A high-profile example of the problem is the lack of black and Latino students at the eight specialized high schools where admission is decided by a single test. This spring, only 10 percent of offers at these schools went to black and Latino students. When Mr. de Blasio was running for mayor in 2013, he pledged to diversify these schools, but more recently he has suggested that his hands are tied and that any change must come from the state.
What to Do About Renewal
Mr. de Blasio came into office pledging to lift up low-performing schools, rather than close them, as his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, had done. But his $582 million Renewal initiative, which flooded 94 schools with resources while subjecting them to sometimes contradictory directives, has produced disappointing results. This year, the city proposed closing eight of the schools — the largest number it had ever closed in one year — drawing protests from parents and elected officials.
Mr. Carranza will have to decide whether to continue the initiative, whose future looks cloudy; the official who led the effort was recently moved aside, and no successor has been named. Fifty schools are expected to remain in the program next year. Another challenge: The city’s Education Department has said that, to replace some of the schools it is closing, it will open eight new schools in the fall, something that this administration has little experience doing.
Closing the Achievement Gap
Though the city has made real progress on increasing overall graduation rates, the academic divides between different groups of students are yawning. Citywide, the graduation rate last year was 87.5 percent for Asian students and 83.2 percent for white students. For black students, the rate was 70 percent and for Hispanic students, 68.3 percent. Just 32.5 percent of students still learning English graduated.
Even within the same school, black and Hispanic students and those who live in poverty can fall behind their peers. A study from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School looked at student performance for third through fifth graders on the 2016 state math exam, and it found the poorer the students, the lower their scores tended to be on the test, even if they attended school with wealthy children.
The issue is far from unique to New York. In San Francisco, Mr. Carranza faced a similar gap: African-American children there have long scored among the lowest in California on standardized tests. “It’s fair to say that like all the superintendents before him he was not able to find the magic formula,” said Norman Yee, a member of the board of supervisors in San Francisco and a former president of the city’s Board of Education.
A City’s Worth of Homeless Children
In San Francisco, where Mr. Carranza spent his longest-tenure as a superintendent, he oversaw about 55,000 children. In New York, double that number — more than 111,500 students — were homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. That is 10 percent of the city’s public school population.
Those homeless students include anyone in a temporary living situation, which could include children living in a car or a hotel or staying on the sofa at a friend’s house.
In addition to the emotional toll, the academic effects of homelessness can be severe. Homeless students are chronically absent at far higher rates than other children, are more likely to drop out than their peers and less likely to graduate or to test on grade level. Even after finding housing, the Education Trust-New York found that formerly homeless children continue to struggle academically for years.
Equity in Early Childhood Education
Following through on a campaign promise, Mr. de Blasio in his first term created a public prekindergarten seat for every 4-year-old in the city. He is now planning to go further, creating thousands of seats for 3-year-olds in what he is calling “3-K.” But while the prekindergarten initiative has been popular among parents, it has caused problems for the previously existing system that provides free or subsidized child care and early education to low-income families.
Home-based child care providers have lost income and stand to lose more as 3-K is rolled out. So-called EarlyLearn centers, which serve infants to 5-year-olds — and, unlike prekindergarten classes in public schools, are open 10 hours a day and do not close for school vacations — are struggling to retain teachers, because teachers in public schools can make as much as $30,000 more per year. Many centers have had to close classrooms because they cannot find teachers to oversee them.
Directors of these programs have begged the city to address the salary disparity, which they say has drawn experienced teachers away from classrooms serving low-income children — who need those teachers the most — to classrooms serving higher-income children.
“The narrative out of City Hall is that the signature initiative is early childhood education, and how that has helped low-income families,” said David Nocenti, the executive director of Union Settlement, which serves roughly 350 children in centers in East Harlem. “The reality is quite different.”
Fixing Special Education
About 200,000 New York City public school children are identified as having a disability, which can range from mild learning differences to severe challenges.
Spending on special education has increased under the de Blasio administration, while results for these students remain poor. The graduation rate among students with disabilities last year was just 46.7 percent, and the enormous system that serves them is riddled with problems. According to an annual report that the Education Department makes to the City Council, 48,000 students during the last school year received only some of the services they needed, or none at all.
Highlighting an additional area of vast shortcomings, the city’s public advocate, Letitia James, found that in the 2015-16 school year nearly half of the 9,000 issued vouchers, which allow students to receive services their schools cannot provide, went unused, in part because there were too few therapists in certain parts of the city. The Special Education Student Information System, the electronic platform that tracks student needs and services, is also riddled with problems that, for example, lead it to provide incomplete information about whether students are receiving the services they need.
Getting Along with Charters
Mr. de Blasio ran for office criticizing charter schools and promising to halt the practice of giving them space in public school buildings, but he soon got a lesson in the danger of going head-to-head with their wealthy supporters. In 2014, the year that Mr. de Blasio took office, a pro-charter group spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other organization in the state, much of it on advertisements attacking him.
Since then his administration has at times struggled to navigate its relationship with the city’s 227 charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated and serve roughly 10 percent of the city’s public school students. Perhaps the biggest challenge in the coming years will be finding space for new or expanding charter schools. Under legislation passed in 2014, the city must provide space for these schools or be responsible for at least part of their rent. But nearly every decision to place a charter school inside a school building is controversial, requiring other schools to squeeze into less space.
Ms. Fariña has at times been disparaging of charters, and charter leaders are hoping that Mr. Carranza’s arrival will be an opportunity for a reset. James Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, said he hoped Mr. Carranza would embrace charter schools as partners. He suggested that Mr. Carranza could ask charter leaders to start schools specifically aimed at serving homeless students, for instance, or, with a change in state law, ask a high-performing charter to take over an elementary school zone and enroll all students in the zone rather than admit students through a lottery.
“If he’s willing to meet the sector at that level and see us as full partners, he’ll find people on the other side, and together with philanthropy, we could do some interesting things,” Mr. Merriman said.
Continue reading the main story