|RELEASE: Transcript of Mayor Adams, Schools Chancellor Bank press conference May 9, 2023 about changes to address the fact that half of grade 3-8 school kids can't read.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK
OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
NEW YORK, NY 10007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 9, 2023, 9:00 AM
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 788-2958
TRANSCRIPT: MAYOR ADAMS MAKES EDUCATION-RELATED ANNOUNCEMENT WITH DOE CHANCELLOR BANKS
Chancellor David Banks, Department of Education: This is a historic day and we are all so thrilled to be here. People are still making their way in. There will be a major announcement that we are getting ready to make. But before we do, I certainly wanted to acknowledge the leaders at this school. This is a beautiful school. I had a chance to visit yesterday and just take a little walk around and the images that they have up on the wall and the joy that you see in all of the young people who are here only happens through great leadership and great teachers. And so please join me in first of all acknowledging the two principals from this school, Principal Naiyma Moore-Allen from 156, where is she? And Principal Ingrid Joseph from 392. It's really an honor to stand with you and stand with two great leaders who stand side by side every day on behalf of your children and really on behalf of this entire community. And we thank you for all that you do and to really just set the tone for everything that we're going to be talking about here today. Everyone please join me in welcoming our mayor, Mayor Eric Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much, chancellor. And I recall immediately after the election having a dinner with the president of the UFT, Michael Mulgrew, who's here with us today, and he was telling me this thing about phonics, phonics, phonics. I didn't know what he was talking about. And I immediately called the Chancellor as I was driving back from Staten Island and I asked him about it. I said, "Michael kept saying that we are teaching children to read incorrectly and we need to look into it." And David said, "Eric, I'm already ahead of you. This is something that is the foundation." And as I walk inside a classroom over and over again, there's a level of PTSD For me. My life was walking in that classroom and just seeing the dumb student on the back of the chair and just hoping my biggest prayer for the morning is that please don't have the teacher call on me to read. Make sure if I could just get through the day not being called on and not being humiliated and laughed at, if I could just do that then I had a successful school day. And unfortunately that did not happen often.
And it's a challenge when you are a young person. No matter how much passion and devotion and commitment educators are pouring into the children, if they don't have the right services in place to give the right diagnosis, to give the children the tools that they need. At the heart of all that we're seeing is how we are educated. If you don't educate, you will incarcerate. That's why 40 percent of the people at Rikers Island are dyslexic. 40, 80 percent don't have a high school diploma or equivalency diploma. And when you are watching the dismantling of communities, if you were to look at it, you would see the analysis is the lack of how we are educating our children. Every person, every child that you see, some way they can go back and see the pattern of what education did. And we looked at that when we started to see young people who were participating in criminal behavior at a young age. There was just this pattern that went back to education.
And there by the grace of God, go I, no different than any of them. And to be the mayor now, I say all the time, arrested, dyslexic, rejected, now I'm elected to be the mayor of the City of New York. And to have to have a chancellor who just gets it, he just gets it, and watching him every day get up in the morning of with this energy of being on a mission and focus and taking this bold step and doing something that was important, reaching out to the partners, speaking to some of you are here today and say, this is what I'm thinking about doing. This is what I'm thinking about doing, Dennis Walcott, former chancellor, this is what I'm thinking about doing for those who are part of this. He sat down and said this is what I'm thinking about doing.
And chancellor, I thought it was that they were reciting the old Negro song when they said at last, my dream has finally come along. You guys and ladies, you've been waiting for this moment for a long time. And is it going to be perfect? No, but dammit, we're going to try. We're going to try. That's what we're going to do. We're going to try. We're going to leave everything we have and then the next generation will improve, the next administration will improve. We'll keep improving the things that we are doing in this administration that we did not start. Bloomberg started the pursuit of Governor's Island, de Blasio continued. You can look that we are not throwing away those things that are successful. And so hopefully we are planting the seed today that we're going to water it with love, commitment, dedication, competence, focus and discipline. And if we continue to water that seed, then the harvest of fruits that we will produce in the future will feed generations to come.
This is the beginning of something new and I thank all of our partners in general. Specifically I thank the chancellor of the City of New York for being bold enough, big enough, brave enough to understand that we are not going to allow another Eric to sit in the classroom resenting having his opportunities and believing his best day is when the teacher does not call on him, his best day with when his teacher calls on him and he stands up and he can read.
