First impressions

A mix of hearty and wary congratulations pour in for Fariña

Reaction to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s choice of Carmen Fariña as the city’s next schools chancellor has been swift and mostly supportive—some of it coming our way even before de Blasio’s official announcement this morning. Fariña, a former teacher, superintendent, and deputy chancellor, is earning praise for her understanding of the school system from many educators and progressive groups, and some congratulations-with-caveats from charter school backers and others who have aligned themselves with Mayor Bloomberg’s educational philosophies.

None of that is too surprising, given that the unions, charter school networks, and policymakers are likely eager to start what Fariña indicated could be a long relationship off on the right foot. We’ve rounded up some reactions below—if you’re willing to share your own, email us at tips @ gothamschools.org.

Welcoming words from union leadership

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew:

“Carmen is a real educator. She has a deep knowledge of schools and our system, and is on record criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s focus on high stakes testing. We look forward to working with her to help make sure every child has access to an excellent education.”

Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernie Logan:

“CSA is delighted with Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio’s decision to appoint Carmen Farina as schools chancellor.  Carmen is universally recognized as one of the great educators in this city.  Without a doubt, she is an educator’s educator — something that we have not had for 15 years.  Carmen understands the need to restore the respect educators deserve.  Her plan to reduce reliance on high-stakes testing at the expense of innovative instruction is a welcome change.  Carmen’s commitment to working with parents and all community stakeholders will restore a sense of optimism and trust in our schools.  We look forward to working with her and helping her as she guides our schools forward.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

 

Hearty endorsements from de Blasio’s educational allies

The Center for Arts Education Executive Director Eric Pryor:

“The Center for Arts Education commends Mayor-elect de Blasio on his outstanding choice of Carmen Farina as the next New York City Schools Chancellor. Ms. Farina has long displayed a strong and steadfast commitment to the education of New York City’s public school children.”

Education historian (and member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee) Diane Ravitch:

Alliance for Quality Education parent advocate (and transition team member) Zakiyah Ansari:

“Carmen Fariña is an excellent pick – she knows the New York City public school system inside-out and is an expert educator. She is ready-made to carry out Mayor-elect de Blasio’s mandate to take our schools in a new and successful direction. Chancellor Fariña faces tremendous challenges to turn the direction of school reform away from a failed corporate agenda, towards successful reforms focused on teaching and learning that engage parents, students and educators as full partners in the process– we believe she is up to the task.”

Ocynthia Williams of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (and a member of de Blasio’s Inaugural Committee):

“Carmen is a model educator and she puts the partnership between parents, teachers, students and communities at the center of all that she does. She has been a strong ally to CEJ and a proven advocate of parent engagement for years, dating back to her support of CC9’s Lead Teacher Program in the Bronx, when she was Deputy Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, and continuing after she left the DOE. CEJ believes we can give our children brighter futures by supporting quality schools grounded in strong neighborhoods and Carmen shares our vision. While this won’t be achieved without struggle, CEJ parents are looking forward to embarking on this new day in education together, with Chancellor Fariña!”

 

Wary congratulations from charter school backers

A limited endorsement from Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools:

“I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares. The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”

New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman:

“Carmen Fariña has spent her entire career working to improve life outcomes for New York City students. Having overseen some of the city’s highest and lowest achieving public schools, she has seen first hand how the quality of the local schools impacts neighborhoods. In many of these very communities, charter schools have become a lifeline for families looking for a better education for their children. Like us, the new chancellor is dedicated to ensuring every child has a great public school option and we look forward to working together to make that a reality.”

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees:

“We congratulate Ms. Farina on her appointment and look forward to working with her as she assumes this important role. New York City has the second highest number of students attending charter schools in the nation with more than 58,000 children enrolled last year. As Ms. Farina and Mayor-elect de Blasio develop their plans for NYC public schools, we encourage them to consider the vital role charter schools have played in increasing options and quality for students and families across the city. The rest of the country has always looked to NYC as an example of vibrant and successful charter schools and we hope that trend will continue.”

Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips:

“Now is not the time to slow the city’s charter growth and deny choices to parents. If anything, charters and parental choices should be expanded as a way to give each child the opportunity to attend a great public school.

To serve all children, Farina must work with educators in the charter community to build upon their nationally recognized success. A city as great and diverse as New York City can and should have room for thriving district and charter schools.”

