade level by third grade, but a teacher with a classroom alone can struggle to do that unless they get some support. So, having literacy coaches who can help the teacher, who can tutor individual students, that has taken a lot of pressure off the teachers. That's another way to address the issue. 

Lehrer: Ted, in Midtown, you're on WNYC. Hello, Ted. 

Question: Hi. Thanks for taking my call, Mr. Mayor, Chancellor. I serve on the Citywide Council on High Schools. And one of the things that comes with mayoral control are the two words mayoral control. It's you. You’re the boss. And there are thousands of parents, particularly in Queens, who are terrified at the loss of what it has been there for years, geographic priority for, you know, certain schools or zones. You announced that this was going away. Now, you're saying we're still thinking about it. No, it's just you. So, today, [inaudible] and announce what the policy will be for, particularly, parents in Queens. 

Lehrer: What is it – what is it that you want, Ted? What's the answer you're hoping to hear? 

Question: The clarification. In other words, parents should be told that they either have a seat at the zoned school – and not every address has a zoned school, none in Manhattan. Or, be told, sorry, your child may not be seated at the school in your neighborhood, begin looking further afield. So, parents – 

Lehrer: Alright. Mr. Mayor? 

Mayor: Yeah. And Ted, I appreciate what you're saying. Now, you're a good New Yorker, so you're demanding an answer now. And I'm going to be a good New Yorker and say, we're not ready to give you the final answer, but we will soon, because I understand parents are looking ahead to the next school year in September. But look, we're trying to make sure that there's an opportunity for all. We're trying to break down some of the barriers of the past and have, you know, diverse, high-quality schools for everyone. But this is a valid concern. I've certainly heard it from parents and Queens, about wanting to know there are local options available. We're looking at all those factors. The Chancellor and I are talking with our colleagues. We're going to have a decision very soon. And the point you're making, Ted, I hear it. I hear it. I went through the middle school and high school selection process with my kids. I do think there's a lot of parents in this town who liked the amount of choice they have, are looking to go and choose a school that is not necessarily the one nearest to their home. But I hear why you want the ground rules to be really clear, really soon for next year so parents know how to approach it. 

Lehrer: And Chancellor, sort of related – maybe this is a stretch to make it a segue, but since he brought up students not going to their zone schools, let me bring up the two most hot button topics in education right now, probably, desegregation and tracking, which are related to one another and related to how students get to move around to schools outside their neighborhoods or not. How much do you think any kind of tracking – Gifted & Talented programs in elementary school, up through the Bronx Science education, or anything else, disadvantages those who are not in the faster-track groups? 

Chancellor Porter: You know, I'll tell you. I went to New York City public schools. I went through the process of applying to high schools and applying to a variety of programs that, you know, my family thought would be best for me. And I went through the same thing with my own children. You know, I think what's important is that we are ensuring that every school in every community, that there are high-quality academic programs. So, few students benefit from tracking. And tracking isn't beneficial to anyone. It actually excludes people and it doesn't give young people an opportunity to connect with folks that are different from them, that learn differently, which makes our world better. And so, I just think it's really important that we work to make sure that our school system, that every school, in every neighborhood, and every community is offering students a high-quality education, and really identifying the unique gifts that our students have. That's what the Mosaic Curriculum is about. That that's what Brilliant NYC is about. And that's why we're engaging families in conversations around what they want to see this system become. 

Lehrer: And, of course, Chancellor, for one reason segregation comes up so often in the context of the tracking debate is, obviously, because of who winds up in the faster and slower tracks disproportionately. It's one reason that I really disliked the term Gifted & Talented, because it's not really about kids with special inherent gifts, I don't think. The kids in those classes are mostly the ones raised with socioeconomic advantages that leave them prepared to go faster in traditional classrooms. And those socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages tend to go back to systemic racism, leaving kids of different backgrounds disproportionately in different tracks. Tell me if you disagree, but that G & T is therefore, essentially, a misnomer. 

Mayor: That’s – I'm going to jump in. Amen. Amen. Before the Chancellor, just to say – Brian, amen. We call it Brilliant NYC, the new vision. It is much more inclusive. It's not – you know, right now, the madness of Gift & Talented as we know it and how 2,500 kids a year out of 65,000 kindergartners are considered gifted and talented. That's ridiculous. Tens of thousands of kids each year have a gift of one kind or another. We want a much bigger, more inclusive approach that actually provides opportunity for a huge number of families. When people actually start to see the fullness of this, I think they're really going to embrace it, because it's really an exclusionary approach right now. With that, over to you, Chancellor. 

Chancellor Porter: Yeah. I'll just say, my job in the Bronx was also about being the voice and being the advocate for the voiceless so that there weren't just the few, the loud who benefited from programs. And that's what this moment is about. When I talk about the school system, working in services of schools, and communities, and families, it also is about really wrapping ourselves around our communities, wrapping ourselves around our students, identify – 

Lehrer: Did we lose the Chancellor? Alright, your phone's breaking up a little. I'm going to get our one last caller in here, and it's going to be Sarah, in Brooklyn. Sarah you're on WNYC with the Mayor and Schools Chancellor Porter. Hi. 

