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Incoming Schools Chancellor David Banks On Why So Many Black, Brown Students Aren't Reaching Proficiency: 'They're Teaching Wrong'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The new schools chancellor selected by Mayor-elect Eric Adams starts out with the belief that the New York City education system is essentially flawed and needs to be fixed from the bottom up.

And when he says from the bottom up, he means it.

CBS2's political reporter Marcia Kramer sat down with David Banks, the new school czar, for an extended one-on-one interview.

When Adams introduced Banks as the new schools chancellor, he said he thought long and hard about the person he was going to trust with what he called "my babies."

It's a responsibility the new schools chancellor takes seriously, and he says his first step is to go back to the very basics of learning. He says, in all frankness, that New York City schools don't have the right techniques to teach reading.

"They're teaching wrong," he said.

Watch Kramer's extended interview with Banks --

The question was simple: Why are 65% of Black and Brown students not reaching proficiency. The answer, surprising. Banks told Kramer it goes back to something so very basic: How kids are taught to read.

It seems the city changed tactics 25 years ago, and he thinks it doesn't work.

"We went to kind of this thing called 'balanced literacy.' 'Balanced literacy' has not worked for Black and Brown children," Banks said.

"So what do you want to do?" Kramer asked.

"We're going to go back to a phonetic approach to teaching. We're going to ensure that our kids can read by the third grade," Banks said. "That's been a huge part of the dysfunction."

In an extended interview, Banks told Kramer he is full of ideas and plans for the system, including reducing class sizes in some areas - if he can find the money.

"It's very costly to do it everywhere. Literally, you're talking about an investment of billions of dollars," Banks said.

"Do you want to do it?" Kramer asked.

"Certainly in the most challenging areas, areas where the overcrowding is most severe. Where kids are being impacted the most," he said.

Banks also wants to find solutions to make up for lost learning during the pandemic, when closed schools forced teachers and students to go on remote. He's going to put money from the feds and the state into new programs.

"We're going to be putting investments in with this funding that we're getting into a longer school day, into having our kids engaged in the summers, and Saturdays," he said.

Kramer also talked with Banks about one of the third rails in the Black Lives Matter movement: The demand that School Safety Agents be taken out of the NYPD and put under the Department of Education.

"That's more than me. That going to be our mayor-elect and how he re-organizes the New York City Police Department," Banks said.

Kramer pressed Banks, pointing out that he had actually spent a year as a School Safety Agent. He finally admitted it would be better if the agents stay in the police department.

"I think the reasons for that are because there's a level of training that they get that, I think, has helped to establish them as a real, professional organization. If you put it on the Department of Education, yeah, we can get the job done, but we have so many other complex issues that we're dealing with," Banks said.

Banks told Kramer he's also taking seriously the charge from Adams to identify students who are dyslexic. Adams himself is dyslexic, but he didn't discover it until college.

Banks says he's thinking of establishing special schools for kids with learning disabilities, and he also plans to expand gifted and talented programs, and specialized high schools.

Editor's note: This story first appeared on Dec. 10, 2021.

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