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Three Guesses Why NYC’s New Schools Chancellor-to-Be Changed His Mind


Today’s headline from the New York Times: “Miami Superintendent Chosen to Lead New York City Schools.” And today’s headline from, to name a few media, the Wall Street Journal, Chalkbeat, the Daily News, the Post, the Miami Herald, and (I’m wiping a dab of egg off my face from the massive ova explosion) New York School Talk.

It’s not often that everyone — including Mayor de Blasio and ready-to-retire Carmen Fariña — gets something so wrong, in this case the (non) fait accompli  appointment of Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho as NYC’s next School Chancellor.

Last night:

But get it wrong we did. Buried in a fraction of the earlier verbiage were a few hints, like the overlooked nugget that Carvalho hadn’t yet accepted the job because he was waiting until this morning’s meeting of the Miami-Dade Board of Education and a mention among the breathless reportage that the Board was trying to dissuade their leader from moving to cooler climes. But, truly, the delayed commitment seemed like a courtesy.

So what really happened? Beats me. But here are a few guesses. 

Guess #1: He really, truly, just changed his mind.

From an (updated) NYT article posted about 30 minutes ago (as I’m writing this):

[A]fter three hours of speeches praising Mr. Carvalho by board members and supporters, he spoke at length and suggested he was not so sure of his decision to take the job. He left the room for some 20 minutes, and then returned to end the suspense.

“I am breaking an agreement,” he said. “I shall remain in Miami-Dade as your superintendent.”

And from the Miami Herald:

“I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community,” said Carvalho, speaking Thursday at an emergency School Board meeting that had been called to discuss the job offer. “That has weighed on me over the last 24 hours like nothing has weighed on me before.”

Carvalho gave an impassioned speech without announcing a decision and then asked the School Board for a five-minute break that lasted about 20. He briefly returned to the auditorium and then asked for another break. The dramatic meeting was mocked on Twitter as #TheCarvalhoShow.

Other reports say that during his speech he took a phone call. From Mayor de Blasio’s office? From his family?

Then there’s this from the always reliable Leslie Brody, education reporter for the Wall Street Journal:

Guess #2: Follow the money.

I don’t really buy this (so to speak) but if Carvalho had accepted the terms of the original offer he would be taking a $100,000 pay cut to run a the largest school district in the country, three times bigger than Miami-Dade, under the thumb of a mayor who appears to bridle at every change to the status quo. In order to overcome this salary gap, de Blasio upped the offer of Chancellor Farina’s salary — about $214,000 — to match Miami-Dade’s current salary of $353,000. Some New Yorkers weren’t happy. School leaders typically don’t like to enter new territory that is already aquiver with bad vibes.

From The Post:

Mayor de Blasio’s office is defending the $353,000 salary…Eric Phillips, de Blasio’s spokesman, pointed out that when you factor in the 74-year-old Fariña’s annual $211,000 pension — which she was able to pocket while also collecting her salary under a generous city regulation for older workers — Carvalho’s haul is actually a bargain.

Guess #3: De Blasio is taking lessons from his across-the-Hudson cousin, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

Okay. Maybe not direct tutelage. But just saying that there’s a pattern of politicians taking children-unfriendly positions if they feel beholden to lobbying groups. (NRA and Rubio, anyone?) With Democrats, those groups tend to be labor unions. Example: Hillary Clinton’s abrupt about-face on public school choice because she felt obliged to pander to AFT and NEA. In It Takes a Village she loved the idea of “promoting choice among public schools, much as the President’s Charter Schools Initiative encourages.” But after early endorsements from the teacher unions during her second presidential campaign, she began repeating union misinformation like “most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” even though she knew that wasn’t true.

Closer to home for me (I grew up in Queens but live now in New Jersey) last week the Murphy Administration announced that it had selected Paula White as the Department of Education’s Assistant Commissioner. This appointment was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education and later that week White spent the day shaking hands and acclimating herself to her new environs accompanied by Acting Commissioner Lamont Repollet, whom she worked for in Asbury Park Public Schools. Smiles all around.

Or not. White has a long list of qualifications, among them an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College in Educational Leadership, eight years teaching  low-income students of color in Atlanta, Chief Turnaround Officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, a board member of Programs for Parents, a member of the New Jersey Council for Young Children. But — here’s the rub — she also served for 18 months as state director of Democrats for Education Reform, a non-profit closely aligned with President Obama’s education policies, which included expanding public charter schools in chronically low-performing school districts and enforcing accountability.

The leaders of New Jersey’s primary teacher union, NJEA, hate charter schools. They hate accountability. They hate DFER. They probably like President Obama okay, but that’s in spite of his education reform agenda. A DFER alum as Assistant Commissioner was a step too far for a lobbying group that, to all appearances (I’m SO eager to be wrong on this) owns Gov. Murphy soup to nuts.  And so at the end of the same day that White met her staff, Murphy rescinded her appointment with a phone call. N.J. Senator Teresa Ruiz, a top Democrat who heads the Senate Education Committee, said (she didn’t tweet),

The whole thing is strange. You offer a highly qualified individual a position, she gets the unanimous support of the state board, is introduced to her staff, and later the same day she gets the job rescinded. From the outside, it looks suspect.

Back to NYC. Carvalho, notes Politico’s Eliza Shapiro, has managed to walk a “precarious political tightrope” on charter schools. After all, “it’s a fact of contemporary education politics that no mainstream schools superintendent can be completely ideologically opposed to charters and Carvalho is not. ‘Rather than complain about the incoming tsunami of choice, we’re going to ride it,’ Carvalho told the Miami Herald in 2014.”

I can’t believe that this progressive approach to school equity appeals to status quo enforcers like AFT’s Randi Weingarten and local UFT leaders.

Other marks against Carvalho: Success Academy founder and de Blasio nemesis Eva Moskowitz included Carvalho on her list of 14 qualified candidates for NYC Schools Chancellor. Carvalho approves of merit pay. Under Carvalho’s leadership, Miami-Dade collaborated with KIPP charter schools and the Urban League on a housing development called Education Village, partially funded by the “reformy” Gates Foundation. 

Murphy redux?

Now, to be fair (and less paranoid/cynical) Bill de Blasio seems to have managed to withdraw a hair’s-breath from UFT. But just how far? Michael Mulgrew, UFT President, put out a supportive statement on Carvalho’s faux-appointment but did the Mayor get a call from Randi Weingarten?

Enough conspiracy theories. Today journalists aren’t the only ones with egg on their faces. Neither Mayor de Blasio nor his staff look particularly well-scrubbed — or competent — during this embarrassing episode of rejection,  especially considering that the chancellor search, conducted behind closed doors, was already infuriating the public.

If this were a movie about unrequited love, the rejectee would get drunk, mourn, and process his/her loss before re-entering the dating scene. But this isn’t Hollywood and we need a chancellor now. I’m not sure who’s #2 on the list but the Mayor better have a contractual signature before he starts tweeting.
















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