A full-throated congratulations from Explore Schools founder Morty Ballen:

“I have known Carmen for more than a decade and her values as an educator always struck me as aligned with ours at Explore Schools–parental access to great public school options; support, respect and a higher bar for teachers; and above all else, excellent instruction for children who are capable of so much more than many give them credit for. We are eager to share with her the lessons we’ve learned working with Central Brooklyn families to put all of New York City’s school children on the path to success.”

 

Varied reactions from other influential education figures

New Visions for Public Schools President Bob Hughes (who was seen as an early candidate for chancellor):

“Carmen Fariña is an extraordinary educator. No one understands the promise of early education better. Her appointment as schools chancellor reaffirms Mayor-elect de Blasio’s commitment to ensuring that New York City’s youngest students have access to quality education. New Visions for Public Schools looks forward to partnering with the new administration to support all of our public school teachers and leaders, and to ensure that equity of opportunity exists for every public school student in our great city.”

Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli:

“From all accounts, Carmen Fariña appears to be a strong and well-respected leader. But if she forces her Teachers College progressivism on all of New York’s schools, it’s going to be a disaster for the city’s most disadvantaged children.”

Philanthropy New York President Ronna Brown:

“Carmen Fariña has a proven, serious track record in her approach to education reform. She knows the importance of cutting through the ideological clutter that so often surrounds education debates, and focusing on proven solutions. We look forward to working with her as she develops her own agenda, so that the Department of Education applies what has been learned over the past twelve years to its new reforms.

Our goal is to work with incoming Chancellor Fariña to align private and public dollars to build on what we know is working— and to do whatever it takes to ensure every student graduates from high school, ready to succeed in college or prepared for today’s workplace.”

 

Congratulations from city and state elected officials

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer:

“Carmen Farina is an inspired choice to lead the nation’s largest public school system. A nationally respected educator who has worked as a teacher, principal and school administrator, she will bring a renewed focus on classroom instruction, professional development and respect for children, parents and advocates to her new duties. I look forward to working with her and our highly dedicated public school teachers, as our City tackles the issues of improving college and career readiness rates and preparing more than one million students to compete in a 21st century economy.”

City Council member Mark Weprin:

City Council member Brad Lander:

City Council member Daniel Dromm:

New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat:

New York State Assembly member Nily Rozic:

 

Excitement from some New York City educators 

 

And well wishes from her predecessor

Outgoing Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to focus on the futures of one million students each and every day. When I reflect on the last 12 years—the remarkable progress made, the enormous obstacles overcome, and the incredibly high goals set and met—I think about the children who will be better adults tomorrow because of our efforts today. We have worked passionately on their behalf, and I’m grateful to have been able to change the trajectory of so many lives during our tenure.

Mayor-elect de Blasio is someone who cares deeply about public education, and I want to congratulate Carmen Fariña on being named Chancellor. I have known Carmen for many years, and she is a deeply committed educator with a true passion for improving our schools. I wish her well.”

here's the plan

After long wait, de Blasio backs plan to overhaul admissions at New York City’s elite high schools

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School will begin participating in the Discovery program this year.

After sustained pressure from advocates, Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing a two-step plan to reform admissions at eight of the city’s elite high schools and endorsing a specific replacement for the single-test admissions system.

The city’s specialized high schools — considered some of the crown jewels of New York City’s education system — accept students based on a single test score. Over the last decade, they have come under fire for offering admissions to few students of color: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students.

De Blasio’s solution, laid out in an op-ed in Chalkbeat, would set aside 20 percent of the seats at the eight schools for students from low-income families starting next school year. Students who just missed the test score cut-off would be able to earn one of those set-aside seats through the longstanding “Discovery” program. Just 4 percent of seats were offered through that program in 2017.

The mayor also said he plans to push state lawmakers to change a law that requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score. That’s something de Blasio campaigned for during his run for mayor in 2014 but hasn’t made a priority since.

Most significantly, de Blasio says for the first time that he backs a system of replacing the admissions test with a system that picks students based on their middle school class rank and state test scores. The middle-school rank component is especially notable, as an NYU Steinhardt report found that the only way to really change the makeup of the elite high schools would be to guarantee admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school.

