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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Chicago Teachers Protest School Closings; Interview with Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Karen Lewis; National Day to Demand Action; The Fast Diet

Aired March 28, 2013 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is a message that we will not be moved, from the old Negro spirituals.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Safety for our children, security for our children.

BROWN (voice-over): Beyond the expected teacher layoffs, many parents say they are also concerned about the added cost of transporting their child to a new school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Mayor Emanuel appears to be holding his ground, saying the time for negotiations is over. The Chicago public school system still has to hold three meetings for each school it plans to close. The Board of Education votes on the plan in late May and it is expected to pass.

O'BRIEN: Because they are appointed, so it's expected to pass because they have appointed them to the board.

So let's talk about this issue because of course, the emotions and tensions are running very, very high.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, you saw her in the piece a moment ago. She's the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

And also joining us, Karen Lewis, she's the president of the Chicago's Teachers Union. Nice to have you both with us.

And, Barbara, I'm going to start with you if I can.

There were other options. You didn't necessarily have to choose the option of closing the schools. So why close the schools?

BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, CEO, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Actually, for too many years, so many of our children have been trapped in underutilized and under-resourced schools. This is really about providing a quality education for all of the children in Chicago, regardless to where they live.

So the option is to consolidate schools, to ensure that the resources are redirected and to ensure that our children get the highest quality education they can receive. O'BRIEN: So that's the argument. But there are some people who have sort of picked through the various parts of that. So let's start with the safety. Right now, some kids -- and you know Chicago has a gang problem and a serious one -- kids will have to theoretically travel to different schools, which will mean crossing into more gang territories, potentially.

Are you concerned -- and I think many people are -- that you're just increasing the risk for some of these students?

BYRD-BENNETT: Well, we were particularly concerned, starting with the high schools. And high schools came off the list. None of our high schools will be consolidated.

And we took a very, very careful look at the schools that I did recommend to the board for closure. No child will travel more than two blocks, on an average, from where they currently live. And we are working very, very directly with the Chicago Police Department, our faith-based organizations and neighborhood organizations to ensure that there is safe passage for our children on the routes to and from school. And that plan has been augmented, it's enhanced and it's increased, and we -- safety and security of our children is first and foremost in our mind, period. We want to make sure that our children are safe.

O'BRIEN: You've closed failing schools before, you closed them in 2009, closed them in 2010. There is no indication that the whatever dozen schools that were closed in 2010 was successful. Many of those students were transferred from a failing school to another failing school.

BYRD-BENNETT: Yes, well, what's different this time is I've guaranteed that no child will go to a school that is lesser performing than the current school that they are in. So of the 54 schools that we are proposing to the board for consolidation, children will be assigned to a welcoming school that is higher performing. And that's period, I mean, a child cannot go to a school that is lesser performing. It would defeat the entire purpose of providing a quality education for our children.

O'BRIEN: I understand what you're saying, but historically, that's actually what has happened in the Chicago public schools.

I want to bring in Karen Lewis to our conversation --

(CROSSTALK)

BYRD-BENNETT: Well, it's kind of --

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Go ahead. Did you want to finish?

BYRD-BENNETT: No, I was just going to say that the difference with this procedure and process. We recognize and I did recognize what has happened in the past and we're ensuring that that will not occur.

Our implementation plan is solid and we have been really thoughtful and have listened to community throughout the three months prior to the list being promulgated and there will be two additional months of community input.

O'BRIEN: So let's bring in Karen Lewis; as I mentioned she is the president of the Chicago's Teachers Union. One of the arguments that I didn't go over with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who we were just talking with, is the money that will be saved. And we know that we're actually talking about a fair amount of money. They've said $560 million over 10 years; that's not even counting the $43 million a year in operating costs that would be saved. That sounds, you know -- when you are talking about buildings that are said to be half-empty, and some of those buildings that are half-empty that are failing academically. Why is this a bad proposal?

KAREN LEWIS, PRESIDENT, CHICAGO'S TEACHERS UNION: Well, buildings don't fail academically, and $500 million over 10 years is $50 million. We have a $6 billion budget. So $50 million is not that significant of amount when you are talking about what's the big picture.

The big picture is we have a very serious safety issue in Chicago and we have an issue that, yes, we would love for our children to have a quality education; nobody is against that.

Where we have a problem is that you cannot just pick a number out of the sky and say this is the number of schools we want to close. This is what happened. Mayor Rahm Emanuel went around town talking to anybody who would listen to him, that he wanted 50 schools closed.

