top of the food chain

New York City’s next schools chief: Alberto Carvalho, Miami’s longtime superintendent

PHOTO: Creative Commons / City Year
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho in 2013.

Update: Carvalho flip-flopped and turned down the job in dramatic fashion on Thursday. More here

Alberto Carvalho, the longtime superintendent of the Miami school system, will become New York City’s next schools chief, according to the mayor’s office.

Carvalho will replace schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who announced in December that she planned to step down as leader of the nation’s largest school system.

“Alberto Carvalho is a world-class educator with an unmatched track record of success,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday evening. “I am very confident that our extensive, national search has found New York City the best person to lead the nation’s largest school system into the future.”

The mayor had held off on making a public announcement in recent days due to the fatal school shooting in Florida this month, according to a person briefed by City Hall, and he had no public events listed on his schedule for Thursday. A Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokeswoman said on Wednesday evening that Carvalho had been offered the New York City job but had not yet accepted it.

Carvalho, who has run the Miami-Dade county school district since 2008, closely fits the mold that de Blasio had cast for a new schools chief: He comes from a diverse background, has been an educator his entire career, and is adept at selling his message.

Born in Portugal, Carvalho came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and speaks multiple languages, including French and Spanish. He first landed in New York City, where he spent weeks scrubbing pots in greasy-spoon restaurants in Manhattan, but quickly made his way south, where he says he was homeless and slept in the back of a U-Haul truck while attending community college.

As a young science teacher at Miami Jackson Senior High in Miami, he was known for dressing in formal suits and ties (a practice he continues to this day), earning him the nickname “Mr. Armani.” Carvalho worked his way up the ladder, becoming an assistant principal and later an associate superintendent before taking the reins as superintendent of the country’s fourth-largest school district.

Carvalho ran into trouble, though, when emails surfaced that suggested he had a romantic relationship with a Miami Herald reporter covering the district. But since then, Carvalho has managed to largely avoid controversy, racking up accolades and awards and growing into a popular political leader.

“He’s reached a ceiling here,” said Joe Gebara, the immediate-past president of the Miami-Dade County PTA.  

The district was virtually bankrupt and had just ousted its previous leader, former New York City chancellor Rudy Crew, when Carvalho took over. Since then, he has dramatically shrunk central spending, built budget reserves, and won the trust of voters in Miami, who approved a $1.2 billion bond to fix up school buildings and pay for better technology.

Carvalho has been named superintendent of the year and helped the district win the Broad Prize for Urban Education. The district’s graduation rate is at an all-time high of about 80 percent, and it has pursued initiatives that echo de Blasio priorities, such as providing more Advanced Placement classes, especially for students of color.

“Who wouldn’t want Mr. Carvalho? He has done an amazing job here in 10 years,” said Lawrence Feldman, a longtime Miami-Dade school board member.

He also spearheaded an effort to eliminate out-of-school suspensions, similar to the push in New York City under de Blasio. He has railed against standardized testing, leading an effort to cut back on district-mandated exams. His philosophy for turning around struggling schools also fits well with de Blasio’s. In Miami-Dade, Carvalho pushed out many under-performing principals and established an office to support needy schools with instructional and behavior coaches.

But Carvalho is not without his critics, and has lately faced growing pushback from his own board, which in the past has been largely pliant. The board has called for an audit of the bond spending, along with regular updates about where the money is going, and there has been friction over whether the district should challenge a new state law that is favorable to charter schools. Advocates question whether students are showing up to alternative school sites when they’re suspended, and whether the education provided there is adequate.

Politically skilled, Carvalho’s name has often been floated for top jobs in education and beyond. He was rumored to be considered by Hillary Clinton for a possible U.S. Education Department job, and recently weighed a run for Congress.

But his out-front leadership style could make his transition to New York City difficult, where de Blasio has appeared to be looking for someone who will run with the agenda already in place.

The Miami-Dade schools board has called an emergency meeting for Thursday morning to discuss “the stability of the executive management leadership.”

Alex Zimmerman contributed reporting.

listening tour

Haslam will hit the road to troubleshoot Tennessee’s testing problems

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Flanked by 37 educators serving as Tennessee's new "TNReady ambassadors," Gov. Bill Haslam announces the kickoff of a statewide "listening tour" aimed at improving administration of the state's standardized assessment.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he won’t pause state testing this school year and instead will launch a statewide “listening tour” aimed at fixing problems that have hampered Tennessee’s TNReady assessment in its first three years.

Responding to calls for a break in testing from school superintendents in Memphis and Nashville and from 18 state legislators, the Republican governor said he’s committed to getting TNReady right before he leaves office in January.

“Throwing in the towel on the policies instrumental to our progress should not be an option,” Haslam said during a news conference at the state Capitol.

Critics quickly countered that the listening tour is really just a road show with a predetermined outcome.

“We are in the middle of election season and the governor is in his final days. What more can he add to the education debate after eight years, that he hasn’t already tried?” wrote JC Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, in a column following the announcement.

Haslam acknowledged “significant problems” with TNReady, which this spring was marred by technical disruptions during a second attempt in three years at statewide computerized testing. But he added that now is not the time to point fingers.

“Without aligned assessments, we don’t know where our students stand and where we need to improve,” he said.

Declaring that they have “no confidence” in the test, Dorsey Hopson and Shawn Joseph — leaders of Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools, respectively — called earlier this month for a testing moratorium to let the next governor address the problems.

Now Haslam, who is term-limited after eight years in office, is trying to keep intact the linchpin of Tennessee’s blueprint for student improvement, which began under the administration of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in the Race to the Top era. Haslam has stood by that sweeping overhaul — including a state test designed to measure how students are learning Tennessee’s new academic standards and to hold teachers accountable for the results. He believes passionately that the policies have led to Tennessee’s gains on national tests since 2011.

"I am committed to doing everything I can as governor before I leave to getting this right. "Gov. Bill Haslam

The listening tour will launch Friday in Knoxville, and will bring together teachers, testing and technology coordinators, and school administrators. Other stops are planned in Hamilton, Shelby, Williamson, Greene, and Gibson counties.

Haslam and his education chief, Candice McQueen, will attend the meetings, which will be facilitated by Wayne Miller, a long-time educator and retired director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

The governor also named a three-member advisory team to help guide the feedback sessions and develop recommendations for him and his successor. Those advisers are Cicely Woodard of Franklin, the state’s current teacher of the year; Hamblen County teacher Derek Voiles, named the state’s top teacher in 2017; and Mike Winstead; director of Maryville City Schools and this year’s superintendent of the year.

The new president of the state’s largest teacher organization expressed cautious optimism on Wednesday about the tour, especially given Miller’s involvement.

“TEA has worked previously with Wayne Miller on many issues, and we believe he can bring a practitioner’s perspective to the dialogue,” said Beth Brown of the Tennessee Education Association, which has been an outspoken critic of TNReady. “I think transparency is a big issue. There’s some good things that can come out of this if we can talk honestly about letting parents and teachers have access to large portions of questions from the state test.”

The state already has conducted multiple surveys with educators about this year’s testing experience and recently named 37 teachers and test coordinators to serve as “TNReady ambassadors,” advising the state Education Department and its testing companies. McQueen also meets frequently with an educator-laden task force to confer about testing matters.

In addition, Tennessee is developing its request for proposals for one or more testing companies to take the reins from Questar, the state’s current vendor. That request is scheduled to go out late this year for testing administration that would begin in the fall of 2019.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include reaction from two teachers groups.

inside the doe

Read the confidential memo New York City sent Alberto Carvalho (before he backed out of the chancellor job)

PHOTO: Monica Disare

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.