NYC Chancellor Pick: Substance From WSJ, Gossip From Wash Post

Two articles of note about New York City Mayor de Blasio’s pick of Carmen Fariña as the schools chancellor there.  She was picked as second most likely in the Whiteboard Education Insiders poll after the election and was the horse I bet on given the complexity of the situation up there.

The Wall Street Journal ed board raises a red flag writing,

…Ms. Fariña is by all accounts a competent steward of the education status quo. Known as a fine teacher herself, the 70-year-old served for a time as a deputy chancellor during the Bloomberg era but wasn’t a reform leader. Mr. de Blasio made a point in his Monday remarks announcing her selection that she had retired because she was unhappy with the direction of the Bloomberg reforms.

…no amount of wealth shifting will raise the lifetime prospects of kids who can’t read or can only do 8th-grade math before they drop out of school. The education reform agenda is about reducing income inequality the old-fashioned American way—upward mobility and economic opportunity.

The bottom line is that despite mistakes along the way New York schools undoubtedly saw progress under Bloomberg. De Blasio’s rhetoric indicates he wants to curtail some of that progress because it’s politically inconvenient – in particular by going after charter schools despite the fact that the city’s charter sector (and its within district small school sector) are largely successes as validated by external evaluations as well as parental demand.  But while that progress may be at risk and reformers are rightly concerned about it and should seek to protect those schools no one should root against de Blasio or Fariña to succeed on education policy and continue New York’s progress. There is too much riding on it for the city’s youngsters.  Everyone should hope, however, that the mayor and his team put  pragmatism ahead of ideology. It shouldn’t be about making a point for them either.

In a story that is only surprising in that it landed on the front page (yesterday, on a slow news day) Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss reports that Arne Duncan was against the possible appointment of Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr to lead the New York City schools.  This is one of these stories that is stunningly lacking in context. The most stunning thing about it, actually, is that DeBlasio would surround himself with people who leak like this on day one of his administration. The story itself is a big nothing.

To be clear, if Duncan or any other administration official had somehow implied to New York officials that picking Starr would put federal dollars at risk or lead to some sort of retribution via the powers of Duncan’s office then that would be a genuine resignation-worthy scandal. But so far there is NO evidence he did that and considering the likely source of the leak had there been even an inkling of such pressure or anything else inappropriate we’d be hearing it shouted from the rooftops by all the usual suspects.

On the contrary, Duncan is a former school superintendent of one of the few districts even remotely comparable to the scale and complexity of New York and he’s also knowledgeable on the issue more generally.  He’s a logical person to talk to about a decision like this and  – other than the leak – it speaks well to the mayor that he sought out a range of advice and counsel. What’s more, conversations like this are par for the course in situations like this and it’s hardly the first time senior administration officials, in any administration, have been consulted about a similar question.  If the Post is going to run this as front page news they ought to let readers in on that – even though it undermines the newsiness of the tale. Likewise, the lede of the story and headline implies that Duncan lobbied against Starr, only later are readers told that his opposition was part of a broader conversation about a number of candidates.

The story also didn’t mention that while Starr has big ideas it’s debatable how much he’s accomplished in Montgomery County so far – particularly on the equity agenda for underserved students and issues that don’t involve pandering to, yes, white suburban voters. Even among moderate education policy types concerned about today’s assessment policies there is little enthusiasm for Starr’s signature move, his call for a moratorium on testing, which is widely viewed as too clumsy and blunt. In a long story with plenty of words the Post didn’t find room to mention that or cite the case for Starr to lead New York. That’s relevant context for readers, too.

3 Replies to “NYC Chancellor Pick: Substance From WSJ, Gossip From Wash Post

  1. Perhaps Superintendent Starr should be better known for his other policy position noted in the Post article, his attention to the flaws inherent in appraising teachers according to student test scores. There are several reasons to oppose that policy, among them being the difficulties in carrying it out (it has consistently been the main source of contention between state winners of Race to the Top grants and ED personnel charged with monitoring subsequent grant condition implementation) and the limited difference the new evaluations appear to be making on increasing student achievement. Another, crucial flaw in that policy is that it reinforces the importance of the low quality testing that has been systematically undermining the development of competence among America’s young people, which was revealed by the crucial PIAAC data released late last year, which showed that U.S. young adults, defined as the population between 16 and 24, finished dead last among 22 nations surveyed in the skills they are carrying into the workforce and their adult lives.

  2. Thanks Andy, for calling out non-news for what it is. A better headline for the WaPo article would have been, “Duncan dislikes those that dislike his policies, some say.”

    I would have much rather seen a substantive discussion of the impact of the Bloomberg policies Farina seems to oppose–particularly school closures, the expansion of charter schools, and the school grading system–or of the policies she is promoting like universal pre-K or her pairing of low-performing principals with high-performing ones.

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