Let No Student Get Ahead

New York City schools may have a problem. Or they are what parents and students in New York City have made of them. This doesn’t mean there aren’t significant exceptions, but in trying to identify whether a problem exists that it needs fixing, or whether a fix will accomplish something beneficial, it’s valuable to remember that the existence of exceptions doesn’t negate the reality of the majority of students. We have a tendency to obsess over the outliers at the expense of the many these days. You may have noticed that.

The School Diversity Advisory Group formed by Mayor Bill de Blasio found a problem, that black and “Latinx” children were underrepresented in the City’s gifted schools.

Today they have become proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together. Most “screened schools”and “Gifted and Talented” admissions
processes are in tension with meeting the goals in Making the Grade, including and importantly, the goal of effective educational innovation that takes advantage of existing research. These schools and programs often fail to serve disadvantaged students and Black and Latinx students and have often failed to take advantage of some of the research and innovations that have developed since their inception.

It’s undeniably correct that the admissions processes for gifted schools are in tension with the goal of diversity, with “tension” doing a lot of work here. Gifted programs are mostly white and Asian, and other students are underrepresented if one believes that proportional representation would invariably happen but for a problem. That’s the detail that’s glossed over, taken for granted, begged in assuming that but for a problem, this disparate representation would not occur.

Consequently, the commission arrived at a solution: eliminate gifted schools and screened programs to create something of far greater benefit to “gifted” students: diverse schools.

As a fan, I find value in the notion that diversity is a worthy goal. But that’s not the question presented. Diversity comes on top of a rigorous education. Diversity is neither the equal of, nor superior to, a rigorous education. The most diverse classroom in the city that doesn’t teach physics is not going to produce students with competence in physics. As obvious as this seems, it eludes the New York Times.

New York’s public schools are among the most racially segregated in the country.

That’s partly a result of decades of policies that have allowed parents of well-off white and many Asian students to steer their children to the most sought-after public schools, while largely consigning the Hispanic and black children, who make up an overwhelming majority of students, to underperforming schools.

To say “partly” is facile at best and disingenuous at worst. But the Times doubles down by characterizing the problem as “parents of well-off white and many Asian students” steering their children to the best schools. Is imparting an appreciation of education “steering”? Is getting their children to go to school every day, show up on time, study, work hard, “steering”?

Even if it was, and it’s not, what prevents the parents of black and Hispanic students from steering their children to the same schools? What makes the schools they go to now “underperforming”? Is there some invisible hand the prevents them from “steering”?

The report also called on the city to end the use of admissions screening criteria for middle schools and high schools in cases where they have been shown to disadvantage minorities, those with learning disabilities, students for whom English is a second language or students living in homeless shelters. About a quarter of the city’s middle and high schools consider grades, attendance and other criteria to admit students.

The Times carves out three groups of students who have separate, special needs, but lumps them together with the “disadvantaged minorities.” Special needs are special, and should be addressed, but they neither reflect the majority nor the problem at hand. Why do admissions screening criteria, “grades, attendance and other,” disadvantage minorities?

The commission outlined specific practices selective high schools use for admission that disadvantage black and Hispanic students, like attendance and lateness. Three-quarters of black and Hispanic students miss more than five days of school per year, according to the report, one measure used by some schools. That’s a snapshot of the grinding, generational poverty they face. Last year, one in 10 students lived in temporary housing, immersed in the trauma of homelessness.

Whether “grinding, generational poverty” afflicts all black and Hispanic students is one question. Why poverty makes students unable to show up for school every day, or show up on time, is another. Clearly, the 10% of students living in temporary housing doesn’t explain the 75% of students who miss more than five days of school.

But if one assumes away all the real problems because they’re hard to address, they’re “in tension” with ideology that precludes ascertaining the real reason why black and Hispanic students aren’t qualifying for admission to the better schools, the gifted programs, and comes up with the easier, more politically correct solutions, then one can create the appearance of diversity while helping no one.

[E]xtensive evidence in this report suggests the existing use of screens and Gifted and Talented programs is unfair, unjust and not necessarily research-based. As a result, these programs segregate students by race, class, abilities and language and perpetuate stereotypes about student potential and achievement.

There are two fundamental approaches that could have been taken to address the lack of diversity in gifted schools. One is to improve the education of black and Hispanic students, their appreciation of education, their language abilities (both Spanish and AAVE), their attendance, so that those who had the potential could gain admission into schools where they would be challenged and provided a rigorous education.