Chancellor Banks: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Today is also a historic day because as the Mayor alluded to, there are partners, there are key partners, and in many ways all of you here are partners. Everybody in this room is going to play a role in the resurgence of reading and literacy in our city. And we are really thrilled to have one of the biggest partners that we could possibly have. And that is the United Federation of Teachers who are on board with us with this, we know it will be hard work, but together with them working side by side, we're going to get where we need to go. So please everyone, please welcome Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT.
Michael Mulgrew, President, United Federation of Teachers: Thank you. Good morning everybody. And don't forget National Teacher Appreciation Week. Which is why it's so appropriate to be doing this right now. I'm going to say some things people might get a little upset about, but over 20 years now, basically the city's policy is every school is on their own. Let's just say what it is. We have different people, different superintendent, didn't matter, but in the end it was every school was on their own. That is no way to run a school system. Absolutely not the appropriate way. How do you make sure that your children are getting the proper instruction based off of a curriculum that you know that has a support system in place so that all teachers have the ability to get that support, to get intervention when needed, and that the system all understands that when there are difficulties, there are knobs to change, there's dials to switch, there's different things to click on. The only way to do this in mass is to have a basic sound, really good literacy curriculum in place, which is phonetically based. And we haven't had it. Let's just be honest. We have not had it.
So I give this chancellor and the mayor huge credit for saying, you know what? We're going to put our butts on the line. We're going to do this. We're going to take this on. And they are right, it is not going to be perfect. The dirty little secrets for those who are not teachers, every day we prepare a lesson, we prepare lessons in groups and every day we make sure that lesson is perfect and we want it to go perfect and you will find out, no matter how long you teach, 5 years, 10 years, 30 years, you will never teach the lesson the way you designed it. It will never ever happen. And that's the reality of our profession. But that's what we're trying to do here.
We're saying to the teachers… And I know the teachers when they're hearing this announcement, they're like, okay, is it really going to happen in my school? Am I really going to get the training that's going to be there to stay and be here and come back? Or are we going to get what we call drive-bys, which is somebody drives by your school, jumps out, does a training, gets in their car, leaves, you never see them again. Those days are over. It's over. So we are happy to be collaborating with this chancellor and his team and we're saying, we're going to take this on. It has to be about the classroom itself. As the mayor said, it's always about the classroom.
Somebody asked me who my favorite teacher was yesterday. I said, Mrs. McKee. And why was Mrs. McKee my favorite teacher? Because she found out I had a reading problem, which we would now call dyslexia, and she opened up the world for me. That was it. We want that experience for every child in our city. We want our teachers to be prepared. We want our teachers to have a curriculum that we know will get the standards and the scaffolding. I'm going into teacher speak now. We're going to scaffold. We're going to get them developing in the right way. And when there's an issue, we have a way to deal with it. And you're not out there on your own as a teacher. And this way you will be able to fulfill your dream as a teacher which is to help more and more children.
So I am so proud to stand here today. And as they both said, there are going to be problems, but it doesn't matter. We're going to be transparent. We're going to decide what the problems are and we are going to come up with a solution to fix it, knowing that there will be another problem. But that is the only way to actually get our school system to a better place. And that's what every single child in our schools deserve. So I thank both the chancellor and the mayor for doing this today and we look forward to doing this really tough work. And God bless the teachers and the staffs of the New York City Public Schools.
Chancellor Banks: Thank you so much, Michael. And at this time I want to introduce Joanna Cohen, who is a principal right here, Brooklyn’s own PS 107, but also to just reflect on her time as a teacher and principal and some of the challenges that she has seen, which I think will help to set the context of what we're announcing today as well. So please welcome Principal Joanna Cohen.
Joanna Cohen, Principal, PS 107: Good morning, Mayor Adams, Chancellor Banks, Mr. Mulgrew, members of the press. My name is Joanna Cohen and I am the principal of PS 107 in District 15. I'd like to tell you a little bit about… That's my superintendent. I'd like to tell you a little bit about how I got to be standing before you today.
20 years ago, I started graduate school at one of the most selective schools of education in the United States. They're nationally known for their literacy work. When I graduated, I began teaching in a second grade classroom in a high-performing New York City public school, and yet, I had five students in my class who could not read. I diligently taught them what I had learned in graduate school, which was a balanced literacy approach, but they made little progress.
