School Choice

Everything Wrong With NYC’s Latest School Diversity Plan

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released his latest school diversity plan on Tuesday, June 6, 2017, but refused to answer any questions about it until backed into a corner by reporters at another event on Thursday, June 8.

His Honor responded with a hodgepodge of generalities, including, “I wanted my children in diverse schools.” (For those playing along at home, his daughter attended Beacon High-School, which is over 50% White, while his son went to Brooklyn Tech, which is 61% Asian. NYC defines racially-representative schools as those that enroll between 50 percent and 90 percent black and Hispanic students.)

Instead, de Blasio let his school chancellor, Carmen Fariña, do the heavy lifting (and the hard-selling) with a first-person account about the upcoming initiatives in The Washington Post.

She began with a tale of how, as a new, non-English speaking immigrant in kindergarten, her teacher changed her hard-to-pronounce-last-name to something she was more comfortable with. But Fariña’s father quickly put a stop to that.

I too was once a new, non-English speaking immigrant, albeit in 2nd grade, whose name got changed because Americans had a hard time pronouncing it. My immigrant father didn’t do anything about it, because he had way more important issues to deal with.

There. I guess now Chancellor Fariña and I are both equally qualified to discuss NYC education.

So let’s dive into what the mayor is proposing.

First up is allowing Pre-K programs to give specific demographic groups priority in admission.

Here is the problem: Applying to PreK For All requires parents to list their top 12 choices in order of preference. Currently, parents are promised that they will be matched with their first available choice. But if integration moves to the top of the agenda, could a family be placed in a school they ranked lower down, but one the Department of Education believes would be “better for them” (i.e. the privilege of sitting next to white people), ahead of one they prefer, whether because it’s closer to home or because its majority demographic they actually feel more comfortable with?

And if all parents are deprived of choice and forced into accepting far-flung slots in the name of diversity, will the city provide transportation to help them traverse the necessary forty blocks or more? (The word “bussing” never quite rears its head, for obvious political reasons.)

Up next is an online application form for middle and high-school admissions. But that tool already exists for PreK and Kindergarten ranking and  made not an iota of difference in lower school diversity numbers. So why would it possibly affect change in later grades?

Finally, for 2019, the DOE plans to eliminate Limited Unscreened high schools, where students are required to attend an Open House in order to receive priority in admission. The argument was that families of limited means have a harder time travelling and finding the time to fulfil this requirement.

That’s debatable. (If it’s too hard for them to get there for an Open House, how could they possibly get there every day if admitted, so the school wouldn’t be a good fit in any case.)

But it’s also irrelevant. Because Limited Unscreened schools aren’t the ones that, according to the Mayor, have a diversity problem.

Those are the Specialized high schools, which are majority Asian (see: Brooklyn Tech), and the Screened high schools, which are majority White (see: Beacon). Admission to those schools remains status quo.

NYC’s sole response is to double down on last year’s initiative to offer last-minute test prep to select students in underserved communities. The same initiative that actually resulted in less kids of color receiving offers to Specialized High Schools in 2017.

Critics of the latest plan are unhappy at the use of the word Diversity over Integration, as well as what they see as baby steps that only address low-hanging fruit.

I’m unhappy because, of all the changes proposed, not a single one has ever been proven to work.

And also because, in all the talk about making education more equitable and accessible, there is not a single word about making it better.

What do you think?

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