Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza came to town about 15 minutes ago with no friends, no natural allies, no record of distinguished accomplishment, no understanding of local politics, customs or power dynamics and with a governor in Albany who hates Bill de Blasio and pulls wings off flies for fun.
In other words, naked before the storm. And for New York schools chancellors, there is always a storm.
Yet this seems not to have occurred to Carranza, for he has been picking imprudent fights since Day One.
Almost immediately it was with Upper West Side and Park Slope parents whose fears for the future of their children’s reasonably well-functioning middle schools were met with racialist arrogance: ”WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools,” he tweeted, posting a news story with that headline.
Then it was with largely Asian-immigrant supporters of the city’s famous selective-admissions high schools — institutions he seems bent on saddling with quotas and other quality-leavening impediments: “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” he snarled.
Late last month, it was with the city’s embarrassingly successful, if politically hamstrung, charter-school establishment: “Do what you got to do. Do your enrollment thing. But don’t talk about our schools,” he warned, darkly.
And then, last Wednesday, he took off the gloves at an antagonistically anti-charter public appearance in The Bronx:
“I’m going to say, with this new, revamped, on-fire Assembly and Senate in Albany . . . If [charters are] not OK, our elected officials need to hear that, OK?”
It’s understandable that Carranza doesn’t want people talking about his schools — particularly people who know how corrupt the system’s performance metrics are:
- Once-stringent high-school graduation standards have diminished to virtual nothingness since then-state Education Commissioner Richard Mills began gutting them 20 years ago.
- This helps explain recent statistical gains in graduation rates — apart from the common use of more traditional inflation tools, such as manipulation of attendance reporting, backfilling of test results and massaging of graduation portfolios. Outright fraud, in other words, as so often detailed in this newspaper.
- And indeed, despite the administration’s happy stats, The Post’s estimable Susan Edelman reported Sunday that new state figures show “more [city] students are failing high-school math and English exams [and that] black and Hispanic [students] are earning far fewer advanced diplomas than whites.”
- Meanwhile, lower-grade math and literacy testing standards are softened virtually every year; meaningful teacher evaluation has been abandoned and consistent classroom decorum is a thing of the past.
Thus thousands of kids emerge from high schools costumed in educational filigree, but grievously unready for New York’s competence-centric economy.
Carranza would be wise to concentrate on that, rather than picking fights with low-profile but hardly defenseless interested parties. These include:
- Upper West Side and Park Slope parents with many friends in high places and common sense on their side.
- Politically ascendant communities of color that care deeply about the integrity of the specialized high schools, backed by tens of thousands of well-placed alumni. Some parents already have sued, and won’t be cowed.
- The deep-pocketed, close-to-Cuomo campaign donors who have done so much both for charter schools, and the governor himself; Cuomo may no longer care, but he won’t suffer public humiliation.
This isn’t to say Carranza is on his own: He’s a water-carrier for the real schools boss, Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers, and that can’t hurt.
But in New York there always is the public spectacle, and then there is the under-the-radar reality of practical politics. Carranza should not forget just how dispensable he is. For if the chancellor thinks the rhetoric of racial discord will get him out of a real fight — say with the powerful people he already has antagonized — he’s wrong.
And if he thinks the mayor will have his back in a crunch, he is more foolish than he looks, which is pretty foolish.
The folks who hold Carranza’s career in their hands are loyal only to themselves and to a corrupt culture now laser-focused on the real prize — control of the Department of Education’s $35 billion-plus annual budget.
A tough-guy wannabe from out of town is just a reed in the wind before that.
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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