Weighing in

Advocates: Four traits we want in NYC’s next schools chief — and four candidates we don’t want

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña is preparing to step down in the coming weeks.

With a transition in New York City’s education leadership imminent, insiders are jockeying to make sure their perspectives are taken into account.

We received a letter from two advocates who say they want the city’s next chancellor to be a lot like the outgoing one, Carmen Fariña. David Kirkland, the executive director of NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, and Natasha Capers, the coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice, say they want Mayor Bill de Blasio to pick someone who, like Fariña, would bring experience, commitment, a belief in collaboration, and a focus on equity.

But they’re asking for more: Capers, a harsh critic of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education agenda who was often allied with the education department under Fariña, has more recently pushed for more transparency from the de Blasio administration and called for the city to do more to encourage culturally responsive teaching. The letter says the next chancellor needs to tackle this issue more than Fariña has. (The letter does not mention racial segregation, an issue that Kirkland focuses on as a member of the city’s new school diversity advisory group and leader of a resource center meant to support activists, officials, and school administrators focused on school integration.)

Capers and Kirkland also draw a line in the sand for the kind of chancellor they couldn’t support: one with any association with the Broad Academy, a leadership program for school administrators with ties to the school reform movement that Bloomberg’s education policies exemplified.

The full letter is below. The chancellor search could be heading into its final stretch, if Fariña’s farewell tour is any indication — or not. City Hall has been tight-lipped about where the search to replace her stands.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio chose Carmen Fariña as Chancellor four years ago, parents and advocates were excited to have an experienced educator and former public school parent in leadership. This has meant an increased focus on teaching and learning, stronger supports for struggling schools, and an emphasis on educating the whole child through arts, physical education, language and more.

The choice of Chancellor Fariña’s successor is crucial. De Blasio represents a marked departure from the Bloomberg market-based approach to schooling that used testing to grade and punish schools, and saw parents and communities as nuisances. De Blasio has prioritized reforms that support quality teaching and whole child development. This includes universal full-day pre-K, community schools with social and emotional supports for students, arts and physical education, and moving from punitive to positive discipline policies. But to date Mayor de Blasio’s reforms have not gone far enough. The success or failure of his next Chancellor will determine the Mayor’s legacy and whether or not his reforms, beyond pre-K, survive his tenure.

Four key traits are necessary for the next Chancellor: Commitment, Experience, Equity, and Collaboration.

Commitment: Chancellor Fariña has demonstrated a strong commitment to public education as a public good. The next Chancellor must also be deeply committed to keeping public schools public and accessible to all students, and not undermining access through the illusion of choice and privatization.

Experience: As was the case with Chancellor Fariña, the next Chancellor must be an experienced educator with a track record of leading a large urban school districts, and have specific experience and knowledge of the New York City school system—which is by far the nation’s largest and most complex.

Equity: The next Chancellor must be driven by a deep commitment to eliminate the opportunity gap based on race, ethnicity, gender, language and ability, and improve education for historically oppressed populations. This includes a commitment to culturally responsive education which to date the de Blasio administration has failed to adequately embrace.

Collaboration: The Chancellor should have a track record of working in partnership with parents, students, educators and community organizations; building and sustaining partnerships between the district and the community; and addressing problems by bringing multiple stakeholders together to devise solutions. The Mayor’s critically important signature reform of Renewal Schools and community schools has suffered as the Department of Education has struggled with genuine collaboration among families, schools, district staff, central DOE, and community partners, and at providing the efficient supports and leadership needed to help these schools succeed.

To meet these criteria, the Mayor will have to stay away from the crew of Broad-trained administrators who represent the brand of “education reform” that de Blasio ran against. Those include John White, Superintendent of Louisiana; Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent of Camden, NJ; Kaya Henderson, former Chancellor of DC Public Schools; and Jaime Aquino, a former Deputy Superintendent in Los Angeles who was involved with a conflict-of-interest scandal regarding purchase of iPads.

De Blasio has moved in the right direction on education, but he has had neither the boldness nor the focus our families expect from the Mayor. He must be certain that the next Chancellor shares the vision of reform that is based on supporting students and providing equity, but the next Chancellor must also have the experience and commitment needed to navigate the complexity of our massive school system and the skills at collaborating with families and communities needed to succeed.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.

money talks

Funding for New York City homeless students, universal literacy in de Blasio’s executive budget

PHOTO: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces his 2019 budget proposal in the Blue Room at City Hall.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $90 billion city budget proposal includes millions of dollars for homeless students and to fuel a push to get every student reading on grade level by third grade.

The mayor’s official budget reveal comes after a major announcement Wednesday that the city will invest $125 million in schools, which principals can spend on items such as teacher salaries, after-school programs or new technology.

Taken together, the news means that New York City schools have avoided any budget cuts and instead received a sizeable boost in a year of funding uncertainty.

De Blasio took several shots at state lawmakers while unveiling his budget, emphasizing that the city invested in schools even as they received less than they anticipated in school funding from Albany.

“This certainly shows that even when Albany steps back, we step forward,” de Blasio said.  

Here’s what you need to know about education:

$30.5 million to boost literacy

De Blasio has said he wants his new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, to “supercharge” his “universal literacy” program, which is attempting to help every third grade student read on grade level. On Thursday, de Blasio shed a little light on what he meant by outlining a plan to help the city’s neediest students.

The mayor’s plan would double after-school programs for students in shelters; provide more training for teachers of students learning English and students with disabilities; and boost the number of literacy coaches in low-performing schools.

De Blasio said that, though it hasn’t captured headlines, the city’s universal literacy program is going to be a focus for him moving forward. “This is one of the things the chancellor and I talked about the most during the interview process,” he said.

$12 million for social workers for students in shelters

The executive budget restores funding for homeless students that the preliminary budget lacked. For the past two years, de Blasio has left the funding stream out of his preliminary budget — drawing criticism from advocates.

That city’s budget will fund 53 social workers, according to Randi Levine, a policy director at Advocates for Children. Advocates have been calling for 150 social workers that would be spread out across schools and in shelters.

$23 million for anti-bias training

In the next school year, the city expects to train 10,000 education department employees, with the goal of reaching everyone in the department by the 2021-22 school year. The plan includes identifying schools that are adept in culturally relevant teaching so they can share their practices with other educators, and digging into data to uncover and address inequities in schools.

Derrick Owens, a father of two in Harlem, said he expects the expanded training will have a real impact in the classroom and help change the fact that students of color are disproportionately disciplined at school. Owens is a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent organization that has lobbied hard for more anti-bias training for teachers.

“Now what happens with the anti-bias training, teachers can identify a problem,” he said. “They won’t be quick to have the child disciplined or suspended. They’ll be able to work it out and able to solve the problem. I think it’s a win win.”

A “surprising” lack of funding from Albany

In his latest critique of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, de Blasio said the city expected to get $140 million in school aid from state lawmakers that never materialized. The state increased education spending by about $1 billion this year, but the boost was less than the city expected, de Blasio said.

“It was honestly very surprising that the number came in as low as it did,” de Blasio said.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.