New York City

Carranza is not backing down from integration talk and tactics

The NYC schools chancellor kicks off a new school year by defending his approach.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at City & State's 2019 Education Summit.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at City & State's 2019 Education Summit. Jeff Coltin

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is going into the new school year with the same focus: racially integrating the city’s public schools. 

He spoke Thursday morning at City & State’s Education Summit at Baruch College in Manhattan to a crowd of education policymakers and stakeholders and previewed the upcoming school year – his second full year since being appointed in 2018.

Carranza’s time leading the schools has been marked by a rhetorical emphasis on the racial segregation present in the nation’s largest school system. It’s been quite the shift for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which previously shied away from even using the word “segregation.”

Carranza has no such filter. 

“We are, by all accounts, the most segregated school system in America,” Carranza said.

“If we’re serious about advancing equity now, we have no choice but to tackle that deeply entrenched reality. Integration advances equity. It’s common sense.”

Few New Yorkers may quibble with Carranza’s goal of racial integration, but his tactics have earned him considerable criticism. The Manhattan Institute called his plans “empirically baseless and socially destructive,” the New York Post has slammed him relentlessly and the chancellor has been met with protests for months over his desire to change the admission criteria to the city’s specialized high schools. The latest raucous protests marred the city’s formal adoption of “culturally responsive-sustaining education” policies just two weeks ago.

Carranza seems to have taken the criticism in stride. The Arizona native joked that “education is probably the most talked about – aside from ‘Real Housewives’ – the most talked about sport in New York City.”

The chancellor also took a shot at his detractors, arguing that the experience of a third grader in one borough is quite different than the experience of another third grader in another borough – in both the environment and the expectations of those students. “I have never found that you move a system by placating the wishes of those who would keep the status quo,” he said. “So there are those that are going to say your chancellor is divisive. I’m not divisive – I’m keeping it real.”

Later on, he said that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about addressing these disparities. The chancellor quoted a 6-year-old student who once said, “My teacher thought I was smarter than I was, so I was.” But other educators, Carranza said, sometimes employ what he called the “pobrecito syndrome” – feeling bad for struggling students and encouraging them to just get through the school year without causing any problems. “The soft bigotry of expectations,” Carranza concluded, eliciting applause from the audience. 

In closing the keynote speech, he insisted he was OK with the discomfort of being in the spotlight.

“I think a lot about a particular phrase that I carried with me for a long time: No soy monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos,” Carranza said, quoting a mariachi song. “It loosely translates to ‘I’m not a little piece of gold, so that everyone would love me.’ Why is that important? Because it’s not about me … It’s always going to be about the children in our care.”