The next year, one of my colleagues introduced me to Fundations, a phonics program. I had no training, but I implemented it as best as I knew how, and I saw my struggling readers make some progress that year. A few years later, I became an English as a new language teacher, taking what I knew of phonics teaching along with direct, explicit vocabulary and comprehension instruction to help our newest New Yorkers learn to read and write. I was blown away by how quickly they became fluent English speakers, readers, and writers.
After that, I moved on to administration, becoming an assistant principal at another school with a large number of multilingual learners. I took the lessons I had learned as an ESL teacher with me, but school-wide change in literacy proved difficult, particularly without the support of the larger system. Then the pandemic struck and administrators like me went into emergency mode. Midway through the pandemic, I was offered the principalship at PS 107 and I accepted. PS 107 was a balanced literacy school and had been for as long as anybody could remember.
As I settled into my role, I dug up a stack of reading research reports that I had started just before the pandemic struck, when I was troubled by the low rates of reading proficiency at my previous school. I also listened to podcasts, I learned about Scarborough's Reading Rope, and the terms structured literacy and the science of reading. I realized just how much settled research there was on how the brain learns to read that I never even knew about. And I'm one of those nerdy principles who reads about education policy and research in the evenings and on weekends. To be perfectly honest, I felt ashamed.
Fortunately, this past October, the State Assembly Member for my district, Robert Carroll, who is a fierce advocate for children who struggle with reading, approached me and asked if PS 107 would be willing to become a structured literacy pilot school. While I agonized over the details, could I get my staff on board, how could I take this on as a relatively new principal, I knew I had to say yes. Right now, thanks to a grant from Assembly Member Carol, and with the support of Jason Borges at the New York City Literacy Collaborative and my superintendent, Rafael Alvarez, the majority of classroom teachers at PS 107 are engaged in a 55-hour graduate level course on the fundamentals of structured literacy. It is the literacy methods course that we never got in our teacher education programs. We are simultaneously planning how we will implement what we are learning.
Reading struggles cross racial and socioeconomic lines. For the most part, students at my school come from well-resourced homes. Most have every possible advantage, and yet 20 percent of them leave us not reading on grade level. This is unacceptable, and what I have felt in my gut for many years we all now know; that we have been working with the wrong playbook for teaching children to read for far too many years. I am so honored to be here today, an early adopter in this massive undertaking of shifting how we teach literacy in the nation's largest school system. I know that structured literacy will be exactly the kind of teaching our struggling students need, and it will also take our high performers farther than we ever dreamed they could go. Thank you.
Chancellor Banks: Wow. Thank you so much. Wow. Now, to offer up a perspective from a parent who's had to watch their child struggle, please join me in welcoming Miss Alana Ambrose, who's joined today by her son, Anthony Cruz, from PS 11.
Alana Ambrose: Good morning everyone.
Audience: Good morning.
Ambrose: I want to thank the big man here for inviting us and to everyone else as well. I'm nervous, so please excuse me. This is my son, Anthony Cruz, PS 11.
Audience: Hi Anthony.
Chancellor Banks: Anthony!
Anthony Cruz: Hi everybody! [Laughter.]
Ambrose: The last time he punished me because I didn't have a speech for Mr. Mayor. So today I do, even though it's short. But get to the point… Okay. I'm nervous. Excuse me. Okay. So this is for the kids. What you are facing today is not a problem. It's called extra, extra care, extra attention, extra need, extra special. As you're facing this challenge, so are your parents. And together, you will accomplish your goals.
So when I came across this situation, I acknowledged that we, Anthony and I, had to do more work by breaking down the letter and the sound. First, I started with the smallest book like Sam-I-Am, I Can Be Anything, Go, Dog, Go, because I saw it was easier, Dr. Seuss' book for him to read. So first, I study the word, and then I write down the sound of the letter that I think it would be more convenient for him to learn in a faster way.
So then I asked Anthony to read me the books, read me the words. When I asked him to read it, I said, "Read the words that you know. Underline the ones that you don't know." Then the ones that you don't know, still break it down by telling me what words he see in the underlying word, like example that, T-H-A-T. So I said, "Look at the word. Tell me what you know about it. If you know the beginning, you tell me the beginning. If you know the ending, you know the ending." So I put an arrow and I put on the AT. So he said, "AT." I said, "Okay, so now we got the ending."