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. Hi, Brian. Hi, Dr. Porter. I just wanted to say, thanks so much to Mayor de Blasio for the Universal Pre-K that he pushed through. My son was just at the right age for that to happen for him and you not only saved me thousands of dollars, he still has friends from that group that you went to in pre-K, and it really started him on the road to learning. And I appreciate it. Thank you. 

Mayor: I love that. I just want to jump in on that, one second, before you say anything else. Thank you for sharing that. And I love hearing the stories of how kids have benefited from pre-K. And, Brian, I hope before we finish, we're going to talk about, this is something every kid in New York State to have – 3-K; pre-K; full school day, if that's what works for a family, up to six o'clock; full school year, like Summer Rising, if that's what works for families. I really want to talk about where we go, but now back to our good caller. 

Lehrer: No, I think Sarah made her point. And we are coming close to the end of the segment. So, I do want to give you the opportunity to talk about your new proposal for people who haven't heard it. And, obviously, Universal Pre-K and 3-K, almost everyone says it's been your best thing not just in education, they say it's been your best thing. President Biden has adopted it now as a centerpiece of his Build Back Better bill, which just passed the House this morning. And I know you want confirm this, but it looks like you're preparing to run on it statewide for Governor. Here's my question. The promise at the beginning was that it would both reduce educational disparities by third grade, by giving every kid more of an equal start, and it would reduce income disparities by allowing more low-income parents to work outside the home earlier. Do you have metrics now that indicate how much either of those things has actually come about as a result? 

Mayor: Oh yeah, absolutely. Three really quick points. We saw – and, you know, standardized tests are, Lord knows, not everything, but they tell us something. And we saw in the last standardized test that came in pre-pandemic, a marked jump for that generation of kids who had gotten Universal Pre-K. And we saw it particularly among Black and brown kids, and that was really wonderful to see. We know that the money that parents did not have to shell out for pre-K and 3-K has really been helpful, transcendent – $10,000 to $15,000 per kid, per year. We've seen so many people come out of poverty, hundreds of thousands – documented – come out of poverty, because of this, among the policies we put in place. And then, lastly, just pure wealth redistribution in the very best sense. We over the courses of this administration have moved tens of billions of dollars into the hands of working families. This is another direct support. If you don't have to pay $10,000 or $15,000 a year per kid, per family, that is a huge wealth transfer. And we've been – I'm proud of it, because I know it is fighting inequality at its core. 

Lehrer: And I will bite on the other part of the statewide package you rolled out this week, changing the school year to end summer vacation as we know it and sprinkle those breaks through the year. Do you have models of success from elsewhere in the country? And if this is a big ticket to better outcomes, why didn't you do it in the city as Mayor? 

Mayor: There was no way we could have afforded it. This is why the State of New York needs to do it. Look, I'm going to fight for this vision all over the state. I believe it can be done. For everyone who says, they look at the bold vision, they say it's too much. No, they said the same thing about pre-K in New York City. We got it done. This summer, we prove this model was Summer Rising. 200,000 kids were in our school buildings from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Culture arts, recreation, academics, great experience – free, guaranteed to all parents and kids. I want that model for the whole state. But also, Brian, crucially, most parents work and they can't pick up their kid until five o'clock or six o'clock. They should have the option universally at all ages that a child can stay in the school building until the end of the work day and get additional academic enrichment. Plus, again, fun stuff – arts culture, recreation. This should all be guaranteed to every parent, every child in New York State. And we can achieve it with a tax on the very wealthiest Bew Yorkers, asking them to pay a little more, because we have 118 billionaires in this state who have done very, very well, including during the pandemic. They can pay a little more so every family has that security, that knowledge that they're going to have something guaranteed to them. And, Brian, just the stress it will take off families alone is amazing. 

Lehrer: So, you're adding the universal afterschool piece. Chancellor Porter, I’ll give you the last word. What might be the advantages or disadvantages, if you see any, for families in the Bronx, in your opinion, compared to the school year as we know it? 

Chancellor Porter: Well, you know, I think there's many, many opportunities and advantages. You know, I think continuing learning throughout the year, but also what we saw this summer was an opportunity for students to engage in, you know, play. We had camp activities combined with academic activities. And everybody's looking for a summer experience. The great thing about this moment is this summer experience would be free and available to all. And many of the families in the Bronx can afford to send their children to expensive day camps or sleep-away camp. And so, combining academics, with enrichment, with social emotional supports, with meal service – all of those things is about building strong communities and making sure our babies have every single thing that they need. 

Lehrer: Chancellor and former superintendent of schools in the Bronx, Dr. Meisha Porter, and Mr. Mayor, thank you very much. Obviously, when we talk about public education and over a million kids in the city at any given moment, in the system, we've barely scratched the surface. But, hopefully, we had some good conversation on some of the big ongoing issues. And I thank you for taking this deep dive, as we will do on a few other topics before you leave office at the end of next month on our remaining Friday Ask the Mayor segments. So, thank you. Mr. Mayor, Chancellor, thank you. 

Mayor: Hey Brian, thank you.  

Chancellor Porter: Thank you. 

Mayor: This is a kind of conversation we need more of in this city and thank you for making it happen. I found it very refreshing and I bet your listeners did too. 

Lehrer: Thanks again.