Carvalho Chaos

Will he stay in Miami or will he go north? Alberto Carvalho offers drama but no decision yet

Update: Carvalho turned down the job in dramatic fashion later on Thursday. More here

Will Alberto Carvalho take the job he’s been offered running New York City’s schools? Two hours into an emergency school board meeting where he was expected to announce his departure from the Miami-Dade district, the answer remains unclear.

The meeting seems designed to maximize drama. For hours, school board members, local leaders, educators, and even students lavished praise on the man who has led their school system for the last decade — and begged him to stay.

“Mr. Carvalho, I would just say that your work is not done. There are so many things that we have to tackle,” said board member Lubby Navarro. “I don’t see anyone else in your seat.”

The exhortations included recitations of song lyrics — ”Please don’t go,” one student said, citing the classic KC and the Sunshine Band song — and Rudyard Kipling’s coming-of-age poem “If,” as well as a student who asked for a hug.

“I don’t want to hold you back from pursuing your dreams, but I don’t want to see you go,” the student said, bounding onto the dais and embracing Carvalho.  

The crowd broke into multiple standing ovations, and Carvalho appeared to get teary-eyed as business leaders, union representatives and community advocates pleaded with him to reconsider. Some speakers seemed to believe they could persuade him to reject New York’s offer with their passion alone.

“He’s not going to leave us. We will make sure of that,” said board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall nearly two hours into the meeting. “We will fight. We will fight. We will fight.”

Brooke Baitinger contributed reporting from Miami. 

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.