O'BRIEN: But essentially those schools are failing, right? I mean --

LEWIS: There are some of the --

O'BRIEN: -- schools that are failing. They are failing schools.

LEWIS: Right, but it -- well, it depends on how you evaluate that. So let's --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The proficiency of students --

LEWIS: -- problem, though --

O'BRIEN: -- the proficiency of students is how I'd evaluate it. So some of those schools --

LEWIS: Proficiency of students depending on what? We're looking at programs. Some of these schools have very large special ed populations. You do not use the same evaluation method for special ed students that you use for general ed students.

O'BRIEN: That's true, but there --

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: That's one of the --

O'BRIEN: But there are some general ed students who are not proficient, who -- some of those 50-plus schools are schools that are failing students, right?

LEWIS: But the issue is the schools are not what's failing. We need to look at what we're talking about. We're talking about an entire microcosm of our society. Everything that comes together fits in a certain purpose and changing children from one building to the next is not going to ensure that their education is going to be that much better.

O'BRIEN: That's true. And I think historically in Chicago that has not been the case. But I guess my question is then --

LEWIS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: -- and you an educator, I guess how do you argue against not closing a school that is failing students? And you are right; the context can be, is it going to work, it's happened before. But there's some schools where the children, that -- you know the numbers better than I know them. They are failing the students.

LEWIS: Right.

O'BRIEN: So what do you do for those terrible --

LEWIS: No, they are not failing the students. Let's stop with that rhetoric. The issue is that we're not talking about people failing children.

What we are talking about is an environment and a building -- if we want to talk about buildings -- that have been under-resourced on the purpose for years, and yet we want to now blame the very people who have been the victims of lack of resources.

In addition, I want to get back to the safety issue.

O'BRIEN: But --

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: You keep -- why are you interrupting me when I talk about safety of our children?

O'BRIEN: Because I want to finish this thing just said. I am so happy to talk about safety of children. You know, (inaudible) --

LEWIS: OK.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to what you said, the schools, the buildings have been -- have been under-resourced. But so my question for you would be so then what is the solution if -- is it putting money in in a school system that doesn't have any money? I mean, before we get to safety, how do you fix it? If the school -- if the kids are failing in the school, how do you fix the problem in a budget that doesn't -- that has no space for -- in choosing money? Why not cut some of those schools and consolidate?

LEWIS: OK. So the issue is that looks good when you are talking about a spreadsheet. But when you are talking about children who are living in an environment where we have minimally 59 gangs in this city. Of those 59, we have about 650 different branches. We're talking about different gangs from block to block to block. And that's one of the problems that we're facing for our children right now.

So it makes perfect sense in the theoretical world to come together and organize this. However, we have schools on the list where, just this year, the parents from one school shot the parents from another school and killed a child at another school that they are talking about bringing together as a new school culture.

This kind of transition is going to take time. What I am saying is this was done in a rush job. It was done secretly. The people who are in charge of the safety planning did not even know the names of the schools that were on the list until the press did. That's a problem.

O'BRIEN: And, believe me, I think we would all agree that Chicago schools have some serious problems and some Chicago neighborhoods have even more serious problems.

But I want to read something that you said according to CBS2 in Chicago.

"Our schools are under attack," you were telling the protesters. "What do we do? Fight back. So let me tell you what you are going to do. On the first day of school, you show up at your real school. You show up at your real school. Don't let these people take your schools."

You know, when I read that, I thought, OK. So you are basically telling kids in a school district where four out of 10 kids will not even graduate, you are telling them not to go to school. Not to go to the actual new school, right?

LEWIS: We're talking about mass mobilization and civil disobedience for unjust laws and unjust practices.

O'BRIEN: So you're telling students don't go to school on the first day of school in the fall?

LEWIS: I'm telling -- I am telling parents to take control of their schools. We have local school councils. The whole purpose of having local school councils was so that we could have local control of schools and that has been usurped by mayoral control.

O'BRIEN: Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union. We were also talking earlier with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who is the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Thank you to both of you for talking me with this morning. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The backstory here, like all school systems, (inaudible) lots of trouble there. Big reforms, you know, lengthening the school day and the school year to the point where a student going from K to 12 will have 21/2 more years of total instruction, that was another big collision with the teachers' union. So, I mean, they are making big changes.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You are operating in a context of poverty already, you're operating in a context of gangs, you're operating in a context of a budget that really cannot support what they have. I mean, the problems are just so deep and myriad, and good arguments on both sides of that issue, really.

