a new era

A month into the job, it’s clear Chancellor Carranza isn’t Carmen Fariña version 2.0

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Richard Carranza, Houston Independent School District superintendent, hugs Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio explained what he was looking for in a new schools chief, he offered one primary goal: Find someone in the mold of outgoing Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

So when the mayor settled on Richard Carranza — a man with a background, resume, and educational philosophy that look a lot like Fariña’s — it seemed he had found her mirror image.

But Carranza has already shown his approach to running the nation’s largest school system will not simply reprise his predecessor, who spent a half-century working in the system, rarely spoke publicly about its flaws, and preferred to avoid the spotlight.

Carranza has shown he isn’t afraid to elevate problems that his predecessor rarely addressed publicly: lack of diversity at the city’s elite specialized high schools, broad patterns of academic segregation — even the quality of the school system’s food.

In his first month on the job, the new chancellor offered a blunt assessment of the mayor’s high-profile and expensive turnaround program, telling Chalkbeat it doesn’t have a clear “theory of action.” And, most notably, he inserted himself in the white-hot politics of school segregation, pushing back against some parents who don’t support a plan to increase academic diversity at middle schools on the Upper West Side.

“His status as an outsider grants him some license to say things that someone who lived in the system as long as Carmen did had not chosen to,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College. “I don’t think he’s burning any bridges by doing so — yet.”

Unsurprisingly, Carranza has spent much of his first weeks making it clear there’s “no daylight” philosophically between his views and de Blasio’s education agenda. His first school visit, a Bronx elementary school, centered on de Blasio’s expansion of free pre-K — by far the mayor’s most celebrated education accomplishment. In his opening speech to teachers, Carranza said he still considers himself to be one of them at heart — a clear nod to Fariña, who frequently emphasized her teaching roots.

And much like his predecessor, Carranza often references his modest upbringing when speaking with parents and students, including his experience as a non-native speaker. The son of a sheet-metal worker and hairdresser who spoke Spanish at home, Carranza learned English in public school.

That message has resonated with some parents, whom Carranza has made a point of meeting as part of his inaugural “listening tour.”

“It just makes you feel as a person that he can understand what your needs are because he seems to have come from similar background,” said Clemence Williams, a parent who attended one of Carranza’s recent town hall meetings in Queens, which began with an impromptu mariachi performance. “He feels very approachable.”

But in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the new chancellor has already departed from Fariña’s worldview. While Carranza has vowed to keep up Fariña’s regimen of frequent school visits, which became legendary for her detailed feedback on everything from hallway decorations to teaching strategies, Carranza prefers to hang back and listen.

When he does speak, it’s often a question to understand a new piece of the massive system he now oversees. On a recent visit to M.S. 137 in Queens, an assistant principal eagerly explained that the school had expanded the number of students who were each given an iPad for schoolwork. Carranza followed up with a question about whether school had bandwidth issues — and the assistant principal acknowledged they had.

“Everywhere I go where there’s technology I ask a question about bandwidth,” Carranza explained.

Those differences aren’t just about temperament: They signal a shift in management styles.

Fariña believed in improving the system by identifying best practices at individual schools and replicating them, which supporters pointed to as its own type of innovation. But critics said she was too content with small-bore programs and modest changes — and that she missed the forest for the trees. Perhaps picking up on that criticism, Carranza has said he wants to take a wider lens, tackling systemwide challenges with “urgency.”

“He seems to be more concerned about the overall system,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers union. “The missing piece here is still the management of systems.”

In the process of raising questions about the system at large, Carranza has won praise from advocates frustrated with the administration’s approach to school diversity, who have argued the city has not been aggressive enough to integrate one of the most segregated school systems in the country.

Unlike Fariña and the mayor, Carranza routinely uses the words “segregation” and “integration” and appears comfortable criticizing a constituency the administration has been careful not to alienate: affluent white parents.

Last week, Carranza dove head first into a debate playing out on the Upper West Side, tweeting out a headline critical of “wealthy white Manhattan parents” who are resistant to a plan requiring the neighborhood’s middle schools to admit a certain proportion of students with low test scores.

After the tweet generated backlash, Carranza told reporters that he stood by the sentiment and emphasized his own perspective as a “man of color.”

“The criticism of my predecessor Chancellor Fariña was that she didn’t do anything about this,” Carranza said. “And here I am in my first month actually engaging in this conversation.”

Matt Gonzales, who heads school integration efforts with the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said Carranza’s rhetoric has been a welcome surprise.

“This is what the leader of the largest urban school district in the country should be talking about,” he said. “That tweet activated a lot of parents of color I work with.”

But despite Carranza’s promise that he will not “be so busy keeping my job that I’m not going to do my job” and challenge the mayor, it’s unclear whether acknowledging broader problems like school segregation will translate into significant shifts in policy — or even what those shifts could look like.

In Houston, where he was superintendent before taking the job in New York, he showed some willingness to propose systemic and controversial changes, including an overhaul of the district’s magnet programs and school budget allocations.

Still, Carranza left that district before many of those proposals took effect, and in New York, he will have to persuade de Blasio — a mayor who has not previously worked with a schools chancellor who has publicly pushed him on policy issues.

“I’m obviously not getting my hopes up for everything to transform overnight,” Gonzales said. “I’m excited about where this is going to go.”

Immigration fears

Chicago on Trump administration changes: ‘A sicker, poorer and less secure community’

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
A scene from an August immigration rally in downtown Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted a public comment on the proposed public charge rule changes on Monday.

The possibility of tougher rules on immigration and citizenship has provoked “tremendous fear” and plummeting participation in publicly funded daycare programs and afterschool care, according to a federal memorandum the City of Chicago submitted Monday.

