New York public schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña had charter school leaders seeing red a couple of weeks ago, after her remarks suggesting those schools excel by pushing out children with special needs and low test scores and by targeting high-achieving students for recruitment.
As Chalkbeat reported, Fariña said, “There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test” and “that the kids that are accepted in are not just kids who get postcards because they’re level 3s or 4s to come to the school.”
Careful What You Say
An accusation of this magnitude should be supported by data, logic and a good dose of sobriety.
Worth a Conversation
But, let’s not be hasty. Just because Fariña seems short on facts, rationale, reason and honesty shouldn’t stop us from considering her point.
I say that for two reasons:
- My guess is that school pushouts are a trackable phenomenon in American public education. Compassionate people should want to know whether or not schools are tracking the neediest students and casting them away.
- We shouldn’t pretend charter schools invented the practice of student pushouts. As a former urban school board member I can tell you that I saw traditional district schools use various pushout practices to get students out of regular classrooms—especially in the toniest of public schools—to keep overall test scores up.
Looking to the Expert
Reading the 1999 New York Times profile of Fariña, which was widely re-circulated after her appointment as Chancellor last year, reveals her connection to the practice of using student antiselection—or “cherry-picking”—as a means for school improvement.
As principal for Public School 6 in Upper Manhattan, Fariña is credited with transforming a school “known for serving the children of janitors and doormen” to a school “competitive with the city’s top private schools and attractive to those who can afford them.”
How did she do it?
The article calls it “Darwinian selection” and compares her admission process to that of Ivy League institutions.
Last year, about 200 children applied to P.S. 6, going through an interview intended to detect a certain spark, and about 1 in 7 made it, Fariña said.
At Harvard, the ratio is 1 in 8. For the winners, admission means a free, top-flight education; for the losers, it often means paying $15,000 or more in private school tuition.
One parent remarked of Fariña’s leadership: “Her attitude was, ‘Well, look-it, if you don’t like it, there are many other wonderful schools.’”
If any public school is pushing kids out in the name of test scores, that should be addressed and stopped. But here we have Chancellor Fariña—whose success is built on being the “principal everybody loves to fear” and using an interview process to select only children with “a certain spark” to attend her school—standing on baseless allegations in judgement of the success and accessibility of charter schools, which—by law—do not have access to the student-achievement data of potential students and enroll students only through a random lottery.
Pot, meet kettle.