Carranza didn’t expect ‘screening’ comments to create such an uproar

A week after New York City’s new schools chief criticized competitive admissions at some city schools, he said he did not realize his comments would cause such a stir.

Chancellor Richard Carranza stepped into the thorny issue last Wednesday when he argued that sorting students by ability is “antithetical” to the goal of public education. The comment generated buzz in a school system where 28 percent of city schools select students based on factors such as grades, test scores, interviews, or auditions.

But to Carranza — who has only spent about two months on the job — the statement was less radical than it appeared to seasoned New Yorkers.

“I didn’t know it was going to be such a big deal,” Chancellor Richard Carranza said on Wednesday while visiting a charter school in the Bronx. “I thought it was kind of obvious to be quite honest with you.”

Carranza did not say what specifically he would do to reduce or eliminate admissions “screening” in New York City. Instead, he pledged to have tough conversations about why the practice exists and make decisions afterwards. (Chalkbeat, however, has put together a list of ideas that could help reduce screening.)

He also did not provide a timeline for when he plans to tackle screening. He said nothing would happen “overnight,” while promising the issue is currently being taken seriously at the education headquarters in Tweed courthouse.

“There is movement, my friends, there are conversations that are happening,” Carranza said. “Let’s just all take a breath and be part of the process.”

Here is a transcript of his comments. It has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: You expressed some concerns about screening students last week. I’m wondering what’s your timeline for addressing some of these issues and do you have any thoughts about how you might start to address it in a system where so many schools are screened?

A: Yeah, I didn’t know it was going to be such a big deal. I thought it was kind of obvious to be quite honest with you.

Q: The system lives and dies by screening. That’s how these elite schools all work.

A: Well what do I know? I just got here. But I can tell you this, that public schools are public schools and my conversations with the mayor, the mayor and I are very much aligned in wanting to create as many opportunities, cast as wide as a net as possible. He said on many occasions he wants New York City to be the fairest large city in America. I agree with that so I think we need to look at how screening works.

Now, you know, you have all the pundits that then will say, well, there are certain reasons, so you mean then that no one should ever have to audition for a performing school? Well no. Come on, let’s be serious about this. There are some instances where you have a screening process for a very specific program. I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is you live on a certain block and there is a middle school right around the corner and really you have to take a test and you have to be interviewed and there has to be a portfolio. I think we should have a conversation about is that OK? I just think we should have a conversation. And if New Yorkers think that that’s OK then let’s figure out why that’s OK. And let’s figure out also, who gets into those schools and who doesn’t get into those schools.

Because I will tell you that kids that look like me probably don’t get into those schools. Kids that are African-American, black, don’t get into those schools. Students with disabilities probably don’t get into those schools. English language learners probably don’t get into those schools. So I think we have to have a conversation. And again, I’m not looking to worry everybody and say ‘oh my goodness everything’s going to change overnight.’ That’s never been my style. But it’s also never been my style to see something and as an educator when it doesn’t make sense not ask: Why is it the way it is? And that’s really what I’m doing. Why is it the way it is?

Q: With this whole [District 3 middle school integration plan], it’s your own department that’s proposing another way of setting aside seats on top of a screened system. It’s not like they’re using this as an opportunity to say, hey, we have a new chancellor in town, he’s not really into screening, let’s start fresh. Or let’s come up with something new. It would just seem like what you’re saying at the Olympian level is not really matching what the enrollment folks are proposing.

A: When did we have our press conference?

Q: A week ago, I know. 

A: Again the fact that we’re having these conversations. When’s the last time we had these conversations, #1? #2 the fact that we have districts that are already working on this. #3 The fact that we have a districtwide diversity group that’s working and will be giving us some recommendations, #3. The fact that the mayor’s talking about this as well as other elected officials is #4. There is movement, my friends, there are conversations that are happening. Let’s just all take a breath and be part of the process.