The Trump administration has proposed changes that would weigh participation in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance when granting residency and citizenship.

The changes could be devastating, the Chicago memorandum warns.

They could affect 110,000 Chicago residents, according to the filing. One in three Chicago residents receives Medicaid benefits, which the proposed changes would affect.

Chicago and New York led a coalition of 30 cities that filed comments to the Department of Homeland Security over changes to the so-called “public charge” rule, which is used by immigration officials to decide who is allowed entry and permanent residency in the United States.

“History teaches that, given this choice, many immigrants will choose to forgo public aid, which will make them a sicker, poorer, and less secure community,” according to the City of Chicago’s comments. You can read the entire document below.

Already, the city said, a group called Gads Hill that operates child care centers in Pilsen and North Lawndale has struggled to enroll children because of families’ worries about the impending rules.

Another operator, Shining Star Youth and Community Services in South Chicago, saw families start to keep children home since the proposed changes were announced.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago told the city that participation in its after-school programming also has taken a hit, the filing said.

The changes to the proposed rule do not specifically mention Head Start or any of the publicly funded child care programs. But many families are fearful that participation in anything offered by the government — from child care to health care to even food programs — would bring them to the attention of immigration authorities.

Early childhood advocates shared similar concerns at a November meeting of the Early Learning Council, an influential group of policymakers who help set the state agenda for children ages birth to 5.

“Families are very confused about the changes,” Rocio Velazquez-Kato, an immigration policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum, told the group. “They think that by enrolling in Head start or free and reduced-price lunch at school — that it will factor against them.”

Public comment on the proposed rule change was due Monday. The 60-day public comment period is required by law before the federal government delivers a final recommendation.

on the move

Lack of transportation, conflicting deadlines put school choice out of reach for some, study finds

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

More Colorado students use school choice to opt into traditional district-run schools than use it to attend charter schools. Those who do so are more likely to be white and middle- or upper-class than their peers. And transportation continues to be a barrier for students who want to go somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

Those are the findings of a report on choice and open enrollment in the traditional public school sector put out by Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform advocacy group that supports greater access to school choice.

The report, “Open Doors, Open Districts,” looked at the roughly 49,800 Colorado students who attended school in a district other than the one in which they resided during the 2016-17 school year and another 95,600 who used school choice within the 12 largest districts in the state. Together, these 145,400 students make up roughly 16 percent of all Colorado students. Another 13 percent of state students attend charter schools.

Since 1990, the School Choice Act has allowed students to enroll in any public school they want, without paying tuition, provided there is room — and that the school provides the services that student needs, a sticking point for many students who require special education services.

The number of students using this system to attend school in another district increased 58 percent over 10 years to 49,800 in 2016. Roughly 6,000 of those students attend multi-district online schools.

The students taking advantage of inter-district open enrollment are more likely to be white than Colorado students as a whole — 58 percent are white compared with 54 percent of all students. They’re also less likely to come from low-income families (36 percent, compared with 42 percent of all students), to speak a language other than English at home (8 percent compared with 14 percent statewide), or to have a disability (8 percent compared with 11 percent).

“It is important to understand these differences so that policy leaders and educators can work to ensure that open enrollment opportunities are more accessible for all Colorado families,” the report said. “The underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latino students and English learners suggests there may be some unmet needs in Spanish-speaking communities around inter-district choice — either in information, accessibility, or appropriate services for students.”

The report highlights two major barriers to more students using school choice.

Most districts don’t have the kind of common enrollment system that Denver pioneered or that Jeffco is rolling out each year. Most districts require parents to turn in paperwork at a particular school. Not only do districts not share the same deadlines as each other, often different schools in the same district have different deadlines.

The other is transportation. 

“Time spent driving students to school can conflict with work schedules for parents, and public transit options can be scarce in many areas, making open enrollment functionally impossible for families without a transportation solution,” the report said. In one rural district, a group of parents banded together and hired their own school bus to take students to another district.

A bill sponsored last year by state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, would have addressed both issues, encouraging the creation of more consistent deadlines across the state and allowing districts to cross boundaries to provide transportation. That bill was defeated in the Democratic-controlled House after some school districts said it would set the stage for larger, wealthier districts to poach students.

The transportation provision was later added to an unrelated bill in the final days of the session, a move that led to a lawsuit in which a judicial decision is pending.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly, and it’s not clear how any attempts to expand school choice would fare. Both school choice and charter schools have enjoyed bipartisan but not universal support in Colorado.

By highlighting the prominence of traditional public schools in how Colorado students use the choice system, advocates hope to separate choice and the popular idea that parents should be able to find the school that best meets their child’s needs from the more divisive debate about charter schools, which critics see as siphoning scarce dollars from other schools while not serving all students.

The report recommends developing more consistency between and within districts, providing more information to parents, and removing barriers to transportation.

Districts with higher ratings, which are determined primarily by results on standardized tests, tend to get more students than those with lower ratings, but some districts, particularly in the Denver metro area, send and receive large numbers of students, reflecting that parents and students are making decisions at the school rather than at the district level.

Metro area districts that have struggled to raise student achievement are losing large numbers of students to other districts. A quarter of students who live in Adams 14, whose low test scores prompted a state order for external management, attended school in neighboring districts in 2016. In Westminster, which just came off a state watchlist for low-performing schools this year, that number was 29 percent.

Ready Colorado found no clear relationship between districts that spent more per student and districts that attracted more students — but districts with higher enrollment get more money from the state for each student, creating incentives to compete for students.

Read the full report here.