Weekend Reading: Are school reform critics scapegoating Teach for America?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
  • Are the central complaints about Teach For America coming from critics of school reform outdated? (Salon)
  • Book author Dana Goldstein on why Arne Duncan’s comments on testing are “staggering.” (The Daily Beast)
  • Ignore the politics. The Common Core will “live or die” by how well it works in classrooms. (Vox)
  • Why should preschoolers get suspended? One teacher explains. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Providence, R.I. teachers rejected a tentative contract that allowed for layoffs and altered the pay structure. (Teacher Beat)
  • A teacher wonders whether her well-intentioned advice on reading has hurt her students. (Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension)
  • Education and medicine used to be quite similar and they could become that way again. (The Atlantic)
  • We need to rethink how we hold schools accountable, three columnists argue. (Flypaper)
  • Philadelphia will borrow $30 million to fund its schools, on top of $27 million borrowed earlier this year. (The Notebook)
  • A Colorado teacher is refusing to administer the state’s Common Core-aligned test. (Answer Sheet)
  • A teacher reflects on what it takes to get students to learn — and giving them their hardest quiz of the year. (The Jose Vilson)
  • In Mississippi, some Teacher for America alums are sticking around to make the changes they felt they couldn’t as teachers. (Hechinger Report)
  • An attempt to turn around low-performing Detroit schools run afoul of education technology and a lack of transparency. (Metro Times)
  • African-American girls face an long list of barriers to succeeding in school. (Huffington Post)
  • In honor of Banned Book Week, a look at what books Jefferson County, Colorado — currently embroiled in a controversy over censorship — has banned from schools. (Chalkbeat Colorado)
  • A collection of tweets on the student protests against the board’s actions in Jefferson County. (Buzzfeed)

parting ways

No fireworks in Houston as school board bids farewell to Carranza

PHOTO: Houston Independent School District
Houston school board members and elected officials discussed the departure of their superintendent Richard Carranza, who will be New York City's next schools chief.

Houston’s school board didn’t put up a fight Tuesday while ironing out the details of superintendent Richard Carranza’s departure to become New York City schools chancellor.

The Houston Independent School District board will have to negotiate the terms of Carranza’s leave since his contract runs through August 2019. But the board’s response to his move lacked the theatrics of last week’s Miami-Dade County school board emergency meeting to discuss the city’s first pick for chancellor, Alberto Carvalho.

That emergency meeting stretched on for hours with tearful pleas from students and board members who begged Carvalho to stay. In the end, Carvalho rejected the New York City job on live television.

At a press conference, Houston leaders put up no such fight for Carranza, who has only been in office there less than two years. Board trustee Sergio Lira said he expects the negotiations to end Carranza’s contract will go smoothly.

“We’re going to release him from his contract with the least harm,” Lira told Chalkbeat.  “We want to wish him the best and don’t want to impede his departure.”

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Carranza would replace retiring Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who is expected to step down at the end of March. The mayor’s pick came as a surprise in both New York City and Houston, as Carranza’s name had not surfaced publicly during the months-long search for a successor.

At Tuesday’s press conference, the president of Houston’s board of trustees, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, said Carranza had given his two weeks notice — “give or take.” He is expected to continue working during that time, rather than take leave.

Houston appears stoic, even though Carrzanza’s abrupt departures adds to an already long list of challenges. The school system faces a $115 million budget gap, the threat of state takeover and ongoing recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

“We are aware of our challenges and we each have our own responsibility in solving our challenges,” Skillern-Jones said at the press conference.

Peppered with questions about how Carranza’s departure could add to the list of difficulties, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner interjected:

“Enough on Carranza. I wish him well,” Turner said. “But now the focus is on the 215,000 kids who are still here, depending on the rest of us to come together.”

Monica Disare contribute reporting.

next steps

Five critical questions facing New York City after Carvalho’s rejection of chancellor job

PHOTO: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio, at a drawing board.

New York City’s education world was left spinning Thursday, after Miami superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced he wouldn’t be taking the helm of the country’s largest school district — despite already agreeing to do so.

