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NYC, Meet the New School Chancellor: What This Means For Your Child

Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t had a lot of luck with his School Chancellors. His first pick, Carmen Farina, opened multiple Dual Language programs… but barely lasted through de Blasio’s first term. His second, Alberto Carvalho, accepted the job, then backed out at the last minute – on live television. He claimed he was too needed where he was, supervising the Miami-Dade Public Schools. (But, apparently, not as much as the higher-paying Los Angeles Unified ones needed him.)

Desperate for a replacement, De Blasio hired Houston and San Francisco’s Richard Carranza.

During his tenure, Carranza waffled on whether Algebra For All in 8th grade hurt or helped equity, unsuccessfully tried to get rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), and regularly railed against Gifted & Talented programs -–without ever bothering to understand why families clamored for them. He also called anyone who disagreed with him racist.

When Carranza unexpectedly quit in March of 2020, claiming he needed time to mourn multiple friends and family lost to Covid, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, writing:

It’s obvious now that DeBlasio merely used Carranza as a combination whipping boy and litmus test. He had Carranza introduce various virtue signaling initiatives…. Then stood back and waited to see what the reaction would be. If the (voting) public reacted positively, DeBlasio elbowed Carranza aside and accepted his due kudos for being such a progressive mayor and, soon, maybe President? If the public reacted negatively, he ducked back, distanced himself from the Chancellor’s remarks, and proceeded to do nothing about issues he claimed to care so, so much about, while leaving Carranza to twist in the wind. After three years of such shoddy treatment, Carranza had enough. 

But then, less than a month into his alleged mourning period, Carranza announced he was taking a corporate job, shilling for an education tech company that did business with the city of New York. My sympathy quickly dissipated. 

Of Carranza’s successor, Meisha Porter, I wrote

Carranza’s truncated term proved that this Mayor’s Chancellor is nothing but a figurehead at best, a sacrificial lamb, at worst. As the Mayor juggles parents who want schools open with parents who want more of a focus on remote learning, parents who demand state and Regents exams be administered and those who demand they be canceled, anger over screening schools, anger over unscreening schools, and the inconvenient truth that, no matter how much he rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic, 50% of students are still not performing at grade level (and that’s pre-COVID), DeBlasio has made it clear that the buck stops with him. The only opinion that matters is his. Ms. Porter’s role is to give him credit for everything that goes right and take the blame for anything that goes wrong. Same as Mr. Carranza’s. Which means nothing has changed at all.

Mayor-Elect Eric Adams isn’t Bill de Blasio. Which means that David Banks, the new School Chancellor, may not just be the mayor’s mouthpiece. He may actually wield some power.

What will he do with it? We could parse his tweets for details. 

Or, like I wrote about Carranza (and Gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and most of NYC’s elected officials), we could take a look not at what they say (or tweet) but at what they’ve done.

So what has David Banks done? 

First and foremost, David Banks launched the Eagle Academy for Young Men, where students wear jackets and ties during a school day which can last until 5 PM, and study a culturally responsive curriculum that also incorporates elements of a classical iberal arts education.

This would suggest that Mr. Banks:

  • Understands that when existing public schools aren’t getting the job done, new ones must be created (which includes charter schools)
  • Believes in a rigorous curriculum that both speaks to students and challenges them
  • Is open to teachers working outside prescribed union hours in order to get the job done (though his network of schools is unionized)
  • Is willing to consider options like single-sex schools, which are common in some of NYC’s most covered private schools, but are rarely considered in the public sector (though the charter Public Prep network touts their benefits for both boys and girls)

On the other hand, the Eagle Academy’s above city average graduation rates… and below city average test scores (three of out five Eagle middle schools are among the lowest scoring in the state) also suggest that he is as likely to push underperforming students up through the grade levels in order to boost graduation rates – with little concern as to whether they’ve accumulated the skills necessary to succeed, or even merely survive, in the workforce — as the current Department of Education.

When it comes to the ticking time-bomb of school admissions, Banks sides with Adams, who has indicated he’s in favor of expanding the Gifted & Talented elementary school program, not eliminating it. 

Banks, however, has championed making greater use of digital learning tools, which appear to be a key component of the recently unveiled BrilliantNYC initiative (sold as “expanding” G&T).

Neither Banks nor Adams has said whether or not they intend to continue the de Blasio era’s unscreening of all middle schools, or how they plan to address high-school admissions for September 2022. Though neither also appears interested in getting rid of the SHSAT, as de Blasio and Carranza attempted to do for multiple years running.

From his initial statements, it would appear that Banks’ priority is reforming schools from the top down. Which means that, instead of cutting programs which work in an attempt to cover up the failures of the ones that don’t, he will, instead, target the bureaucracy that has brought us to such a state.

As Chalkbeat reported:

Banks… repeatedly noted that roughly 65% of students of color are not considered proficient in reading or math and argued the education department’s $38 billion budget is not producing the results it should.

Adams also indicated that he wants to replicate schools that have found successful models, including traditional public schools, charters, and even religious schools. “Wherever we find excellence, we’re going to duplicate that,” Adams said.

That approach is reminiscent of the “portfolio model” of school management that some cities have embraced, which involves expanding the schools seen as effective and closing those that don’t measure up.

Most importantly, unlike de Blasio, who promised robust parent engagement before implementing his new vision of Accelerated Education For All – then rolled out BrilliantNYC without a single town hall or even man on the street interview, only turning to communities for their input AFTER the new initiative was announced — “Banks indicated he would involve parents, students, and educators in key decisions as chancellor — saying he would never make a major announcement without their input.”

But there’s that word again: Saying.

As with all politicians, we’ll have to wait and see what David Banks actually does.

One thing you can be sure of is that we here at New York School Talk will be watching closely, and we will always be looking to elevate parent voices about what’s going on in the city’s education system. 

Let’s start now: Tell us what you want David Banks to tackle first in the Comments below!

What do you think?

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