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It’s Not a Plot, It’s Incompetence: Is the NYC Department of Ed Deliberately Undermining Some Schools?

Even before COVID-19 struck in earnest, the 2019-2020 school year seemed more riddled with screw ups than usual (and that’s saying something).

There were the traditional Parent Portal malfunctions when it came to applying kids to every grade level, from Universal Pre-K through High School

Mayor Bill De Blasio first refused to close schools in light of the looming pandemic. Some schools, nonetheless, asked families who’d travelled to COVID-affected areas to self-quarantine. When parents asked how COVID-related absences would be recorded (especially when it came to admissions to the next level of schooling), the Department of Education responded that absences wouldn’t count for admission… to schools where kids were already admitted. That was super-helpful.

Parents mutinied and, after much back and forth, the issue was finally clarified.

Then the Mayor closed the schools.

Remote learning was announced for all! Via Zoom! No, not via Zoom! Yes, via Zoom, again!

Even without clear guidelines from the DOE, some teachers went above and beyond to make sure remote learning worked for their students. Others listened to their union leadership and declined to offer any live instruction.

Calling educators out on the above, however, was deemed to be teacher-bashing. A Pulitzer Prize and her many years of writing about educational equity issues couldn’t protect NYC public school parent Nikole Hannah-Jones from that particular criticism when she wondered why it was taking the DOE so long to get their remote learning act together.

In the same vein, an angry reader chastised Pultizer Prize-less me: Why are you always writing negative things about the DOE? All of our educators are heroes right now.

(Is it equally as unacceptable if the unhappy parent criticizing hero educators is a hero educator, herself?)

As the academic year sputtered on, news broke of lost Gifted & Talented scores. And school waitlist numbers moving backwards instead of forwards.

Followed by different parents getting different information on when they had to accept or turn down their G&T placement offer. 

In response to all the chaos, a parent wrote:

Just like removing all the data about G&Ts from the DOE website, just like not having the handbook available online all year round, just like not doing the dedicated G&T informational forums the DOE used to do, isn’t it plain that this is intentional on the DOE’s part?

At best, they’re not establishing standards or giving the programs clear guidelines because they don’t give a crap about the G&Ts.

At worst, this is part and parcel of what I described in the first paragraph; they are purposefully neglecting the G&Ts so as to weaken them, create dissatisfaction and frustration on the part of the parents (so maybe the parents will just give up & walk away, or become outright hostile to the G&Ts), and thus bolster the anti-G&T case for how difficult it is to access these programs and thus they should be done away with. This is the self-fulfilling prophecy aspect, akin to the fact that they refuse to expand the G&Ts to diverse neighborhoods that are asking for them, and concentrate them disproportionately in D2, and then say “See! G&Ts aren’t diverse! Let’s ditch them.” Screwing up admissions is a part of the same effort.

We shouldn’t just complain about the G&T programs without recognizing that all the G&T screwups are plainly deliberate on the part of the DOE.

The above wasn’t the first parent to hear School Chancellor Richard Carranza declare to “never waste a good crisis” and interpret it to mean he would use COVID as an excuse to ram through every change he previously had been unable to make through democratic channels. The more he denied, the more parents were convinced: It’s a plot.

The conspiracy theories really picked up speed when the principals of G&T K-12 NEST+M and top Specialized High School, Stuyvesant, announced their resignations, followed, reportedly, by the principal of Beacon, an extremely popular screened high-school where the mayor sent his own daughter… before he decided that screens were racist and immoral.

A section of parents was convinced this was a Stalin-level purge to clear the way for getting rid of screened schools and the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), where a new bill to repeal the state law governing it has just been introduced.

It is not a plot, and it is not a purge.

Can those who, this past week, watched the Mayor and School Chancellor roll out a half-baked, detail deficient, unwieldy plan for reopening schools (that immediately prompted NY Governor Cuomo to remind that the final word is his, not theirs) say with a straight face that this is a pair clever and devious enough to deliberately sabotage their own system in the interest of overturning it?

Come on! If they could have, they wouldn’t have needed a pandemic to hide behind!

If the Department of Education were smart enough to concoct and enact this supervillain-quality scheme, wouldn’t they be smart enough to make it so 50% of all students weren’t performing below grade level? After all, those stats don’t exactly make them look good.

Wouldn’t they be smart enough to create a summer prep program that would help more minority students get into SHSAT schools, instead of just resorting to pathetically touting how many more minority students took the test?

Wouldn’t they be smart enough to educate all students equally so that ineffective summer prep and misleading equity set-asides would prove unnecessary?

When parents asked me if I thought that the unending screw-ups and the departing principals were part of a larger plot, I told them, no, it was the opposite.

I suspect that those principals and any other administrators and teachers exiting the system prior to September 2020 actually have no confidence in the recently unveiled reopening plans. These DOE veterans have seen what’s coming down the pike for all of us. And they want no part of it. (If the insufficient remote learning of the spring wasn’t enough of a preview, the allegedly new and improved summer school learning platform remains full of tech glitches.)

Call it self-preservation, call it rats deserting a sinking ship, call it prescience on those principals’ parts. But don’t call it a plot.

I only wish our leaders were this clever. Then I could have some faith in them. (An evil genius is still a genius, after all!)

What we’re all living through isn’t a plot. It’s incompetence. That our kids are paying for.

What do you think?

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