So let's go back to the beginning. In the beginning, with those words, I said, "That word, even though you see as T-H, it sounds like a D." So I replaced those T-H with the D on top, and I wrote it on top so he could read it. And then I said, "Put it together." And that's what he did, that. And he said, "That." So that's how I started. But I say, okay, so if that's the way to do it, then I'm going to continue doing that. So I kept following it, and until today, I'm still following those rules.
There's other things that I do with him as well because every time I'm doing something in the kitchen, somewhere else in the area, I said, "Bring me the book and let's start reading." So even though it's the same books, we're still doing it. This is for the kids as well. Evaluation is key for the parents. No matter who tells you, follow up on it because it's very important, and that's what I did. I follow up on the teachers, I follow up on the doctors, and that's what I proceed. And learning from it and continue being special. Don't let nothing put you down. Look at it as homework. And I want to thank everybody else, and that's my final speech. Thank you.
Cruz: Thank you!
Chancellor Banks: Let's give Alana and her son, Anthony, another round of applause, everybody. So let me say this. When I had the great fortune of having the mayor appoint me as chancellor 16 months ago, we offered as an administration the promise of Bright Starts and Bold Futures. And that was the theme that we've been working from. And many of you are familiar with the four pillars that we said, which would really undergird Bright Starts and Bold Futures. And we built our work on these four major pillars and we've been trying to drive home some very significant initiatives to make a difference in the lives of our kids. And I think that we have gotten off to a pretty good start.
So some of those that we've done, we've launched the Modern Youth Apprenticeship and Future Ready Student Pathway programs to connect thousands of students with paid multi-year apprenticeships over the next three years. And Jay Greene, thank you so much for leading that work. We really appreciate all that you're doing there.
We made the city's first ever investment to support the largest, most comprehensive approach to supporting students with dyslexia by screening all students at risk of dyslexia and providing specialized instruction through the development of special programs and academies. Deputy Chancellor Quintana, where are you? Want to please shout you out, acknowledge you. Thank you so much. But we leaned into that because we are working for the mayor, who made sure that before we ever got here, that these were the issues that were really important to him as he's traveled around the city even before he became mayor. And he framed the focus and then asked me to lead this agency to help to deliver on this promise to New Yorkers.
We launched Project Open Arms to invest additional resources in our schools that are serving students in temporary housing, particularly those who are arriving as asylum seeking families. Melissa, where are you? Melissa Ramos, please stand up. Thank you so much for leading that work for us.
And Emma, we strengthened the Fair Student Funding Formula, which was based on feedback from our communities across the city to boost funding to schools that serve students in temporary housing and students with the greatest needs. And Emma Vadehra has really led a lot of that work for us on our side. Please, Emma, together with all the rest of our partners around the city, thank you.
And many of you knew of my work at Eagle Academy before I came here. And so one of the things I'm particularly proud of is what we did in launching Project Pivot as a community focused partnership to help ensure safe passage to and from school for our students. And Aaron Barnette and the rest of the guys who are here were doing that work with Project Pivot. Wherever you are in the room, thank you so much.
So I'm grateful to our educators, our families, and our community for their partnership and all of these successes. But as much as we have accomplished in the 16 months since I've been here, what has struck me the most is our inability to give our kids the brightest starts possible. As I've traveled across the city, there's one thing that I have learned more than anything else, and that is that too many of our children do not know how to read. You just take a look at that. In New York City, more than half of our students are not on grade level. 51 percent of our elementary school students not reading proficiently. And if you just think about that, it's a travesty and really an indictment on the work that we do.
And when we dive deeper into this data, you'll see that it's even more profound for kids of color. So think about this. 30 percent of Asian students in New York City not proficient in reading. 33 percent of white students not proficient in reading. Now watch the jump. 63 percent of Latino students and 64 percent of Black students. Unacceptable. Unacceptable.
So it's interesting, I think about when I was in grade school, the first book that I ever read cover to cover, Dennis, was Sounder. Now, how many of you remember the movie Sounder? Remember, starring Cicely Tyson and Kevin Hooks, depression-era family that tried to stay together, but all the challenges that they had to face. So the movie was a great movie, but the book was what I read as a student. And I was so proud of myself because I read this book from cover to cover. First book that I ever read cover to cover. I was in the third grade. And this book had about a hundred pages. So it was no lightweight book.