The other way is to eliminate the rigorous education, the gifted schools, the “use of screens” that prevented unqualified students from being admitted while “well-off” white and Asian parents “steered” their children to a better future.

The best way to keep students in the system is to improve all the city’s schools. But the pursuit of that goal is no substitute for addressing inequality right now.

Diversity and inclusion do not compel mediocrity. It’s a choice. Whether it’s “inequality” remains unclear because no one cares to dig into the real reasons for it, but what is clear is that “fixing” the manifestations of problems at the expense of the ultimate goal of education means that instead of lifting up underperforming students, they are holding down the overperforming students.

Perhaps this will accomplish greater diversity, but the price will be the rigorous education of the gifted. This doesn’t help the black and Hispanic students who can’t gain admission, but harms the students who can. Was that what the Times was shooting for?

36 thoughts on “Let No Student Get Ahead

  1. Dan

    “these programs segregate students by race, class, abilities and language”

    It’s buried here, but at least they’re honest enough to state the real issue–they don’t want students segregated by ability. They believe “equality” means equality of outcome, not of opportunity.

    1. SHG Post author

      I remember when I was in school and some students complained about how being left out of advanced classes made them feel like “second class” students. The principal would tell them, “so work harder and earn your way into the classes. It’s entirely up to you.” And some seized the opportunity while others did not. That’s life.

      1. B. McLeod

        The painful reality is that, by the time students get to middle school, they have either learned their basic reading, writing and math skills, or they aren’t going to learn those skills in the public schools. If the schools leave the semi-literate and the problem learners in with those who have learned their basic skills, it slows down the entire class. The teachers have to spend 80% of their time on the hopeless cause of the students who didn’t learn their 1st through 3rd grade skills when they were in the 1st through 3rd grades. It is painful for everyone.

        I can still recall one of my slower classmates trying to stumble her way through a passage from MacBeth (as the practice at the time was to require students in literature class to read aloud in front of the whole class). She would have been hard put to make it through a page of Billy and Sue and Spot, and her assault on Elizabethan English was absolutely cringe-worthy. It humiliated her, and was an awful experience for the entire rest of the class as well, and it didn’t help anybody. As I see it, making a separation where the school calls the competent students “gifted” is nicer than making the same separation and calling the poorly skilled students “dummies,” and the separation needs to be made so that the competent students can progress.

  2. wilbur

    Public schools no longer exist to educate children. They exist to provide jobs for the teachers and the non-classroom staff, and secondarily, to indoctrinate children and carry out the Left’s aspirational goals.

    “Diversity” is one of the best tools in their box. It’s how they avoid very uncomfortable truths.

    1. SHG Post author

      Maybe a little too cynical? Granted, the education industry has become fairly self-absorbed, but as long as teachers are taken care of first, they care about the students (at least the ones they don’t hate) to the extent it doesn’t inconvenience them.

      1. Rxc

        Not too cynical at all. The Times is calling for a great experiment in social Lysenkoism, and all of the students are going to suffer from it.

      2. Derek Ramsey

        “Maybe a little too cynical?”

        Perhaps you are just a little too naive?

        Last year the NYT published “Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math:
        Rich, White and Suburban Districts.” The article found that girls significantly outperform boys in almost every area. It suggested that the gender achievement gap (i.e. girls failing to outperform boys in everything) is caused by remnants of traditional family structures and stereotypical activities in rich, white families. Regarding the boys, the article notes:

        “Perhaps boys’ reading skills mature later.”

        Perhaps, the article notes, but how can we boost girls’ math achievement?

        I have two school-aged girls and three school-aged boys in public school with range of IQ from significantly below average up to gifted. Our own anecdotal experiences match wilbur’s claims and the bias of the NYT’s dream for childhood education.

          1. SHG Post author

            I’m still trying to figure out what Derek’s comment has to do with anything. Just seemed like a bizarre non sequitur to me. Did you see something I didn’t?

            1. Derek Ramsey

              Huh. I thought I was supporting the dual claims that “Public schools no longer exist to educate children” and that the NYT is shooting for “greater diversity, but the price will be the rigorous education of the gifted” by using gender diversity as an additional data point.

