In New York City, students are set to return to the classroom on Sept. 5. As part of City & State’s annual back to school coverage, we spoke with two top education officials in the city – Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, the chairman of the education committee – about the most pressing policy issues, from charter schools to teacher evaluations to the controversial proposal to scrap the entrance exam for the city’s top high schools.
Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
What are the other tools or policy changes you’re considering besides eliminating the Specialized High School Admissions Test that would make a bigger dent in ending school segregation?
I think it’s very much a bottom-up and a top-down approach. And by that I mean this: There’s been a lot of work that started before I ever got to New York City. So the work that was happening in (Manhattan School) District 3 around inclusivity, the conversations that happened. And I’m all about having those tough conversations. The principles in District 3 own that process. They feel a kinship, they feel a sense of urgency, they feel that they want their schools to be more diversified. So when that plan came across my desk, I approved it immediately. Top down. I’m going to approve what comes and makes sense, and I’m thrilled that there is a lot of that approach where it’s generated in the community.
Any specific ideas to make a dent in segregation?
We have a task force that’s coming forward by the end of this calendar year. It’s very representative from across the state. They are going to bring us some recommendations, both short-term and long-term recommendations. I don’t want to get out ahead of them. I would tell you that I think it’s important to look at one of the obstacles or the barriers, screens that put (on schools.) The very notion that you would have a family in a neighborhood that cannot go to their neighborhood school because they haven’t interviewed or had the criteria to go to a public school.
Do you have a stance on raising the cap on charter schools?
Why are we talking about sympathetic to charter or not sympathetic to charter. Listen, I’m sympathetic to kids. And the fact is, a student that is in a charter school one week may end up being a student in a New York City Department of Education traditional public school the next week. There are some charter school organizations that are working collaboratively with district schools. I think that’s something that’s good. I have no opinion on that cap issue.
Chairman, New York City Council Education Committee
What would you say to teachers anxious about evaluations?
I remember when I was still teaching, I was told that I had to align with history lessons to Common Core, and towards a state assessment that was not aligned to Common Core. I remember we had checklists of over 22 items that had to be reviewed during every teacher observation. Every single week, every month, there was something new. How do you provide support to people when the rules of the game keep changing? It just becomes checklist leadership. Some folks like to compare education to the business world. In the business world, what do they always tell you? Stay away from us, less regulations, we want stability and consistency. The education world kind of needs some consistency as well. They never asked me, they never asked my colleagues, what we valued, what we felt was important based on the feedback we saw in that classroom.
Do you support eliminating the Specialized High School Admissions Test?
The way this was rolled out was not responsible and really not strategic and not smart. First of all, I happen to be the chair of the Education Committee in the New York City Council and I was not consulted. And if you are proposing something of this magnitude with only about 10, 11 days left in session in Albany, knowing it takes some time to get things passed through Albany, one has to wonder about your motives, about why you choose to do it at the time that you did it. And without consulting other stakeholders in this conversations. I don’t question that this is a problem. This is a very serious problem. But also I want to point out that if we’re going to have a conversation about segregation and diversity, these eight specialized high schools make up about 1.5 percent of the entire school system. So call it really the 1.5 percent plan, I’m still waiting for the big plan. The way the mayor put together that proposal at the 11th hour, knowing it was going to go nowhere, really puts into question is plan.
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