And I remember to this day how that made me feel, even as I was getting closer to the end, that I was going to complete my first real book. But the reason I was able to do that was because I had a great level of confidence in my ability to read, because I was taught how to read. And that is part of the reason why when I became a teacher, I was so struck by the fact that so many of my kids couldn't read. So I taught elementary school at PS 167, not far from here, right on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Schenectady, District 17.
I love teaching, and it was just a great experience for me. But I started out teaching fifth grade, and I couldn't believe that I had so many students showing up at the fifth grade who were reading at second grade level. So get together with all the other fifth grade teachers and you grapple with what is the problem there? So many of these kids are showing up and they can't read.
And so all of the fifth grade teachers who had been there for years, I was a first year teacher, so guess who they blamed? They blamed the fourth grade teachers. So let me go have a conversation with the fourth grade teachers. And the fourth grade teachers blamed the third grade teachers for not being ready for the fourth grade. And it worked its way all the way down. The third grade teachers blamed the second grade teachers. The second grade teachers blamed?
Audience: The first grade teachers.
Chancellor Banks: The first grade teachers blamed the kindergarten teachers. And of course, who did the kindergarten teachers blame?
Audience: The parents.
Chancellor Banks: Not my fault they didn't know their colors and numbers. And so we have been part of this blame game, if you will, for a while, where we just passed the buck and we don't accept a level of responsibility for ensuring at the earliest ages that all of our kids can read. And it's not just in New York City. So just take a look at some of these numbers around the country.
In San Francisco, rather in Denver, 61, San Francisco, 45 percent of the students not reading on grade level. Denver, look at that, 61 percent. This is not just a New York City problem, everybody. Philadelphia, 66 percent. Omaha, 73 percent.
Chancellor Banks: I've been meeting with superintendents all across the country. Everybody's grappling with this. Chicago, I mean, 80 percent of the kids in Chicago are not reading on grade level. Right here in our own state of New York, in Rochester, 81 percent of the students in Rochester are not on grade level. And so this is a national problem, it's a national crisis, it's a civil rights issue, and it's the educational crisis of our time.
We have failed at our core mission. When parents send their children to our schools at the earliest ages, there are two things that they should absolutely be able to expect and we're supposed to be able to deliver. Their child should be safe and their child should learn how to read. I remember my dad as I was growing up and I got older and talking to him about some of these issues. There was a time in New York City, everybody learned to read. You may not have had all the great opportunities in life, but you learned how to read, and we've gotten away from that. I wanted to acknowledge and thank my dad for even joining me here today. Dad, thanks for being here. My father, Phillip Banks Jr.
So look at that, Detroit. At Detroit, 91 percent of the kids not reading. You can get those results even if you didn't send kids to school. You know they say the SAT, you get X number of points just by signing your name? So what it says to me is there are major fundamentally flawed approaches that we are taking. But let me tell you what it means for our nation when we don't get this right. It has tremendous implications for all that we do across the nation.
1.2 million students dropping out each year, students drop out when they give up on themselves. They give up on themselves when they've not learned to be successful in school, and they're not successful in school when we label them a failure from the very earliest ages. But they don't just disappear, right? We spend, as a nation, 2.2 trillion dollars in lost national income when we don't produce young people that can graduate from high school and then begin to start a productive part of their lives and take in their rightful place in this 21st century economy with a college degree or without a college degree. But at the very least, we ought to be able to graduate them successfully from our high schools, and we've not been doing that.
This is what the mayor talks about on an ongoing basis, 70 percent of incarcerated adults read below the fourth grade level. And just simply think about this one. A simple 1 percent increase in literacy skills would produce $240 billion of potential boost to our economy. When young people that we see hanging out on the streets, we don't graduate them, they are drained economically, but when we help them to realize all their true potential, they become a boost to the economy. So, you pay me now or pay me later, but we are going to pay somewhere along the line. But in order for us to fix this problem, we have to first ask the question which is, how did we get here? And many of us have been used to seeing that level of frustration in our classes.
They aren't reading because we've been giving our schools and our educators a flawed playbook. Over the past 25 years, it's become a long and complicated, flawed playbook with overlapping, contradictory, and sometimes just flat out bad guidance. A big part of the bad guidance was rooted in what has been called balanced literacy, the whole language approach to the teaching of reading.
