Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much. Well, I want to welcome everyone and I just want to say a couple of words before we turn to Secretary Duncan, who I’m so pleased has joined us today. Look, this is about 1.1 million public school kids. It is not abstract. It’s very personal, it’s very tangible, it’s very real, and we know from painful experience what happened to our children when we had a system where no one was accountable and no one was in charge. We knew there was a tremendous inequality among schools and neighborhoods. Your education actually was determined by your zip code, and that was a bad thing, and there was a tremendous amount of patronage and corruption. That’s what 32 different school districts meant. It also meant 32 different sets of standards. I’ve said very clearly, some of the things we’re most proud of today in New York City, like Pre-K for All, and Computer Science for All, would not exist if 32 different districts were setting their goals and, in many cases, not being effective enough to put together such big, bold new approached.
Remember, it was just 15 years ago that our school system barely graduated half of our students. I’m proud to say because of the work of Mayor Bloomberg, and now my administration – both believers of mayoral control – we now have the all-time high graduation rate of 72.6 percent. Our dropout rate is under nine percent compared to not so long ago in this city when it was well over 20 percent. It’s undeniable that mayoral control was at the essence of these fundamental changes. Schools are safer and they’re producing much better results for children. They’re also allowing us to create more of an approach based on equity. So, that’s what Pre-K for All is, and 3-K for All will be. That’s what Computer Science for All is. That’s what AP classes in every high school is – something that would have been unimaginable in the past system – to provide the highest quality courses in every kind of high school, again, regardless of zip code.
So, I’ll just finish by saying there’s literally two days left. I’ve been in constant touch with the different players in Albany. I’m saying the same thing to every one of them. I can’t remember when an issue of this important went this late in the day with so little action. The support for mayoral control is across the ideological spectrum – 105 CEO’s signed a letter the other day. We had a number of the major labor leaders of this city together here at City Hall yesterday. There is a strong consensus that this is the only governance system that works.
And now to turn to a man who has done a lot to improve education around the country and understands from a national perspective what actual accountability in education means. A tremendous pleasure to welcome not only a secretary of education, but someone who was one of President Obama’s closest advisors and friends, and I want to thank him for weighing in here at this crucial moment. Secretary Arne Duncan, welcome.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: Thanks so much for the opportunity. I’m happy to say a couple of things, and the Mayor and I will obviously take any questions you might have.
If you sort of step back, broader than the New York context, and just look nationally, I can’t say clearly enough that I wish every political leader was accountable for improving student achievement, whether it’s mayors, whether it’s governors, whether it’s congressmen, senators, the President. And [inaudible] almost no political leaders are accountable for educational achievement. They all love photo-ops, they all love to visit schools, they all love to read to kids and kiss babies, but almost no one’s accountable. And, as a result, the United States ranks 28th, 29th, 30th in access to high-quality pre-K – that’s something Mayor de Blasio’s worked very hard to improve on. We are often 10th, 15th, 20th in terms of reading and math scores. K-to-12 – higher education – we’re 12th internationally. So, at no level relative to our international competitors – early-childhood, K-to-12, higher-ed are where we need to be and where we should be. And part of that is structural – almost nowhere are politicians allowed to be held accountable. And part of it, often, candidly, is political lack of courage because education – often K-to-12 education is so difficult, many politicians actually run away from it, to be honest.
So, here we have in New York a counter-example to that. You have a structure as of today – or, at least, for the next two days – that for the past 15 years where there has been clear accountability. And you have a mayor who actually, rather than running away from that pressure, embraces it. And, for me, this is always about structure in governance, it’s never about this policy or that policy, or this mayor or that mayor. Clearly, the current mayor and the previous mayor in New York agreed on some things and disagreed on many things. But the one thing they both had in common was the courage to put their reputation, their resources, and their political future on the line to fight for kids. And where we have that – that unfortunately is a very unique and rare situation in the United States, and to have it in a place with so many students – as the Mayor said, over a million children who are receiving the benefits of that leadership and that courage and that accountability – to walk away from that makes no sense whatsoever.
I think in the medical profession they have a basic threshold question of doing no harm. In education, I think we should have that same thing. At a minimum, we should do no harm. And if we were to lose mayoral control in New York for whatever reason, I think it’s unquestionable that harm would be done to children, and that, for me, is untenable.
So, whatever the political issues are, I count on politicians of goodwill to find a way to resolve them. But to walk away from one of the only places in the United States – obviously such a critically, critically, important city – to walk away structurally from a place where the Mayor can control would be absolutely hurting children and, again, makes no sense to me whatsoever.
The above is from a press conference the mayor had on Tuesday.