Hopes that the retirement of New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña might mean positive change for the nation’s largest school system got a hard reality check from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pick as her replacement—Richard Carranza, who comes to New York after a mere 18 months as superintendent of schools in Houston, which followed just four years in the top job in San Francisco. Both are historically troubled school districts. Reform takes time, yes, but there is no evidence that Carranza, a so-called “career educator” with a thin resume, made a ripple in either pond.
In this he differs from de Blasio’s first pick for the position, the highly rated Miami-Dade County schools boss Alberto Carvalho, who first agreed to take the job then rejected it during a raucous, televised school board meeting in Miami. It was a bizarre outcome, even by the zany standards of the de Blasio administration, and while it is still not entirely clear why Carvalho chose to bow out, it seems that the educator discovered that City Hall intended to keep him on a short leash. De Blasio had reportedly made it clear that he, and not the new chancellor, would pick the new chief of staff and other key appointees.
Ceding authority apparently won’t be a problem for Carranza. “There is no daylight between Mayor de Blasio and myself in terms of what we believe in,” he said this week. “[I’ve] been an admirer of Mayor de Blasio since he was elected, and [of] his equity agenda.” In other words, Carranza puts obedience over independence, rhetoric over reform.
Not surprisingly, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew—who only begrudgingly saluted the Carvalho announcement—is pleased with Carranza. “Mr. Carranza has earned a reputation for collaboration with teachers, parents and school communities and has been a real champion of public schools,” said Mulgrew. “We are encouraged by his commitment to all children, his resistance to a ‘testing culture’ and his support for the community schools approach.”
The UFT clearly views Carranza as an ally. “Resistance to a ‘testing culture,’” for example, translates into opposition to both meaningful classroom-performance benchmarks and stringent teacher-evaluation standards. And “support for the community schools approach” means that the new boss rejects independent charter schools, school choice, and related attempts at positive change.
Mulgrew fears charter schools—publicly funded but privately operated—because they threaten the de facto control over the school system that his union has exercised for decades. The de Blasio administration has been particularly compliant, if not explicitly transactional, in this regard. It accepted a $350,000 “donation” to a mayoral slush fund from a UFT-controlled PAC, then awarded the union a budget-busting $9 billion, multiyear contract and joined it in waging war against school reforms enacted by de Blasio’s mayoral predecessor.
Michael Bloomberg, of course, successfully fought for direct mayoral control of the schools—in the process overcoming the scorched-earth opposition of the UFT and its allies in the city and in Albany. He and his first schools chancellor, Joel Klein, made considerable headway, and to a certain extent that’s still paying dividends. Graduation rates and classroom performance continue to improve, albeit modestly; watered-down performance standards and shifted goalposts may account for much of that improvement.
In the end, though, whatever success Bloomberg and Klein achieved was transitory and soon will fade because mayoral control is driven by mayoral priorities. Bloomberg championed students; de Blasio is a union man focused, in Carranza’s words, on “his equity agenda.” Whatever that means, it’s unlikely to include teaching children how to read, write, add, and subtract.
So Mulgrew, once again, comes up aces. He gets a pliable chancellor with no discernible record of achievement who seems happy to serve as an instrument of de Blasio and the teachers’ union. The mayor also wins. He swiftly put the Carvalho humiliation behind him, his union allies are smiling, and he’s free to pursue “equity.”
The losers are the public-school kids of New York City, but that shouldn’t surprise anybody. With a few notable exceptions, that’s been the case for at least two generations—and Bill de Blasio is doing his best to make it a third. A progressive mayor’s work is never done.
Photo: NYC Mayor's Office