Now, many of you here of a certain age will remember when we learn the phonetic approach to reading. In fact, as I've spoken to churches all across the city, so many of the old timers would say to me, "Of course isn't that how you learn to read? Why did you change?" So there are a number of reasons behind that. But what whole language and balanced literacy really was, was instead of focusing really on the importance of learning the skills of reading, which is sounding out words and decoding letter combinations, balanced literacy focused on exposure to books, exploration of words, using context and pictures to solve words, kind of like puzzles, and trying to nurture a love of reading.
I want to be very clear. It was a well-intentioned approach. And that approach relied heavily on the premise that kids will naturally take to that type of instruction and learn to love reading. Some did, many did not. It's kind of like building a house starting from the second floor. Before kids can learn to love to read, we first have to teach them how to read. And the science on that, on how kids learn to read, is now pretty clear. We must give children the basic foundational skills of reading, teach them to sound out words, teach them to decode complex letter combinations, and build them into confident readers who look at a book, a long paragraph of complex words, and they're not intimidated, because they know they have the level of confidence to be able to attack that word, to attack those sentences, to actually be able to confidently know that they can read that book.
It's what we call the science of reading, and so here are the components that we are talking about. Phonemic awareness, which is really about being able to hear the sounds in words. Phonics, being able to match those sounds to letters. Vocabulary, essentially knowing what the words mean. Fluency you develop over time. Being able to read accurately and quickly. Your brain can process information very quickly. And ultimately comprehension, making meaning of sentences and extended texts. This is the framework of what a solid reading foundation actually looks like. It's not just phonics. It is a very comprehensive approach. But phonics and phonemic awareness are the bedrock of that. It has been missing in far too many of our schools, and we're going to fix that.
So the teachers have been telling us that they want clear guidance on what works. They don't want to have to figure it out on their own. Backed up by coaching and professional learning that's tied to and relevant to what they're doing in their classrooms with their students. This is what so many of our educators have been asking for. So today we are announcing NYC Reads, which is a birth through grade five literacy campaign that will ensure our classroom instruction is rooted in the science of reading, and gives our students the foundational skills they need to become confident readers. Our primary goal is to ensure that every child will be on grade level no later than the third grade.
So how are we going to do it? We are going to roll out a two year rollout on this. The first part involves, first of all, early childhood education, which I want to make very clear. Nowadays we don't talk a lot about the importance of early childhood education in reading. A lot of times we talk about it as though it starts at kindergarten. It starts from birth. But the work that we do in the early childhood space will be critical to this.
Childhood space will be critical to this. We're going to ensure not only that we have our kids in the right seats, but that we have access to a high quality curriculum. Designed to help the earliest and our youngest children, our babies, begin that process of learning how to read so that they are even ready by the time they show up for kindergarten. I want to thank our deputy chancellor, Dr. Ahmed, please, Dr. Ahmed, thank you so much for your leadership on this. "Quality, quality, quality." She said that to me from the time that I met her and that's what we're going to do and we're going to continue that high quality curricula all the way through. We have 32 school districts in New York City, 29 of them in the early childhood space are going to be ready as we roll this out now and we're going to be ready for this opening of this school year. In the K to five range 15 of the districts will be rolling this out as we start in September.
With a full adoption of a single common curriculum, fully aligned, job embedded training and support for the staff. That's where the heavy work is going to come. That's what Michael said, Michael Mulgrew and everybody else. We know that's where the rubber hits the road. Because I want to be very clear, it's not the curriculum that will be the magic that's going to make this happen. We've chosen three curriculums that are research backed and science based, and each district will select one of those three. We're not leaving this to every principal and every district to just do whatever they want to do. I'm a principal who believes very much as a principal in autonomy and allowing principals to make the best choices to the things that happen closest to their schools, but not on this. This is so foundational. Hey listen, I'm telling you. There are a lot of ways to demonstrate a level of autonomy. The one thing we cannot play around with any longer is ensuring that that foundation is in place.
Because I can't turn to a middle school or high school principal and hold them accountable for results and we sent them to young people who still can't read on grade level. It's not fair. So the mayor has made it very clear, he says it to me all of the time, "We'd let the schools do anything they want if it worked." But for far too many it hasn't worked. So if it hasn't worked, we have to move very, very differently and that's what we're getting ready to do. But the magic will happen as a district selects the curriculum that they're going to use, and we marry that with that job embedded in an ongoing deep level of professional development. Not the drive by professional development, real hardcore professional development. It's the marriage of the two that's going to make the difference and you can see the districts that are rolling out as part of phase one. But here's what we got for phase two will be the other 17 districts and the rest of the early childhood programs.
So by next year everybody will be on point and ready to roll. So we're very, very excited about this. The schools and the districts that are in phase two will be spending this year in what we call the ready to launch phase. So they'll be spending a lot of time engaging their communities, taking a look at what the others are already doing and learning from them so that they are prepared to have an even stronger rollout with the second year. So we're very, very excited about this. New York City school system is so large, it is very difficult to just say we're going to roll this out for everybody and all close to a million students with the amount of schools and teachers that we have. So we want to do this with a level of fidelity. There are some who are saying even now, they wouldn't roll out this many even in two years. But I think of Dr. Martin Luther King's message about the fierce urgency of now, we can't continue to wait years to get this right. Think about this. We have 990 hours of instructional time with our students each year, and we're going to make sure that we get the most out of every minute.
We're going to do that by focusing on building a solid foundation of reading. It's going to be the cornerstone of this comprehensive literacy strategy that begins at birth. So beyond the foundational reading, it's important to note that kids need to develop strong writing and research skills. They need to develop media literacy since we're in this information age. Where they will get their information they need to know how to distinguish the good news from the fake news and there's so many other elements that we have to get to. Even for our older readers who've missed this cutoff, we've got a huge body of work that is coming. You'll be hearing further announcements about what we're going to do for our kids who are not in their birth to grade five space and so that's a huge body of work for us as well. But over the course of the next two years we're going to reach all of the students in birth to five. The last thing I want to tell you on this is that this implementation, we're going to continue to listen.
We're working with all of our principals, we're working with the CSA, our principals union and all of our principals around the city. You're going to help us understand and our teachers what's working and what's not. It's like Michael said, "If we're off course and we see some gaps, we're going to work really hard to get it right and we're going to do the things that we need to do to ensure that we're doing this the right way." Now, here's where all of you come in. This is what we're calling a call to action. It's the village. It is not just the teachers and the educators in our schools that are going to be able to deliver on this promise. But I want to say this to all of our kids, your inability to read has not been your fault and I want you to know that. I want to say this to our teachers and our educators across the city and across the nation. It is not your fault either, you've been given a flawed playbook.
I want our families to know, those who sit in a struggle watching their child struggle to read not knowing what to do, assuming that the school knows best and wondering is it my child? Is there something wrong with my child? There's nothing wrong with your child. It's not your fault either, I want you to know that. So here's the call to action to all of our city agencies. We need to work together to ensure that our families have access to resources across the city. That means partnering with our libraries and I'm so happy to see the heads of our libraries who are here. Please stand up, please Dennis, [inaudible], you guys. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you. That means partnering with our libraries and partnering with the Department of Youth and Child Development and our commissioners here today to make sure that we're looking for ways to weave reading in to all that we do. Ensuring all of our superintendents, and all the superintendents who are here today please stand up. These are the leaders for our system across the city. Thank you.
We're putting this work in your hands, we got to get it right. No pressure. Actually, there's a lot of pressure and you need to know that. The mayor faces pressure every single day, I'm facing pressure every single day. You're facing pressure every single day, we're going to get this right. So a message, here it is. To our colleges and universities, particularly to our schools of education we must ensure that you are preparing our incoming teachers to know how to do this. To our business community, we're looking for ways to support NYC Reads with your staff and your offices. Help us reinforce the message that an investment in early literacy is among the best investments that you can make. To our community-based organizations, let's work together to find ways to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and to help our children explore the joys of exploration and discovery that come with developing a love of reading. To the faith-based community, Reverend DeGraff, I see you here. Thank you so much for joining us today and all the others to the faith-based community.
Please check in with all of your congregants and talk about reading, lift it up. We want reading now to be something that we're all talking about. So it's not just, "Hey, how you doing?" Ask people what you reading? Let's have that as our conversation. Let's continue to make sure that we're building in a great, great way. You think of that and that powerful quote and I'm glad to be joined today by my good friend as well. Geoff Canada came to join us today as well. Geoff, thank you so much for being here. I know Geoff for the great work that you have done, and you have been an example for so many of us in this work. It means a great deal to me personally that you've taken time to join us and that you signed on to be very supportive to us in this work. But when we think about what Frederick Douglass said, "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." We owe that to every single one of our kids. Thank you so much, everybody. Let's get busy. Thank you.