What We’re Reading: California court decision to end teacher tenure kicks off a firestorm

We’re kicking off a new feature here (and an old favorite at Chalkbeat New York) with a roundup of the most interesting commentary and insight on education we read this week. Read on and tell us what you think (or what we should include next week) at

The big news of the week was a court decision to strike down California’s teacher tenure laws and well, everyone had an opinion.

  • Everyone from the loudest voice opposing education reform to a conservative pundit weighed on the idea that eliminating teacher tenure can improve outcomes for disadvantaged students. (Room for Debate)
  • “This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education” -president of the country’s largest teachers union. (EdWeek)
  • One potential wrinkle in the judgement? A crucial statistic the judge cited had little basis in research. (Slate)
  • But it also signals a major issue with the role of teachers unions in education. More and more, people see them as the problem. (Politico)
  • One take on Vergara: Tenure laws might not make much sense, but neither does firing lots of teachers. (Atlantic)

But that wasn’t the only thing riling up the education world. A Washington Post article looking at billionaire Bill Gates’ involvement in the rollout of Common Core got people talking.

  • One pundit says the article is bit too heavy on the conspiracy theories and ignores some of the realities of public funding. (This Week in Education)
  • Another thinks the reporter held the article until it couldn’t affect any of the state legislative decisions around Common Core implementation. (Deutsch29)
  • The article has also prompted calls for a Congressional investigation of the standards. (Common Dreams)

But the furor also raised the question: how much has it actually changed the classroom?

  • This article’s author took a look at how much the Common Core actually changed test questions in Mississippi. (Washington Post)
  • And students in New Orleans couldn’t even tell that they were being taught using the Common Core. (Hechinger Report)

Another school shooting in Oregon once again raised the question of violence in schools.

  • Here’s a map of all 74 school shootings that have happened in America since Newtown, the latest this week. (HuffPo)
  • Still, the big picture is that schools have gotten safer, not more violent, over the last two decades. (Vox)

What else?

  • A satirical take on charter school lotteries has New York City administering poison pills to most applicants. (The Onion)
  • A new-generation version of the classic science television show “The Magic School Bus” is headed to Netflix. (InsideTV)
  • After two rounds of admissions lotteries, 2,500 incoming D.C. students still don’t have a school. (Greater Greater Ed)
  • The surprise unseating of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor has implications for education-related legislation. (Politics K-12)

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

parting ways

No fireworks in Houston as school board bids farewell to Carranza

PHOTO: Houston Independent School District
Houston school board members and elected officials discussed the departure of their superintendent Richard Carranza, who will be New York City's next schools chief.

Houston’s school board didn’t put up a fight Tuesday while ironing out the details of superintendent Richard Carranza’s departure to become New York City schools chancellor.

The Houston Independent School District board will have to negotiate the terms of Carranza’s leave since his contract runs through August 2019. But the board’s response to his move lacked the theatrics of last week’s Miami-Dade County school board emergency meeting to discuss the city’s first pick for chancellor, Alberto Carvalho.

That emergency meeting stretched on for hours with tearful pleas from students and board members who begged Carvalho to stay. In the end, Carvalho rejected the New York City job on live television.

At a press conference, Houston leaders put up no such fight for Carranza, who has only been in office there less than two years. Board trustee Sergio Lira said he expects the negotiations to end Carranza’s contract will go smoothly.

“We’re going to release him from his contract with the least harm,” Lira told Chalkbeat.  “We want to wish him the best and don’t want to impede his departure.”

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Carranza would replace retiring Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who is expected to step down at the end of March. The mayor’s pick came as a surprise in both New York City and Houston, as Carranza’s name had not surfaced publicly during the months-long search for a successor.

At Tuesday’s press conference, the president of Houston’s board of trustees, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, said Carranza had given his two weeks notice — “give or take.” He is expected to continue working during that time, rather than take leave.

Houston appears stoic, even though Carrzanza’s abrupt departures adds to an already long list of challenges. The school system faces a $115 million budget gap, the threat of state takeover and ongoing recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

“We are aware of our challenges and we each have our own responsibility in solving our challenges,” Skillern-Jones said at the press conference.

Peppered with questions about how Carranza’s departure could add to the list of difficulties, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner interjected:

“Enough on Carranza. I wish him well,” Turner said. “But now the focus is on the 215,000 kids who are still here, depending on the rest of us to come together.”

Monica Disare contribute reporting.