If all of these changes were implemented, de Blasio says that 45 percent of the student bodies at the eight high schools would be black or Latino.

Together, the proposals reflect the most specific plan yet to change a system that, year after year, becomes a symbol of New York City’s racially divided schools. But the changes de Blasio is proposing won’t come easily — and might not come at all.

The part of the plan that the city is promising to do on its own, expand the Discovery program, will only modestly improve diversity by the city’s own admission. And the plan’s more ambitious elements would require buy-in from state lawmakers who have repeatedly resisted de Blasio’s agenda and attempts to change admissions rules.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s plan does not include a move that many legal experts consider to be low-hanging fruit: changing the admissions rules at five of the eight schools without state approval.

While the city’s official position has long been that admissions at all eight schools are set by law, only three schools — Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School — are specifically mentioned, leaving room for the city to reclassify the others. (De Blasio recently said he would ask lawyers about that change, but has not signaled he plans to act.)

The Discovery program has also proved problematic for de Blasio, in part because it is open to all low-income students — something that is not equivalent to black or Hispanic in New York City. The de Blasio administration has already tripled the program’s size since taking office, but its share of black and Latino students has also shrunk.

A lot of questions about the plan remain unanswered. It’s not clear whether the 20 percent of set-aside seats will be spread across the eight schools evenly, for one, or whether some schools like Stuyvesant will have fewer seats earmarked for Discovery. De Blasio doesn’t explain exactly how an admissions system reliant on middle-school grades and standardized test scores would work.

It’s also unclear how the mayor plans to push against opposition from alumni groups and parents who may worry that changing the admissions rules will lower academic standards, though his rhetoric was sharp in the op-ed.

“Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative,” de Blasio wrote. “It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it.”

So far, de Blasio’s incremental steps to boost diversity at specialized high schools have made little change to the overall student body — and therefore garnered little pushback.

It’s unclear whether the lackluster results caused him to switch strategies. More recently, de Blasio has also been under pressure to address school segregation in the city as a whole.

He may also have been pushed by his new schools chancellor, who has been outspoken on the subject since taking the helm of the school system about two months ago. Chancellor Richard Carranza has been talking about the issue since his very first media interview, and has repeatedly hinted that he is interested in changing their admissions process.

“From my perspective it’s not OK to have a public school in a city as diverse… and that you have only 10 African-American students in a high school,” Carranza said in April. “So I’m looking at that, absolutely.”

sorting the students

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our specialized schools have a diversity problem. Let’s fix it.

PHOTO: Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a town hall in Brooklyn in October.

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.

Can anyone defend this? Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?

Our best colleges don’t select students this way. Our top-level graduate schools don’t. There are important reasons why. Some people are good at taking tests, but earn poor grades. Other people struggle with testing, but achieve top grades. The best educational minds get it. You can’t write a single test that captures the full reality of a person.

A single, high-stakes exam is also unfair to students whose families cannot afford, or may not even know about, the availability of test preparation tutors and courses. Now, I’d like to stop and say, I admire the many families who scrape and save to pay for test prep. They are trying in every way to support their children.

But let’s ask ourselves: Why should families who can ill afford test prep have to spend their money on it? Why should families who can easily afford test prep have an advantage over those that cannot?

My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

This will also address a fundamental illogic baked into the high-stakes test. A great score and you might be in, but beware a point too low and you might be out. Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won’t be blocked from a great educational opportunity.

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

With these reforms, we expect our premier public high schools to start looking like New York City. Approximately 45 percent of students would be Latino or black. As an example of growing geographical fairness, we will quadruple the number of Bronx students admitted.

I’ve talked a lot about bringing equity and excellence to our schools. This new admissions process will give every student in every middle school a fair shot. That’s equity. The new process will ask students to demonstrate hard work over time, and show brilliance in a variety of subjects. That’s excellence.

Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative. It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it. This perpetuates a dangerous and disgusting myth.

So let me be clear. The new system we’re fighting for will raise the bar at the specialized high schools in every way. The pool of talent is going to expand widely and rapidly. That’s going to up the level of competition. The students who emerge from the new process will make these schools even stronger.

They will also make our society stronger. Our most prestigious public high schools aren’t just routes to opportunity for deserving students and their families. They are incubators for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. The kind of high schools we have today, will determine the kind of New York City we will have tomorrow.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City.