Just before Alberto Carvalho was expected to take the helm of the country’s largest school system, New York City’s education department handed the Miami superintendent a 30-page crash course in local politics and the system’s hot button issues.
The “high level” transitional memo was obtained Friday by Chalkbeat through a public records request. It was sent two days before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he had picked Carvalho to become the next chancellor, and three days before Carvalho backed out on live television.
“Very good orientation doc,” Carvalho responded. “Ready for more.”
Most of the memo is straightforward background information. But it also includes questions city officials expected the new chancellor to get about things like the city’s Equity and Excellence programs, like, “It seems like a lot of this is just hiring more staff and/or scattered programs. How is that going to help students?” (A proposed talking point: “This is all focused on the classroom.”)
The memo also appears to acknowledge that only three of the city’s specialized high schools are required by state law to use the Specialized High School Admissions Test, referring to “3 famous screened schools that use a test as the only admissions criterion—per state law; 6 other schools also use the test.” The talking points that Carvalho is instructed to follow read, “State law requires these high schools have a single exam for admissions.”
This remains a key point of contention. De Blasio has suggested there could be legal challenges if he tries to unilaterally change the admissions requirements, though he recently said he was revisiting the idea.
The city wanted Carvalho to be ready to face questions about stark school segregation across the system, and provided talking points that reference locally developed integration plans in Manhattan’s District 1 and Brooklyn’s District 15. Just as de Blasio has carefully avoided using the terms “integration” or “segregation,” the talking points describe steps taken to address “diversity” issues.
The document bluntly summarizes the lack of racial diversity in most city schools: “Ongoing criticism by advocacy organizations and elected officials relating to a lack of diversity in NYC schools. Close to half of NYC schools are at least 90% black and Latino; white students make up 15% of the school population but a third of them attend majority-white schools.”
A suggested talking point: “A lot more work to do.”
Another bonus is that the memo offers the most concise explanation we’ve seen of New York’s testing troubles over the last several years.
“New York State was part of PARCC but never actually used PARCC tests,” it starts. “The state developed its own transitional tests using Pearson; these tests were widely criticized; the opt out movement ignited (mostly in the suburbs); the state backed away from Pearson-based tests and chose a new vendor (all in the context of a deeply unpopular teacher evaluation law). (More on this later.) The test results described below are based on tests that are basically Common Core-aligned but are arguably lower in quality than the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”
You can read more about Carvalho’s negotiation with the city before rejecting the chancellor job here. Read the full transition memo below.