OK. Big business news to talk about.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Final read of what the economy did in the fourth quarter, you guys. The economy grew 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

That's the broadest measure of the economy, and you will recall that originally, we had thought it might have actually shrunk, so that final number there is now 0.4 percent, better than we thought, and a lot of economists looking forward, looking to the first quarter of this year, you guys. They're telling me that they expect 2 percent to 3 percent economic growth.

They think things are actually accelerating in the first part of this year. So that's really, really important for the economy, especially with all these drags. When you look within this GDP report, it shows a drag from government spending, but government's spending less; federal and state governments are spending less.

But people are spending their money and housing is helping economic growth overall in the country.

Quickly, a look at stock futures; they have turned positive. The market opens in a little less than an hour. It's the last trading day of the first quarter. You can open up your eyes, everyone. Awesome returns, the Dow up 11 percent.

O'BRIEN: Did you use the A word for awesome?

ROMANS: Awesome. The S&P up 10 percent. This is -- guys, it's the best quarter for stocks in the S&P and the Dow since 1998, the best first quarter for stocks since 1998.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- that graph that you showed us the other day, the stocks versus --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just a great -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The contrast, I mean, the separation --

ROMANS: But everyone is asking me, OK, do I take my money off the table? I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man, I thought we --

O'BRIEN: And she punts.

All right. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, in just about 20 minutes, we're going to learn more about the Sandy Hook School massacre, when prosecutors release new documents. This as Newtown families are featured in a new ad about the gun debate. That's up next.

And then a new diet book says eat for five days your regular style and then fast for two days. Seems to be working because now --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).

O'BRIEN: -- (inaudible) the author will join us next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. In just about 15 minutes, we're expecting an update on the investigation into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Meantime more than a hundred events across the nation today will mark the National Day to Demand Action -- that's what it's called -- against gun violence. And some families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook are featured in a new ad that began airing today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jesse off in the morning, December 14th gave me a hug and kiss. He said "I love you, dad and I love mom too."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our daughter Grace --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The ads are sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Hundreds of mayors, police and religious leaders are going to urge Congress to take action to enact stricter gun control laws.

President Obama is going to mark the occasion in an event in the White House a little bit later this morning. Well it's interesting when you see where we are on gun control.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, yes. ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: This is the most impactful ad about right now because --

O'BRIEN: Of course.

HUNTSMAN: -- politics is always local, right? If you really want to get into the legislature's head, they want to win again, they want to know what their constituency cares about. So if their constituency is watching these ads, thinking you know we need to hammer down on gun control and I want my legislature to hone down on it as well they care about that.

BROWNSTEIN: You know there are a few issues that show how the structure of our politics shapes the outcome as much as gun control. It is now again, after Newtown, a majority proposition, particularly the background check is up to 90 percent support and yet because of the structure of the senate, two senators for every state magnifies the impact. The small, rural states have a very different view. So in some ways Mayor Bloomberg is arguing with James Madison.

O'BRIEN: And what they're trying to do though, when you say, you know, it's all local, if you take a local story, essentially really was a national story right and bring everybody suck them back into that parents' pain and make us all feel like you know that could be us.

HUNTSMAN: It comes down to the will of the people.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes look, I mean, you have -- you have Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland states like that, Democratic-leaning states that are moving forward on gun control after being silent for a long time. Red states are not following, and you see the same kind of breakdown in Congress. You see that on a lot of issues, gay marriage, abortion.

O'BRIEN: Right, right.

BROWNSTEIN: The states are pulling further apart.

HUNTSMAN: Hopefully, hopefully these ads will help though.

O'BRIEN: It's an interesting time, isn't it? When the right sort of middle of -- you see where the country is going.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right still ahead on STARTING POINT, a new weight loss plan sweeping the nation. It's called "The Fast Diet". You eat normally for five days and then fast for two days. We'll talk to the British doctor who is behind "The Fast Diet". That up next, we're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: So there is a new diet book that's climbing to the top "The New York Times" bestseller list. It's called The Fast Diet" also known as the 5:2 diet; allows for normal eating five days a week and then fasting, eating just between 500 and 600 calories on two non- consecutive days. The author is a British medical journalist, Dr. Michael Mosley. And he discovered the diet he says while he was working on a TV science show kind of as a bit of a human guinea pig himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL MOSLEY, BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNALIST: I agreed to be poked, prodded, measured and monitored to find out what it takes to feel younger, look better and maybe even live longer.

This is absolutely everything I was told when I was in that group.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: "The Health Diet and Exercise Focus Science" series comes to PBS Exploration Wednesdays, premieres April 3rd. Dr. Mosley joins us this morning. So does it work? And why does it work?

