New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza (263708)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

New York, New York, if you can make it here, etc., etc.

So, with just over four months on the job, newly appointed public schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza has already seen his fair share of what New York City is dealing with in terms of public education.

The AmNews recently sat down with Carranza for a 30-minute interview on his vision for the schools system and where he stands on issues affecting the city’s 1.1 million students.

Before coming to New York City, Carranza served for just 18 months as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in Texas, which has just over 214,000 students. Although the number of students he serves increased when he made the move, his $345,000 salary did not.

With something like pride, he said that New York is the fifth school district he’s worked in.

“So New York City is the fifth city that I’ve lived and worked in, fifth school system, five,” he stated. “Every school system has had to work on this issue that I’ve ever ran. It’s not particular to New York City. I think New York City has taken some steps already around making the curriculum culturally responsive.”

He continued, “What we’re doing and what I’ve asked my colleagues in teaching and learning, curriculum instruction is to actually give me a report and move forward. How do we make a multicultural curriculum ethnically sensitive?”

Evidently impressed, he said that he recently went to STAR Academy (STAR is an acronym for Students Taking Active Roles), where the entire faculty is so “anti-racist, multicultural and inclusive around what they are doing” it “knocked my socks off.”

He added, “There is in a system that’s big as ours, there are probably a lot of schools like that that are doing some incredible work that we may not ever really be made of aware of yet. Part of what I’m asking folks to do is go out and find what are lost best practices that are already happening in our schools system so that we may actually identify them and bring others to see what they are doing.”

He discussed that at STAR, the entire third, fourth and fifth grade math team teachers (all white) were planning a unit on fractions. They were planning about how to make math part of their Civil Rights unit.

He explained, “They were talking about when you do fractions you have the results, there are fractions. How do we relate that to what laws have been passed? One of the teachers said, ‘Well, students are going to talk about Jim Crow Laws and how back in our earliest days of our history, African-Americans were three-fifths of a vote. So we can use that as part of our fractions lesson.’ They were doing this work. It was really important for me to see that there are probably schools across the city that are doing some incredible work. We may or may not even know about yet. But the goal is going to be to have a focus.”

Before Houston Carranza was superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District and Northwest Region superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas. He started his career as a social studies and music teacher in Tucson, Ariz.

“Richard Carranza understands the power of public education to change lives, and he has a proven record of strengthening public schools and lifting up students and families,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio when Carranza was appointed. “He understands the tremendous work New York City educators do every day to put our children on the path to success.

During his first interview with the AmNews, Carranza said that the issues the New York City public schools are dealing with are those that most school districts are battling nationally.

On the issue of charter schools, Carranza told the AmNews that he doesn’t “answer questions about how I feel about charter schools” and “it’s the wrong question.” He said he would only answer questions about how he feels about “good schools” and “not so good schools.”

He didn’t answer any questions about major issues surrounding charter schools, such as co-location, lotteries or unfair funding. He did say that the State Legislature should fully fund all schools.

“The politics of how characters got established and why they were established [is] way beyond my pay grade,” he said. “The reality is that they’re here and there are kids in those schools. If we truly believe that New York City is about educating kids, then I don’t engage in the political wars around are you pro or against charters.”

In New York City district-run schools, Black and Latino students represent approximately two-thirds of total enrollment, and Latino and Black teachers make up only one-third of the educator workforce.

Carranza said the issue of teacher diversity is not one relegated to New York, but something he’s seen throughout the country. He blames several factors, including a national teacher shortage and negative attitudes toward the profession in the current political climate.

In an effort to get more Black male teachers, Carranza said he’s working with My Brother’s Keeper and plans to meet with the organization One Hundred Black Men in the near future. He’s also looking to the mayor’s “NYC Men Teach” campaign, which his office says has surpassed its goal of placing 1,000 men of color in the pipeline to becoming teachers in NYC public schools.

“It’s important for our African-American students, especially males, to see people that look like them,” he said. “That come from where they come from in these roles of respect and authority. We’re trying to do everything we can and I invite people to give us other ideas.”
The chancellor lauded the success of the city’s teacher prep academies in high schools as a way to increase teacher diversity. He said he’s visited three, pointing out that they were “incredibly diverse” and had “lots of kids of color.”

Addressing the teacher shortage, he said, “People just aren’t going into the teaching profession. In some cases, I don’t blame them. Think about all of the [negative] rhetoric at the national level about teachers.”

Next year he plans to partner with United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew to give students who graduate from the programs job offers if they earn college degrees and teacher certification.

Carranza said he also wants to tap into the public school’s diverse paraprofessional employees to create a pathway for them to become full-time teachers.

Earlier this year, the results of a lack of diversity among public school teachers and administrators took center stage after a string of racial incidents occurred at several schools.

In February, during Black History Month, a white middle school teacher, stepped on the backs of Black students during a social studies lesson on slavery. In another incident, a white principal allegedly ordered a Black English/Language Arts teacher not to teach Black history to students.

The Department of Education came under fire for doing little to remedy the problem, with critics citing a lack of implicit bias training. Reports surfaced that the training involved merely watching a video or a few hours of online training.

“Implicit bias training is examining what your biases are,” Carranza said. “There’s a process and a methodology for doing that. Self-reflection, where you have to come to terms with some of your biases, and then recognize them and then move past that. It’s very powerful work, but it’s something that doesn’t happen in one session.”

In recent weeks, diversity at the city’s eight specialized high schools has become a concern after Mayor de Blasio announced he wants to get rid of standardized testing, as a means to get more Black and Latino students in schools such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science.

Carranza told the AmNews that although the students of color make up 70 percent of the public school population, only 10 Black students were admitted into Stuyvesant High School this school year. Numbers indicate that the high school is more than 70 percent Asian.

The mayor and Carranza received pushback about the plan, mostly from Asian parents who claim taking the test away discriminates against them and eliminates spots for students. One parent reportedly said student who are “suppose to be there” are being unjustly taken out.

Carranza faced his first controversy as chancellor when he retweeted a news story about angry wealthy white parents on the Upper West Side voicing their opposition to diversifying a school. The tweet was later deleted and Carranza apologized.

The chancellor also told the AmNews that out of America’s 165 specialized high schools, only eight require a test to get in. All of them are in New York City. Carranza believes the test is unfair because it requires families to spend thousands of dollars on test prep most low-income families can’t afford.

“There is no quantifiable evidence that points to the effectiveness of a single test as a sole [criterion] for admitting kids to a specialized school,” he said. “What’s even more harmful is that test is not necessarily valid or reliable as a predictor of success in a specialized program. It’s just a test that you make as hard as possible. It’s not connected to the state standards. It’s a screener.”

One way Carranza wants to diversify specialized high schools is by looking at students’ middle school ranking. Of the city’s 600 middle schools, student from only 21 represent half of students enrolled in specialized high schools. Under his proposed plan the top 3 percent of all middle school students would get the opportunity to go to a specialized high school. The percentage would increase by 2 percent every year after.