The about-face stunned onlookers in Miami and New York, including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesman, who tweeted his shock in real time. De Blasio is expected to speak at a press conference later today, but the sudden turn of events means we have more questions than answers.

Here are the critical ones we’re working to answer. We’ve updated this with some answers the the mayor’s office offered on Thursday, and we will continue to add information as we learn more.

1. Will current Chancellor Carmen Fariña be convinced to stick around any longer?

This one we have an answer to: At a press conference Thursday afternoon, de Blasio says Fariña would “be continuing her role until the end of March.”

That means de Blasio is on a tight timeline if he wants to meet the goal he set when he initially announced her retirement in December: for Fariña to continue in her post until the city found a replacement. The 52-year education department veteran has been on a farewell tour over the last few weeks, conducting exit interviews and penning what seemed like her final op-eds.

2. Will the city turn to an interim schools chief?

The circumstances may force it. Speculation had already been mounting that the mayor might have to appoint one as the search process dragged on for months. A city official told Chalkbeat earlier this week that City Hall was prepared to name an interim for a very short transition period — but only after a permanent appointment was announced.

One obvious choice for an interim is Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson. Gibson is the education department’s second in command and has held many positions in the city’s school system, including principal and superintendent. But she has also kept a relatively low profile, which raises questions about whether she will be chosen to fill such a public position even temporarily.

“We’re going to have a new chancellor soon,” de Blasio said Thursday. “That’s all I want to say about it.”

3. Who’s next on City Hall’s chancellor candidate list?

That’s the million-dollar question. Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, has been floated as a potential candidate. But questions have also been raised about whether she wanted the job and was criticized by Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers.

Other names in the mix include Kelvin Adams, the superintendent of the St. Louis public schools, whom Weingarten said she supported.

Regent Kathleen Cashin, a former superintendent in New York City, and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have also been mentioned in conversations about Fariña’s successor. However, both seem unlikely choices and do not fulfill the de Blasio administration’s desire to find someone outside of New York

4. Will anyone want the job now, and what will they demand to be paid?

De Blasio attempted to project confidence on Thursday. “There has been a huge amount of interest. There are a lot of great candidates,” he said.

But Carvalho’s stunning announcement will undoubtedly make the next phase of the search process challenging. It will be clear to the next batch of candidates that they were not the top choice. The media circus Thursday will attract more attention to the pick, and may not inspire confidence in the de Blasio’s administration’s ability to sell the job or retain top leadership.  

On top of that, the mayor might have to pay the new candidate more than he otherwise would have.

The $353,000 salary New York City publicly offered Carvalho — and what any chancellor candidate will now likely demand — would put New York City on the competitive side of other urban districts. New York City has historically paid its chancellors less, with Fariña’s base salary coming in at $234,569. (She made far more in total thanks to her pension.)

That higher salary makes New York more competitive with the second-largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified, which is also looking for a new leader and paid its previous superintendent $350,000.

On Carvalho’s salary, de Blasio said, it was “perfectly legitimate for people to say, hey, wait a minute, I’m being better compensate for a much smaller school system – what’s wrong with this picture?”

“In this case, his request was for us to consider a matching current salary, we thought that was fair.”

5. Does this change how de Blasio will conduct the search?

It doesn’t appear likely. 

From the beginning, de Blasio committed to conducting a search behind closed doors. While he argued the secrecy is important to keep personnel decisions above the fray of politics, many parents and advocates have expressed frustration about the lack of public input. Now, that his initial behind-the-scenes deal has combusted, some are hoping the mayor will choose a more transparent path as he recruits the next candidate.

Some advocates are already jumping at the chance to call for a new open process.

“After this disappointment, Mayor de Blasio has an obligation to lead boldly with a transparent, inclusive process,” said Evan Stone, co-founder of the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence in a statement. “He can begin that process today.”

Mark Treyger, chairman of city council’s education committee, said that City Hall had not briefed him ahead of time about Carvalho. After this morning’s news broke, he sent what appeared to be a warning shot that de Blasio should embrace a more open process now.

“In order to make well-informed decisions, you have to involve critical stakeholders,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to being a part of the conversation regarding who will eventually accept the position of Chancellor of the largest school system in the country.”

Alex Zimmerman contributed reporting