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True Equality Means Everyone Is Equally Unhappy

New York City public middle school placement decisions were distributed to students just before Spring Break 2019.

For months leading up to the big day, parents had been hearing about how this would be the season of true equality in school admissions. But did that, in fact, happen?

The headlines trumpeted:

Two NYC districts embarked on middle school integration plans. Early results show they may be making a difference. (Chalkbeat)

NYC Middle School Integration Plan On Target. (Daily News)

Some High-Performing NYC Middle-Schools Make Diversity Gains. (Wall Street Journal)

At least the Patch qualified: UWS, Harlem School Diversity Plan May Be Working.

Because while the Daily News confidently proclaimed, “The city’s heavily hyped middle-school integration plan is leading to more diverse schools, according to figures released Monday,” Chalkbeat reported, “At J.H.S. 054 Booker T. Washington, 18 percent of students offered admission come from needy families and struggle in the classroom — an eight point increase over last year. The Computer School increased its offers to those students by just 2 percentage points, up to 20 percent, despite strong support from that school’s principal for integration efforts.”

When writing about the diversity initiative this past February, I noted:

Let’s take, as an example, District 3’s Computer School. Its principal, Henry Zymeck, has been a huge supporter of the new admissions plan from the start. Except, even before new students with failing test scores arrive in September 2019, The Computer School already has 33% of students not performing at grade level in math.

Since The Computer School is a screened middle school (currently 27 percent Free Lunch and 48 percent White, stats Mr. Zymeck could have tweaked without a District-wide moratorium but chose not to until the opportunity to virtue signal arose), we can assume either that these kids entered proficient at math and The Computer School lowered their scores, or they entered not proficient and graduated not proficient.

So, where was the value-add of sitting them next to high-achievers, again?

Plus, it explains why Mr. Zymeck is so publicly enthused about the change. It won’t actually alter his school (a recurring theme in diversity initiatives which the Department of Education really, really hopes you don’t notice). Heck, 25 percent non-proficient math students will actually be less than what he’s graduating now!

How then, with all of Mr. Zymeck’s enthusiasm and support, was The Computer School not able to meet the quotas he so vociferously championed (to the point of calling racist anyone who disagreed with him – a debate tactic Chancellor Carranza also enthusiastically adopts).

When I asked the above question on Twitter, I got the following replies:

In October of 2018, I wondered regarding Brooklyn District 15’s Diversity Initiative:

In theory, kids are supposed to be assigned to their first available choice school. But, now that you have quotas to fill, will that algorithm change?

Take, for instance, a student who qualifies for free lunch and ranks, as his first choice, the school closest to him, the one his siblings and his friends attend. The one he feels most comfortable at.

But this school has no trouble filling its 52 percent Free Lunch quota. Meanwhile, the school he ranked fifth because, despite the aggressive outreach, he doesn’t think it’s all that great, didn’t receive enough low-income applicants. Will this student be placed against his will in a school he doesn’t want to attend, because the city believes it knows what’s best for him? Or, at least, best for the stats it wants to see? Will this be another case where choice is just an illusion?

That did not appear to have happened on this go-around in either District 15 or 3. But what did happen is that a substantial amount of non-FRL students were assigned to schools they did not even rank on their application.

For instance, according to Chalkbeat: There were more dramatic swings at schools where most students have historically struggled, such as  West Prep Academy and Community Action school. Those saw offers to students with low test scores and report card grades drop by 24 points and 14 points, respectively.

So, I have another question: If non-FRL/high-achieving students were placed in schools against their will in order to meet diversity quotas, why weren’t FRL/low-achieving kids subjected to the same treatment? Will they be in the future?

The New York Times quotes supporters who consider it a triumph that, in San Francisco,79 percent of black parents, 79 percent of Filipino parents and 61 percent of Hispanic parents received their first-choice kindergarten for next fall, compared with 48 percent of white parents.

(Fun Fact: Liberal, progressive, we’ll-show-you-New-Yorkers-how-it’s-done-San-Francisco has the highest percentage of kids attending private school. Yes, even higher than NYC.)

Isn’t true equality when everyone is equally unhappy?

Shouldn’t everyone have to go to a school they don’t want? You know, for the greater good?

Even Carranza won’t commit that far.

Chalkbeat noted,When it comes to high schools that focus on particular themes such as the culinary arts, Councilmember Helen Rosenthal asked the chancellor whether it would be appropriate to ask why they’re interested in a school’s unique focus. Carranza said yes. He appeared to be trying to find a way to allow schools to gauge a students’ genuine interest in different academic or vocational concentrations.

(Fun fact #2: District 15’s New Voices School of Academic and Creative Arts can no longer audition students. Could LaGuardia and the other arts schools be far behind?)

Based on what I’ve been hearing, privately and on social media, since placement offers were announced, families assigned to schools they find unacceptable are exploring other options, including private and charter schools.

And, yes, despite what the Department of Education and NY Times reporters would like you to believe, you absolutely still have other options.

Which is why I find all of the triumphant headlines premature. Shouldn’t we wait until we find out how many students have actually enrolled in the schools they’ve been assigned to before we declare the diversity initiative a success?

What do you think?

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