Mayor Bill de Blasio is poised to unveil the next phase of his education agenda on Wednesday 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.
De Blasio, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, said he would 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.
And while the mayor's primary audience will be the parents of the city's 1.1 million students, he'll 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.
"We've known for a long time we didn't have equity in our school system. We literally said for generations, 'That's a good school, that's a bad school.' That's not acceptable," de Blasio told the AP at the Bronx Latin School, the planned site of his speech. "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, a Democrat serving his first term, will declare he 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. Hiring for the specialists, which will eventually cost $75 million annually, will begin this spring for the most-needy elementary schools, and all will have one on staff by 2018.
The mayor also will announce, among other proposals, his intention 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.
"(Improving that standard) is necessary in terms of fairness for our kids but also better for the future of our city," said de Blasio, who'll speak Wednesday under a banner that reads "Equity and Excellence."
The first new courses will be added this fall, with a full implementation by fall 2021 and a cost that year expected to be $52 million.
David Coleman, president of the College Board, which designs the AP and SAT exams, said AP for All "will improve access to college-level courses and exams across every neighborhood, making a real difference for the future of the city."
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 speech will largely avoid new policy regarding charter schools but will call for greater cooperation, particularly in sharing best practices, between charters and other public schools. A debate over charter schools' rate of growth became a flashpoint for the mayor last year.
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.