New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza brushed off criticism from a group of local lawmakers, calling it “a distraction,” as he stuck to his talking points on how to change the culture and practices in the city’s public school system.

Nine city council members signed the letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio last week that outlined the ways they were troubled by his “divisive” public statements as well as a recent lawsuit alleging discrimination by former Department of Education employees.

“Chancellor Carranza should cease the contentious rhetoric and spend more of his time on providing solutions for schools on the ground level,” the letter said.

But speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show on Monday, Carranza said it’s the system that’s divisive, not his rhetoric.

“It’s always kind of rich when there are inequities happening in the system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes ‘divisive,’ he said. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system.”

Carranza has not shied away from expressing his views about integration, at times rattling some parents with his words and tweets.

His support for eliminating the SHSAT has also generated ire, particularly among some members of the city’s Asian community.

City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr. came to Carranza’s defense on Monday.

“I firmly stand behind Chancellor Carranza, and support his agenda to create a more equitable and just education system,” he said in a statement. “We must consider that for too long, not enough has been done to address the inequalities and inequities in many systems, and that our educational system needs dramatic reform to better serve New York City’s children.”

In the lawsuit, Department of Education employees accuse the chancellor of attributing the systemic problems facing the school system to individual leaders within the agency.

Three administrators -- all white women -- allege that they were improperly demoted and replaced with less qualified people of color. The suit accuses Carranza of “targeting and stripping Caucasian employees, particularly women, from the ranks of DOE senior management on the basis of their race and gender.”

De Blasio has called the allegations “outrageous” and the DOE issued this statement: “We hire the right people to get the job done for kids and families, and these claims of 'reverse racism' have no basis in fact. We'll continue to foster a supportive environment for all our employees.”

And at a news conference last week announcing the department’s new diversity goals, Carranza said he was being targeted because of his race and background.

“When have other chancellors who are not Latino, not English language learners, been challenged on their hires?” he asked. “There are forces in this city that want me to be the good minority and be quiet … I will not be silent.”

To that end, on the Brian Lehrer Show, the chancellor also discussed the education department’s effort to diversify students’ classes and coursework, saying the agency is submitting a common definition of what constitutes a “culturally responsive curriculum.”

That definition—where lessons “leverage the various aspects of students’ identities, including the rich cultural, racial, historical, linguistic characteristics of students”—will come before the Panel for Educational Policy for a vote on July 31.

“The work continues,” he said.

Jessica Gould is a reporter in the newsroom at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @ByJessicaGould.