I don't know if you can hear me, Dr. Mosley?

MOSLEY: I can -- I'm just hearing the other voice.

O'BRIEN: Oh my apologies there's someone else talking to you so if you can bear with it. Tell me a little bit about the diet.

MOSLEY: Ok I am hearing you now.

O'BRIEN: Ok we'll work on that from our end and if you can hear me, I was asking you why -- why -- does it work? I mean, clearly you think it made a difference for you. And why does this diet work?

MOSLEY: Ok I'm only hearing about one word in three because I'm being overwhelmed by the Korean tension story.

O'BRIEN: I'm so sorry, sir. My apologies we're going to see if we can fix that for you.

MOSLEY: Which is much, much louder than you are.

O'BRIEN: Oh that's unfortunate. All right is this any better?

MOSLEY: No.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to have to obviously come back to you. My apologies, sir. We're having some audio difficulties. We're not going to be able talk about his book --

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: As much as we know. Because I find it a little bit because I was actually really fascinated by this. Two days out of the week, you're only allowed to eat 500 calories.

O'BRIEN: Right. HUNTSMAN: The other day -- the other five days, you can eat whatever you want. So my first thought was this sounds to me kind of a yo-yo diet, you can have like a yogurt and a raisin essentially two of the days.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HUNTSMAN: I would probably pass out. So there are probably some health concerns. I would love to ask him if we get him back.

BROWNSTEIN: Not the pizza at Appleby's.

HUNTSMAN: Not the pizza the size of your head.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right. I think probably --

O'BRIEN: The thing that I felt was interesting was that what he is asking people in two of those days is really replace whatever they are eating with a really -- not just low calorie, but also very healthy. I mean a lot of the meals that they propose are sushi and cottage cheese. And I would imagine that that in and of itself is going to be a plus for people.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are people who say when they look to dieting and look to fitness, they want to find a lifestyle that they can live with and is repeatable everyday of your life. This is the antithesis of that. This is like two completely different lives and it's a schizophrenic diet.

O'BRIEN: But maybe that's more -- maybe that's more doable.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know but isn't that a structural problem really in like Pretty much almost all diets. I mean all diet bestsellers is the difficulty of really sustaining it.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. We're going to try to get our audio problems fixed.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: I'm going to tray that -- maybe if will work. You know I think it's -- you have to -- everyone handles things differently. So who knows.

O'BRIEN: I think you should -- just whatever it is that you're eating is working for you, you should stick to that. We have to take a break. "End Point's" up next.

BROWNSTEIN: You can double your raisins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It's time for "End Point".

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, first of all Chicago emblematic of all the challenges in school space. But I do think that the reforms the mayor putting through adding to the school day in the school year two and a half more years of instruction will make a difference over time.

O'BRIEN: But over time is key though, right?

BROWNSTEIN: My real "End Point" though, is STARTING POINT, I was there on the 31st day --

O'BRIEN: You were.

BROWNSTEIN: And we have some questionable food choices like cheesy fries in New Hampshire. Some better ones like Charleston. It's been a great ride all the way through. Thank you for letting me be part of --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry but we've been. (inaudible) This is not a walk down memory lane.

My dad was running in New Hampshire presidential primary. I remember, my dad at a diner. I remember but I was -- a memory I will never forget. But you know, we are talking a lot about DOMA, the freedom to marry, and it's interesting. It's an issue that we have evolved very quickly over the last ten years and we're seeing almost every day now, politicians on both sides of the aisle come out and support for the freedom to marry.

I think regardless of what happens with DOMA, we're seeing overwhelmingly, that where the support is of the machinery people. And I think it's only a matter of time and I think it's sooner rather than later that an overwhelming majority of the country will all be there. And ultimately won't be a political issue.

O'BRIEN: The polling over the last seven years that turned -- John Berman.

BERMAN: Newsy "End Point". CNN has just confirmed that Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, Massachusetts, will not run for another term. He has been mayor --

HUNTSMAN: How long has he been mayor right?

BERMAN: Roughly 70,000 years. No, he's been there since 1993, and there hasn't really been a contentious race in Boston since 1983. This was a wide, wide open race.

O'BRIEN: Wow. That is interesting, interesting news.

Thanks guys, appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Thank you.

Coming up on STARTING POINT tomorrow from the author of "Twilight", the new movie -- the host makes its debut. We'll talk about that. The actors Jake Abel and Max Irons, two of stars are going to talk about that movie. That's tomorrow on STARTING POINT.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello.

We begin this hour in Washington State where the minutes must seem like hours.