Early last Friday, new New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent out a tweet that said “WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools” and linked to a video of parents raising concerns about a new plan to change middle school admissions.
The inflammatory tweet accuses the parents at the meeting of being racists. And it quickly went viral, racking up thousands of retweets and adding to a piling-on against the parents. Websites from across the political spectrum, from the far-right to the far-left and various ideologies in between made similar accusations. “Occupy Democrats”, a site with 7.3 million followers, urged its followers to “spread their shame” referring to the parents. Carranza’s tweet was of an article from a site called Raw Story, which embedded the video below from Spectrum News NY1 from a meeting at PS 199 on 70th street last week about the plan.
“The inflammatory coverage of the CEC 3 meeting completely misrepresents the range and complexity of issues raised by our community,” a PS 199 parent told us. “We need to shift this debate from a false narrative of us versus them to how we can work together to solve the broader problem.”
Asked why he had stated that Upper West Siders oppose a plan to bring “black kids to their schools,” a Department of Education spokesperson wrote that: “Those weren’t his words. He just posted the story. That was the headlines from the website.” That’s a debatable statement, however. When a person clicks Tweet on a story at that site, they can then determine what text to add before the link. To simply tweet the headline requires an affirmative decision to do so.
Regardless of the mechanics of the tweet, Carranza’s sentiment and most of the coverage have missed some very salient points. The Upper West Side is actually the first neighborhood in the city to tackle the problem of segregation in middle schools in a comprehensive plan like this. And while the neighborhood is now smeared as being filled with racist parents, the desegregation plan has actually been parent-led!
Since Carranza’s tweet, some parents tell us they have even less faith in the city to actually listen to parents — after months during which the DOE has stonewalled parents about how the plan would work despite repeated calls from leaders of these efforts.
“It is very disheartening that our new Chancellor would tweet out an inflammatory and inaccurate article (from a questionable news source) – stereotyping an entire group of parents, and hurting our community’s ability to have a thoughtful discussion about how to make our schools better,” the parent of an elementary school student at PS 199 wrote in an email to West Side Rag. “I attended the full meeting and what I heard were parents concerned about the academic gap and the large number of low performing schools in the District, and did not hear a single parent suggest that having more ethnic diversity in school is not a worthy goal.”
Kristen Berger is the head of the middle school committee at Community Education Council 3, a group elected by other school parents that advises the Department of Education on policy issues. It covers the Upper West Side and West Harlem. Berger has worked for years to come up with a middle school diversity plan for the district, and has spent the last few months explaining it to parents. She tells us that she sensed no racial animus among the parents in the room at the meeting last week. The chancellor’s tweet, she said, was “really problematic.”
“It does hamper parents’ ability to feel comfortable about speaking,” she said.
Carranza, who started the job on April 2, said in a statement that he’s “heard repeatedly from students, parents and staff who have felt empowered to share their voices and raise the issue of segregation in schools – and I’m glad we’re talking about it. My goal with that post was to share information and encourage dialogue on this important issue.”
The dialogue, however, has been going on for months, and Carranza has not attended any of the meetings that occurred after he took over the job. Furthermore, his record on improving achievement gaps between white students and minorities is itself troubling. The NAACP of San Francisco, where Carranza was leader for four years before leaving for Houston, recently asked for a state of emergency to be declared because of the enormous gaps on test scores. After Carranza’s 18 month tenure in Houston, the Houston Chronicle opined that “if Mayor Bill de Blasio and others think they’ve scored the next great wunderkind, they should think again.” The DOE would not make Carranza available for an interview.
The Upper West Side undoubtedly has a problem with segregated elementary and middle schools. CEC3 passed a plan in 2016 to desegregate a few elementary schools, but a large portion of the district remains segregated. For middle school, white children tend to go to just five of the 17 schools in the district.
Middle school admissions is a confusing process whereby students apply to schools and then those schools choose them on a variety of metrics. Some have interviews, some give higher weighting for test scores, some give them lower weights. They have also historically been able to see where students rank their schools, and they can use that to determine their offer strategy. Next year, middle school principals won’t be able to see where students rank them, however, and they worry that will hurt their ability to add more diversity to their student bodies.
The diversity plan aims to make the schools more diverse even after the policy. But it’s debatable whether it is in fact a diversity plan at all.
The plan doesn’t actually take racial or economic diversity head-on. It uses test scores, instead of socioeconomic status, geographic area or race and ethnicity. Currently, five out of the 17 schools in District 3 take the vast majority of kids who score 3 or 4 (on a scale from 1 to 4 with 4 being the most proficient). And about 84% of the students who score 1 or 2 are black or Hispanic. Those five schools give between 50% and 87% offers to 3s and 4s, while the rest give between 5% and 26% of their offers to 3s and 4s. The new plan would insure that at least 25% of kids at every school had scored a 1 or a 2 on the state tests.
Parents and principals have been generally supportive of the plan, Berger and others say. But they’ve raised concerns about whether the 12 middle schools that rarely admit kids with 3 or 4 scores will be prepared to educate an “academically diverse” student body where some kids read at 8th grade level and some read at 3rd grade level. Parents’ questions have centered around whether the Department of Education will put any new resources into schools that have had lower test scores. And they haven’t gotten answers about that.
“I’m very frustrated that at this juncture on April 29 that we still do not have a written proposal. Nothing has been provided to us in writing, not a single thing,” said Kim Watkins, the President of CEC3.
“Whenever we’re discussing significant change for our public school system people deserve the opportunity to get all of the questions answered and to speak openly and honestly about what we want from our public education system,” she said. “We’re in the process of doing that. It’s not painless. It’s painful, in many ways.”
Berger thinks that parents sometimes speak from “academic privilege,” because they want their kids to go to schools that challenge them. But she’s been trying to reassure them that “the perceived loss is much more minor than people fear.”
Berger and Watkins were making progress and hopes that continues — not via Twitter, but via more meetings. We’ve posted the dates and times below. Berger says she hopes Carranza will come to one of the meetings to see the progress they’re making. The Department of Education did not respond to a question about whether he will do so.
“I think it would be wonderful,” Berger says. “This thing is really nuanced.”
The DOE is expected to make a decision on the plan by June.