I have a confession to make: I’ve always been confused by New York City calling itself “progressive” when it comes to education.
To me, progressive means moving forward, implementing new, bold, downright radical ideas, bucking the status quo and breaking down old – especially failed – systems.
Yet when it comes to educational policy, NYC opts for the exact opposite approach. Instead of piloting new schooling methods, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Department of Education, headed by Richard Carranza, insist that they don’t need any new ideas. What they have now is fine, and if it’s not working for all students, well, then, either the data is wrong, the data’s interpretation is wrong, or the definition of what “working” means is wrong. Who are parents going to believe, the experts they elected to take care of this for them, or their own eyes?
It is because of the above that I wasn’t particularly surprised by brightbeam-Education Post’s January 20, 2020 report, The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity For All.
New York is one of the cities called out as part of the indictment: When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students, we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.
That… does sound like NYC, alright.
According to the report, in NYC, there is 39-point achievement gap between black and white students and a 49-point achievement gap between Latino and white students in math, and a 33-point achievement gap between black and white students and a 31-point achievement gap between Latino and white students in reading.
The obvious culprit, poverty, doesn’t explain these discrepancies, as the report asserts:
In cities with higher percentages of middle- to upper-income black families, you might expect to see narrower gaps between white and black students… (W)e found that the gaps between lower-income black and white students were often about the same as the gaps between upper-income white and black students…
In the case of math proficiency, however, in three progressive cities (Ed. Note: This data was not available in NYC), the gaps between middle-to upper-income black and white students is actually larger than it is between lower-income white and black students.
In other words, despite the familiar talking point that poverty is the primary obstacle to educational opportunity, these particular progressive cities actually do a better job of helping low-income black students close the gap with their white counterparts in math than they do with higher-income black students.
One city where more data was publicly available (NYC does not make gathering statistics easy for those writing about it) proved to be San Francisco.
The city where Chancellor Carranza served a four-year term, followed by cutting short a contracted three year stint in Houston to decamp for NYC in 2018.
Chancellor Carranza is very proud of his San Francisco stint. He is very proud of having gotten rid of Algebra in 8th grade, in the name of equality.
Carranza left San Francisco in 2016. And yet, according to brightbeam’s report, which calculated achievement gaps from publicly reported state assessments for the 2017-18 school year,
70% of white students are proficient in math (based on the state’s and district’s own standards), yet only 12% of black students are hitting that proficiency mark in math. That’s a 58-point gap.
In NYC, Carranza has gone along with already existing initiatives like Computer Science For All (despite not exactly understanding what it entails), and Mayor de Blasio backed initiatives like Algebra For All (which directly contradicts what Carranza was so proud of accomplishing in SF).
But Carranza’s own efforts have been focused less on raising academic standards and more on teacher diversity training, along with sitting low-performing students next to high-performing ones. Or, at least, in the same building.
And all this without any academic support to help narrow the gap.
As one mom raged at a Community Education forum:
“They don’t know what to do with the low-scoring kids who got into these ‘great’ schools, and now they have no support. Do you know how they’re supporting my daughter? They’re not returning my calls. They have no plan!”
That doesn’t sound very progressive to me.
And, if it is, in fact, progressive… it doesn’t appear to be working.
As summarized by brightbeam’s CEO Christ Stewart:
Wealthy and progressive cities have so much potential for truly tackling the immoral and unacceptable problem of racial and economic gaps in educational outcomes. To get there we first need communities and their political leaders to acknowledge that they have a problem, and from there we need the political class of all these cities to commit themselves to a meaningful plan that is co-created with the communities they serve and monitored year over year for progress toward the goal of closing gaps.
Except, as the mom said above, I’m afraid NYC “has no plan.”
Perhaps this is the time to make one.
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