  3. B. McLeod

    They also need to stop selecting players for the schools’ sports teams based on ability. Every student, regardless of athletic prowess, deserves an equal right to play on every school team. Further, irrespective of leadership abilities, they should all have an equal shot at serving as team captain. No more attendance rules either. It isn’t fair to the students who live in “grinding poverty” to penalize them if they don’t come to practices (or even the actual games). The teams may never win a game, or even actually manage to play a game, but achieving “diversity” and “justice” are far more important than all that stuff.

    1. rxc

      I wonder whether they are going to require that all of the sports teams “look like the city demographics”, as well – short Italians playing basketball, including representation as the center, and on football teams with proportional representation at every position, and for the same amount of time, in every game. Girls included in the mix, with boys wrestling girls, as well. Will girls be required to play center in football, with the quarterback taking the snap between her legs? The requirement for equal representation in the arts will drive the artsy set crazy. This may be very interesting to watch.

  4. DaveL

    So, the screening exams must be eliminated because they keep learning-disabled students, who lack the required ability, out of the Gifted program…

    What exactly was it they were hoping the exams would accomplish in the first place?

    1. B. McLeod

      In the old days, schools used to “fail” students. If a student in the 3rd grade didn’t learn to read at a 3rd grade level, he or she had to stay in the 3rd grade until that issue was addressed. Long about 1960, some cadre of educational gurus decided that was too mean and socially traumatic for kids, so schools stopped doing it. Now, we need “gifted” programs so competent students won’t be held back by the students who were passed on without ever learning to read. But, now the NYT sees that the “gifted” programs are too non-diverse, and inequitable. Every new solution hatched by the experts brings its own new problems.

      1. SHG Post author

        Some kids got “held back,” and redid 3d grade, while others “skipped” a grade if they were way ahead of their peers. It was an imperfect solution in both directions, as the kids held back tended to having learning disabilities, which weren’t understood at the time, so they didn’t do any better the second time around, and the kids who skipped a grade were too young and physically immature to be accepted by their new classmates, and were often ostracized for it.

        1. Fubar

          … and the kids who skipped a grade were too young and physically immature to be accepted by their new classmates, and were often ostracized for it.

          Thomas Stearns Eliot, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sandra Day O’Connor might have held a differing opinion about the relative value of skipping grades. Each of them skipped at least one grade in elementary or high school.

            1. Fubar

              Ahem. Relative value. Not absence of value.

              And, I assumed that you were not expressing a personal opinion, but indirectly quoting the reasons set forth by educrats responsible for putting the kibosh on grade skipping in recent years.

              I have no idea whether you oppose or support grade skipping.

  5. Fubar

    Diversity and inclusion do not compel mediocrity. It’s a choice. Whether it’s “inequality” remains unclear because no one cares to dig into the real reasons for it, but what is clear is that “fixing” the manifestations of problems at the expense of the ultimate goal of education means that instead of lifting up underperforming students, they are holding down the overperforming students.

    Strict diversity cannot instill,
    Greater talent. It’s just fake goodwill.
    That fact is made so
    By its ill-chosen foe:
    The relentless statistics of skill!

  6. Matthew Scott Wideman

    When I was in high school. All the kids would say…..”I’m either going to get rich or die trying” My favorite teacher would say…..”if you don’t show up and work at school….. You most certainly will die trying”.

    Wisdom for the ages.

    1. SHG Post author

      Do children gain an appreciation of education from their teacher, the govt or their parents? If the parents don’t instill the value of education, they won’t be in class to learn teach such wisdom.

      1. B. McLeod

        In time, they gain it from seeing the plight of their friends and fellows who are semi-literate. Of course, by then, it’s late in the game if they haven’t been cracking the books themselves. My personal appreciation of education arose around 6th grade, and came from seeing how badly screwed the slow kids were going to be when they had to function in the world. Until that point, my participation was mostly a response to “do as I say” directives from my parents and teachers.

        1. Skink

          I’ve been away. Whenever the Swamp gets threatened by a big swirly thing, lawyers become goofy, screeching things (“The world is ending!”). Since I work the whole Swamp, top to bottom, I have to deal with a bunch of dopey, screeching stuff from lawyers. I apologize.

          Bruce, I’ve read your latest stuff. Please tell me someone stole your I.D. and credit card to check into the Hotel. We can cutoff access to room service and starve them out.

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