A few weeks ago rumors abounded that New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio would appoint the radical Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to be the city’s new chancellor of education.
But de Blasio has selected Carmen Farina, a former teacher and principal who backs some of the mayor-elect’s polices but seems a lot more moderate – and probably more reasonable – than Weingarten.
Farina, 70, once taught at Public School 29 in the city and was later principal at P.S. 6, a high-achieving school in Manhattan, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.
She later went on to serve on the District 15 school board in Brooklyn, then worked for a time as deputy to Joel Klein, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first school chancellor, before retiring in 2006.
It’s hard to say how school reformers should interpret her appointment.
On the one hand Farina has ties to Bloomberg through Klein. And she has a strong record of helping to create several smaller, well operated schools in District 15, a tactic favored by Bloomberg.
On the other hands she seems to oppose standardized testing, even though there’s no other way to separate truly good teachers from the struggling. She is also an advocate of universal pre-kindergarten classes, although research is not definitive on the benefits of those programs.
Farina’s position on expanded school choice – and letting charter schools continue to use unoccupied space in regular school buildings – is not clear. De Blasio sides with the unions, which oppose any sort of school choice or competition for students.
The incoming mayor has even threatened to make charter schools pay rent for space in public school buildings, even though charter schools are public schools.
It’s not known how far de Blasio and Farina will go to satisfy several municipal labor unions – including the United Federation of Teachers – that have been working with expired contracts for several years, due to Bloomberg’s insistence on pay freezes. Negotiating new contracts to the union’s liking could be incredibly expensive for the city.
Eva Moskowicz, one of the city’s top charter school operators who is hated by the unions and most other de Blasio supporters, seemed willing to take a wait-and-see approach to the new chancellor.
“I know Carmen well and she is an educator who cares,” Moskowicz said. “The question is will she protect and expand public charter school options for families who need and are demanding them?”
Only time will answer that question. For now, all we can say is she’s not Weingarten, and that’s definitely a good thing.