NYC School Chancellor Leaves: The Toxic Intersection of Mayoral Control and Mayoral Politics

Richard Carranza, the New York City School Chancellor unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position.

The cognoscenti were not surprised, for months the chancellor and the mayor have been dueling; it was only a matter of time before the chancellor packed it in.

Highly effective leaders select subordinates and give them the authority to carry out their role. Interestingly a number of the mayoral hopefuls had major roles in city government: Kathryn Garcia was the NYS Sanitation Commissioner, Sean Donovan the HPD (Housing Preservation and Development) commissioner and Maya Wiley, the mayor’s counsel, all served with distinction. Micromanaging schools has a sad and long history; mayors claimed credit for positive education news and blamed and fired chancellors to deflect bad news.

Unfortunately from day one the mayor attempted to keep a tight rein on the Department of Education. He selected Carmen Farina, a retired Department deputy chancellor and friend to temporarily fill the job; she stayed for de Blasio’s entire first term. Farina’s one major initiative, the Renewal Schools, pumping mega dollars into the hundred lowest achieving schools was a dismal failure. Read here.

Renewal’s ideas were untested, and, almost from the start, the program was hobbled by bureaucracy and a tight timeline imposed by a mayor eager to show on a national stage that schools could improve without censure, according to internal documents and interviews with more than two dozen people connected to the program.

Renewal had few measurable effects on academic performance over two years, according to a study by the research organization RAND Corporation that was commissioned by the administration. (Read RAND report here).

The search for the quick, positive headlines, without any follow through characterizes the mayor’s tenure.

While sharply critical of Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT) he failed to take any action regarding the five small schools not covered by the Hecht-Calandra law who use the test.

The August, 2019 Mayor’s School Diversity Task Force Report called for the ending of Gifted and Talent programs (Report here); the mayor both applauded and ignored the report.

A schizophrenic attempt to mollify the critics of the Gifted & Talented testing and White/Asian parents whose kids attended the program; only COVID preventing the testing.

Educationally the chancellor appeared to be a throw back to another era, instead of moving decisions closer to the students, closer to schools he created executive chancellors, another layer moving the chancellor further away from schools. The chancellor favored frequent testing of students, tried to abolish the Affinity District, a group of 150 successful schools who retained authority to make decisions at the local level. (Read NYU Metro Center blog here).  Testing your way to higher achieving schools is and has been a futile pathway for decades.

As the mayor and chancellor moved further and further apart Michael Mulgrew, the teacher union leader, became the facilitator.

Cuomo and de Blasio battled, de Blasio and Carranza bickered, Mulgrew nimbly dodged bullets, some from his members, and crafted safe school opening plans, with frequent testing and teacher preference for vaccinations. (Read a description of Mulgrew’s agility here)

Mulgrew has not been shy; he has both threatened “safety” strikes and engaged a range of experts to drive school opening metrics. The road has been bumpy; frequent membership Town Halls have allowed members to be engaged. At the same time thousands of members are participating in mayoral candidate forums and teacher-led teams are recommending endorsements for city council positions.

Mulgrew and the union are emerging as the one stable, consistent voice across the educational landscape.

The mayor selected Meisha Ross Porter, one of the nine executive superintendents to replace Carranza.

Chalkbeat and the New York Times have laudatory articles, See articles here and here.

The NY Post, on the other hand, describes a party that celebrated her appointment as executive chancellor that was “over the top.”  (Read here).

Porter indicated she intended to reopen high schools before the end of the term; a Herculean task that likely would result in many changes of teachers, not a great idea in the middle of a term.

I reserve judgment.

It is unlikely that the mayor will search for a permanent chancellor in the waning days of his term. A system adrift may be better than a system battered from all sides.

Mulgrew will play a key role in driving decisions relating to “COVID loss” and the September 21-22 school year.

On January 1st, 2022 a new mayor, a new comptroller, four new borough presidents and 37 new city council members will be sworn in; Michael Mulgrew will still be the leader of the 120,000 union members.

3 responses to “NYC School Chancellor Leaves: The Toxic Intersection of Mayoral Control and Mayoral Politics

  1. Carranza fell on the wrong sword. Given the competing needs of this unique time, he wasn’t prepared to understand them let alone negotiate a broad based response.

    Families had until mid-November to commit for the rest of the year. At the time, science had no good response to parents’ fears about sending their kids to school. Consequently, seventy percent of our students are not participating in school in person.

    Even now though, to say that it’s safer in school as compared to community spread doesn’t mean that it’s safer than keeping your kids quarantined at home. People don’t get that unlike doctors and medical personnel, teachers never committed to put their lives on the line. To expect otherwise is to misunderstand the profession.

    On the other hand, kids have missed too much school. We can’t return to any semblance of a functioning society unless they’re back in school. Vaccinating all teachers needs to go hand in hand with school opening and even so, many will retire and leave their positions. Planning to develop a robust pipeline on new teachers in a Pandemic will be no small feat.

    Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter would be well served understanding that at this point, Mulgrew is a more effective partner than DeBlasio.


  2. Pingback: School Openings: Political Gamesmanship Collides with Sound Educational Policy. | Ed In The Apple

  3. Pingback: A School System Adrift: New York City Schools Search for Direction as the Political Landscape Evolves | Ed In The Apple

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