bring it on

In a politically charged town hall, Carranza tackles segregation, testing, and charter schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a town hall this summer in Brooklyn's District 15, parents protested city plans to overhaul admissions to elite specialized high schools.

In his more than two months in office, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has already found himself at the center of several explosive education debates, from integration, to testing, to the racial and ethnic make-up of the city’s vaunted specialized high schools.

All of those issues collided on Wednesday in a town hall in Brooklyn’s District 15, where parents and critics fired questions at the chancellor — and he answered each of them unflinchingly.

“In a public school system, there has to be as wide an opportunity as possible,” he said in answer to questions about the controversial proposal to change admissions standards at elite high schools such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, an issue that drew the most fervent protesters to the meeting.

In fact, the ideological clashes began well before the first question was posed, with a crowd of Asian parents outside the school angrily protesting the plans. Currently, those schools accept students based on the results of a single test and enroll a strikingly disproportionate number of white and Asian students. The city has proposed to nix the exam to try to admit more black and Hispanic students, who make up a majority of the school system.

Dozens of parents opposing the change chanted, “Keep the test,” and, “Save our schools,” which prompted an angry response.

“Don’t say that!” someone yelled. “Save the schools from who?”

Some critics said the diversity efforts will negatively impact other ethnic groups who have worked hard to earn a place in specialized high schools. Stella Li, a parent who hopes her toddler will one day attend a specialized high school, said the city’s plans would destroy the academic rigor of the schools and shut out deserving students.

“A lot of kids from the poor families, the low income families, they will lose their opportunity for a better education,” she said. “I wish my kids can grow up in a fair environment which doesn’t have disparity.”

Despite the furor, Carranza unapologetically defended the city’s plan to integrate specialized high schools, hailed for their track record of sending students to Ivy League colleges and high-powered careers, saying they are “for everyone.”

His comments were met with jeers from the crowd. “No quotas!” someone yelled.

Faced with questions about plans percolating in District 15 to integrate middle schools — an issue that has led to a fiery debate on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — Carranza got political. He said the country has failed to live up to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools separate and unequal, and pivoted to the current political climate.

“There’s an environment in our nation where it’s OK to say racist things,” he said.

He also tackled testing in a district with a strong opt-out movement of parents who refuse to let their students take standardized exams. Carranza has previously called the movement an “extreme” reaction. During the town hall, he said it’s true that tests have been overused in the past — but he also said that it’s important to determine whether students are learning.

“I respect parent’s rights. I don’t encourage parents not to have their students test,” he said. “Let’s make it better. It’s important to know how our students are doing.”

That wasn’t the end of the controversy, as Carranza faced questions from one of the education department’s most ardent foes: Success Academy charter school network. Dozens of parents showed up to push the city for more room in public school buildings to expand a school in nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Though the de Blasio administration has had a rocky relationship with the charter sector, Carranza has made it a point to visit charter schools, including Success Academy, as he gets to know the city. On Wednesday, the chancellor assured parents that the education department has identified space available in Brooklyn schools to allow the network to continue is rapid expansion.

Carranza’s strident performance should come as no surprise: In his first two months on the job, he has proven far more willing take on controversial issues than his predecessor, Carmen Fariña

Just days into his tenure, he offered a pointed assessment of the mayor’s turn-around efforts for struggling schools. The chancellor has bluntly criticized parents fighting integration plans on the Upper West Side, and then told a mother who said she was offended by his comments to take an anti-bias course — on a live radio show. He described a fundamental way the city’s school system works — allowing some schools to “screen” students for admission based on their academic record — as “antithetical” to public education.

On Wednesday, he stuck to a script he has followed since arriving in New York City.

“The conversation around segregation is not divisive,” he said. “Because the conversation around integration is American.”

hot off the presses

A silver medal for Detroit pre-K. Now where are the kids?

PHOTO: Getty Images

Detroit has earned a silver rating, the second-highest possible, in a national ranking of urban preschool programs published Wednesday. But the report by the advocacy group CityHealth also says that too few eligible 4-year-olds are enrolled.

CityHealth, a foundation-funded organization that rates America’s largest urban centers based on their public policies, looked at how big cities stack up in offering preschool programs in a report published Wednesday.

Researchers at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University conducted the study and compiled the report.

Following standards set by the largest state-funded pre-K organization, the Great Start Readiness Program, Detroit requires teachers in state preschool to have at least a bachelor’s degree, limits class sizes, and requires health screenings of children.

Those are some of the hallmarks of a high-quality program, according to CityHealth.

Only eight of the 40 cities whose policies were reviewed earned a silver rating, and only five earned the top gold rating. A handful of cities — Indianapolis and Phoenix, Arizona, among them — were far behind, with low enrollment and few or none of CityHealth’s model policies in place.

Still, the gap in Detroit’s pre-K system is a big one. The city has far fewer pre-K seats than it reportedly needs. That’s the case in many of America’s largest cities, according to CityHealth. In nearly half of the cities studied, pre-K programs reached less than one-third of the cities’ pre-schoolers.

The lack of preschool slots is one reason advocates from Michigan’s largest cities are pushing lawmakers to put early childhood on the agenda in Lansing. And it’s part of why Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has gotten behind the idea of a expanded pre-K system for Detroit.

Read the full report here:

School Funding 101

Report: Michigan has biggest school funding decline in nation

How’s this for a grim school funding statistic: A new report out Wednesday says total revenue for Michigan schools declined 30 percent from 2002 to 2015 — the largest decline for any state over the past quarter century.

The statistic, adjusted for inflation, is among findings of a report by researchers at Michigan State University that reviews school funding and recommends how the state can improve.

“Michigan has tried to improve schools on the cheap, focusing on more accountability and school choice,” wrote David Arsen, lead author and professor of education policy. “To make those policies effective, they have to be matched with adequate funding. We have been kidding ourselves to think we can move forward while cutting funding for schools.”

Co-authors are Tanner Delpier and Jesse Nagel, MSU doctoral students.

Here are a few of the highlights in the report — which is aimed at spurring public discussion of how to improve school funding in the state. The data were adjusted for inflation:

  • Dead last: Where Michigan ranks in total education revenue growth since the mid-90s, when the state’s current school funding formula was developed.
  • 60 percent: How much funding for at-risk students has declined since 2001.
  • 22 percent: How much per-pupil revenue declined from 2002 to 2015.

 The report comes about a year after the bipartisan School Finance Research Collaborative released a comprehensive set of recommendations for fixing the school funding system in Michigan. The MSU report provides a review of that report and adopts many of its recommendations.

It also comes after a December lame-duck legislative session in Michigan that ended with lawmakers voting to shift some funding from the state School Aid Fund to other priorities, such as road repairs and environmental cleanups.

Officials from the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, a group that represents educators in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, said the MSU report should be a wake-up call for lawmakers. They said it confirms that Michigan’s K-12 funding is in crisis.

“Lawmakers need to stop hiding behind talking points that claim they are investing in our schools when the reality is our funding hasn’t even kept up with the rate of inflation, let alone the increased cost of the services we are being asked to provide our students,” said George Heitsch, president of the alliance and superintendent of Farmington Public Schools. “When you see the numbers from this report showing the drastic funding cuts that have been forced on our schools in recent years, it should be no wonder why our state ranks at the bottom in reading and math proficiency. This simply has to change because our students deserve better.”

Read the full report for more information and recommendations: