Duncan Argued Against Maryland’s Starr For NYC Schools Chancellor

Top U.S. education officials convinced New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his team to avoid selecting Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr as the city’s next schools chancellor, according to several people familiar with the selection process.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and at least one other Education Department official did not want Starr as the next schools chancellor because of Starr’s vocal criticism of some of the Obama administration’s school reform policies, writes Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post.

Starr has led Montgomery County schools since July 2011. He was selected as a finalist in de Blasio’s two-month search for a superintendent to lead the nation’s largest school system.

People familiar with the search said Starr might have been offered the job had Carmen Farina, a 70-year-old veteran educator and longtime adviser, not come out of retirement for it. Starr was offered the No. 2 spot in the department, with the understanding that he would become chancellor within a few years, but he declined it, according to several people familiar with details of the search who spoke anonymously because of its political sensitivity.

De Blasio opposed some of the school reform policies pursued under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), pledging to reverse some of those policies in his campaign. Starr’s consideration for the chancellor job was made because his views on school reform align closely with De Blasio’s.

Starr has experience in New York City schools. He stated his career as a special education teacher and also served as the city’s director of school performance and accountability.

Starr, along with some high-profile educators, has criticized the Obama administration’s signature education program, Race to the Top. The program is designed to allow states and districts to win funding by enacting Duncan-approved school reforms, including the expansion of charter schools and the evaluation of teachers by using student standardized test scores to determine a teacher’s “value” in the classroom.

Starr became nationally famous last year when he made a call for a three year moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing, a main component of Duncan’s school reform policies.

According to Starr, the U.S. should “stop the insanity” of evaluating teachers based on student test scores. He called it a flawed method.

Duncan spoke negatively about Starr to de Blasio in a discussion about a number of candidates, people familiar with the discussions said. Duncan spokesman Massie Ritsch, asked about Duncan’s conversations about the chancellorship and his objections to Starr, said he “declined to comment on private conversations between the mayor and secretary.”

Ritsch said in a statement that Duncan is looking forward to working with Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Farina and their team.

It is still not clear whether Duncan’s views had any effect on the result of de Blasio’s search. However, it is unusual for Duncan to get involved in the selection process of a district school superintendent.

Starr was one of three candidates for the New York job, which is considered one of the premier education posts in the nation.