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An NYC Schools Admissions Plan So Crazy It Just Might Work – For Everyone

On October 29, Brooklyn City Council member Brad Lander reached out to his New York city colleagues:

I am writing to request your support for Reso 1397 which would prohibit the use of screens for admission into community school district middle schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

To counter, I shared my May 2019 post, It’s the Hypocrisy, Stupid: NYC School Choice For… Some, where I observed that those who demand an end to screened middle and high schools, including Councilman Lander, Mayor Bill De Blasio, Chancellor Richard Carranza, then-Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, movie star Matt Damon, and others, for some reason, only do so after their own children have been accepted to screened middle and high school. Weird coincidence, huh?

In response, I received a handful of tweets and emails from anti-screening parents and politicians with children attending screened schools who defended:

Others assured me that they specifically sent their children to screened schools so that they could dismantle the system from the inside. They weren’t hypocrites, they were a stealthy fifth column. They were La Resistance! The Maquis! General DeGaulle!

It is a shame, they conceded, that the fruits of their labors — all schools unscreened — wouldn’t come to pass until after their children graduated, but, alas, they couldn’t figure out any way around that. Such are the sacrifices glorious revolutionaries must make for their cause.

You know me. I’m always eager to help! 

I’ve got a plan to make both sides of the debate happy!

Advocates of unscreened schools believe unscreened schools are better for students. Advocates of screened schools believe screened schools are better for students. 

When I work with parents on selecting the best academic fit for their children, I tell them, “Let me know what you believe, and I’ll send you a study to confirm it.”

Yes, that’s how definitive the data is. You can make it tell you anything you want.

To whit:

Students benefit from working on a skill or learning target in small groups with others who are at different ability levels in that skill, likely through developing a growth mindset around the target skill and through gaining a better understanding of their own strengths…  Mixed-ability groups benefit all students.

Also:

If committed educators could be easily trained to implement a low-cost intervention that boasted consistent learning gains for all students, headlines would herald the discovery of the educational holy grail. That low-cost intervention is here and readily available. It’s called ability grouping. Unfortunately, despite overwhelming evidence that the flexible and appropriate use of this intervention benefits learners at all levels, some have opted to smear it as an evil twin of tracking and to lament its resurgence in the nation’s classrooms. Flexible ability grouping, when used appropriately, works.

What if –bear with me, this is an extremely complicated concept — families who believed that unscreened schools were optimal were allowed to enroll their children into the pedagogical method they prefer, while families who believed that screened schools were optimal were allowed to enroll their children into the pedagogical method they prefer?

It’s crazy, I know. Since all children are exactly the same, develop on the exact same timeline, come from the exact same home situation, and have exactly the same interests, the only way to make education fair and equitable is to give every student the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Currently, the Unscreen Our Schools crowd wants all families to educate their children the way that they did. (Well, not the way they educated their actual children, but the way they think you should educate yours. You know what we mean.)

Those who believe education is better in unscreened schools should absolutely be able to send their children to unscreened schools. No one is arguing that point. 

So why are they arguing the point that those who believe education is better in screened schools shouldn’t be able to have their children educated as they see fit?

Is it because the Unscreen All Schools supporters believe that education at screened schools like Beacon (where De Blasio’s daughter went), Bard (where Lander’s kids go), or ICE (where Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack sent his son after proudly unscreening the middle schools in his Brooklyn District) is somehow superior? But how can that be if the same coalition is telling us, over and over again, that all kids are better served by mixed ability grouping?

Wait! I know! Since it can’t be because of the student screening process (the notion that high-achieving kids make high-achieving schools, not the other way around), the above institutions must be better because they have better teachers, better administrators, and better facilities! (I am long on the record that some schools getting a new gym while others have to beat back roaches from the auditorium is disgusting and shameful. But that’s on the Department of Ed.)

So how about this? What if we make the currently screened schools unscreened, and turn some of the currently unscreened into screened schools?

That way, unscreening advocates can achieve their goal of saying they got a different set of students into “top” schools, and families who prefer ability grouping can still retain that option.

But what about their actual education, I can hear some of you asking. Will any of the proposed changes make it so that we no longer have more than 50% of NYC high-school students graduating not college-ready?

What a silly question! When has this discussion ever been about educating kids and/or getting them ready to function in the real world?

It’s always been about sleight of hand optics.

It’s always been about hiding just how horribly NYC is failing the neediest students.

It’s always been about bragging rights, posturing for the cameras as you run for your next office, and the power trip of forcing other people to do what you declined to.

Nobody cares that, after Manhattan’s District 3 set aside seats for low-achieving students at their highest-achieving schools, a mother raged, “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!”

The only thing anybody cares about is getting their way. Then gloating that they got their way.

So, here you go, folks! The Unscreen Our Schools advocates get their way – Beacon, Bard, Millennium, Lab, Townsend Harris, they’re all yours; and the Screen Our Schools advocates get their way. (Since mixed ability grouping is superior to ability grouping, they are obviously going to come out the losers in this scenario, which will teach them a valuable lesson.)

It’s a win-win! 

TL;DR: Those who want unscreened schools should get unscreened schools, those who want screened schools should get screened schools. Anything else is just one group forcibly imposing their will on another.

Ed. Note: As of press time, the Department of Education has not let parents know if there will be Gifted and Talented programs or Screened Schools for September 2021, or how admissions to those schools would be determined. A list of upcoming workshops released on November 11 was cancelled within hours as the DOE admitted they hadn’t figured anything out yet.

What do you think?

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