Speaking at a recent middle school graduation, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said, “We’re going to move the agenda to serve our students, and people that have been very comfortable for a very long time doing absolutely nothing for the children that they’re supposed to serve are going to feel uncomfortable.” Talk like this is cheap, and Carranza’s approach — mandatory anti-bias training and charges that the opposition is racist — is deflection. He’s covering up his lack of a programmatic approach to school improvement and the mayor’s abandonment of any meaningful school accountability.
Quality is distributed inequitably within New York’s school system, but not because of deep-seated racial bias among employees. Rather, it is the outcome of specific policies and programs that could be changed if the political will existed to do so. For 40 years, each of Carranza’s predecessors pursued policies that they believed would improve educational outcomes for the city’s low-income minority children. Some were successful, others less so, but all were dedicated to educational equity. Carranza speaks constantly of his experience as a minority, as though he were the first to hold the chancellor’s job in New York — but two-thirds of his predecessors dating back to 1978 were minorities, too.
Carranza does differ from them in one significant way: He has yet to articulate an approach to identifying the policies and people that stand in the way of meaningful school improvement. A generation ago, then-mayor Ed Koch’s first chancellor, Frank Macchiarola, centered his efforts on affirmations that “all children can learn,” and that “it is the responsibility of the public-school system to promote learning and equality for all children.” These statements, made in 1978, stood in direct conflict with the consensus among policymakers and social scientists that schools have little effect on student outcomes, relative to a student’s family background.