Home > Uncategorized > The Rubber is Hitting the Road for NYC Mayoral Candidates as they Weigh in on Testing Reforms, Desegregation Plans

The Rubber is Hitting the Road for NYC Mayoral Candidates as they Weigh in on Testing Reforms, Desegregation Plans

January 30, 2021

Eliza Shapiro’s recent NYTimes article describes the NYC mayoral candidates “positions” on testing reforms and it’s ugly result— desegregation. I put the word “positions” in quotes because, as Ms. Shapiro notes in her article, several of the candidates have taken no real position on the issue at all, instead falling back on anodyne platitudes or sidestepping the issue altogether. As the concluding paragraphs of her article indicates, there is a very good reason for this reluctance to stake out a position:

….Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, …expects the candidates to remain vague to avoid offending voters.

“A lot of liberals like integration in theory, as long as it doesn’t touch their children at all,” she said. “For a lot of politicians, integration is a no-win.

Integration is a “no win” first and foremost because the “winners” in the current system of sifting out winners and losers— affluent white parents and Asian parents from all socio-economic levels—  want to preserve the status quo for fear that a change might put their higher status based on test-taking skills and parental persistence and wherewithal put their children at a decided advantage. Whenever an educational leader of politician advocates a change to the status quo these influential parents squawk and the proposed change is sidelined.

It’s also a “no win” because the solutions all cost money— directly or indirectly. The notion of increasing the number of gifted programs so that EVERY school can offer one would add to the budget and– presumably– diminish the value of the “gifted” tag parents value… a tag that increases their child’s ability to secure a seat in a competitive college.

The indirect cost would be the impact on real estate premiums. Parents who own homes in neighborhoods where their children are zoned into “high performing” schools— which are predominantly white or Asian— would see their homes lose value if children were assigned to schools randomly instead of by neighborhood. What’s the point in moving into a neighborhood whose school is “high performing” if that school is no longer exclusively housing children from the nearby high-priced homes or if the schools accepts children from a nearby housing project or homeless shelter?

And should the Democrats running for mayor stray too far afield in trying to address resegregation, it is likely a “moderate” Republican will enter the fray and prevail by offering some kind of platitudinous solution that won’t increase taxes and will effectively maintain the status quo. That Republican candidate might wrap their “integration” plan into the language of “choice” and “merit”.

And here’s the bad news for candidates: the issue is NOT going to go away!

An influential activist movement led by city students is accelerating pressure on the candidates to make clear how integration would fit into their plans to reshape New York’s public school system, the nation’s largest. And a national reckoning over racism has forced the candidates to square the city’s self-image as a progressive bastion with its unequal school system.

So… what IS the solution? I think the complete elimination of any testing for “gifted and talented” students would be an essential first step accompanied by an expansion of the community schools initiative Mayor de Blasio launched. In place of any gifted and talented programs at the PreK-8 level I would provide robust enrichment programs in and after school and open to all children. For the time being, I would avoid any spat over the eight “elite” schools whose existence and entrance are governed by the State. Instead, I would focus on spending more on all high schools and offering something akin to the Flexible Pathways program offered to good effect in Vermont. This work-study program offers a means for students to get academic credit for jobs they get in their communities, which has the effect of linking schools with the workplaces in their communities while dignifying the work done by those who lack a college degree. A program of that kind sends many messages to students: there are many jobs that do not require a college degree that pay well; you don’t need a college degree to have dignity; and not everything that schools promote as “important” are important in the workplace; and workplace skills are best taught in the real world workplace.

This outline is not perfect… but it is a preferable place to start than the status quo. Here’s hoping some unorthodox candidate like Andrew Yang is working now on some unorthodox solution that will move the school segregation debate away from test-driven “giftedness” as the only way forward.

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