Over the last few months, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has been trying to walk a fine line between several groups of public school stakeholders. On Wednesday, July 31, the Panel for Educational Policy, a group of mayoral appointees, voted to adopt a policy of “culturally responsive-sustaining education.” Ironically, the July 31st meeting was held in Chinatown where elements of the Asian community came together to voice displeasure over the stated intention of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to eliminate the standardized exam used to admit students to eight elite high schools in New York City.
Carranza has been seeking to undo the years of destruction wrought on our public schools by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his series of non-educator chancellors. Bloomberg and his chancellors, including Joel Klein, Kathy Black and Dennis Walcott, created an unresponsive byzantine bureaucracy that systematically miseducated our young, reduced the number of Black and Latinx teachers and administrators, revived a Eurocentric 3R’s curriculum (“reading, writing, arithmetic”) and criminalized students in accordance with zero tolerance policing (Stop and Frisk). It was during the Bloomberg administration that Mayoral Control of the Department of Education became the governance mechanism for New York City. Under Mayoral Control, the mayor was given sweeping dictatorial powers over the entire school system by politicians in Albany.
There is another major educational issue that is rarely discussed and one that the mayor and chancellor could help resolve without the blessings of the New York State Legislature. In a report issued marking the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision titled, “Harming Our Common Future: America’s Segregated Public Schools 65 Years After Brown,” published jointly by The Civil Rights Project and The Center For Education and Civil Rights, we find that New York State has the most segregated school system(s) in the entire nation. Over 65 percent of students of African ancestry in New York attend “intensely segregated minority schools.” It is important to remember that New York State’s segregation is driven mainly by New York City, with a little assistance from cities like Buffalo and Rochester and some help from extremely segregated school districts like Roosevelt and Wyandanch in Long Island.
“Harming Our Common Future” was published to show how most of the progress in achieving school integration has been reversed, and in many instances, we are worse off than we were in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education was decided. We think of New York City as this cosmopolitan bastion of liberal good will, but the reality is far different. New York’s public schools were more integrated 50 years ago! Our failing segregated school system is breeding poverty and ignorance that along with social and political dysfunction have the potential to impact New York City for generations. The stated desegregation strategy of the mayor and chancellor has been to focus on the plummeting numbers of Black and Latinx students in Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech. These schools, along with five others, use the Specialized High School Admissions Test as their only admission criterion. In late June, a bill designed to scrap the test and give seats in these schools to the top performers in each NYC middle school did not even reach the floor of the State Assembly for a vote.
The strategy of focusing on the SHSAT is disingenuous at best. The exam is controlled by the State Legislature and based upon the recent reaction, any changes to the test are a political football that elected officials will kick down the road. There are, however, over 190 middle and high schools that “screen” their students for admission. This “screening” process is so secretive that parents whose children have been denied admission to any of the screened schools usually can get no answers as to why their child was rejected. This process became clear to me earlier this year when I was contacted by several parents concerned about the fact that their gifted and talented children had not been accepted to any of the high schools they had applied for. Of course, the students in question were Black and Latinx. Many of these screened schools are high performing and some are more segregated than Stuyvesant, Science, and Brooklyn Tech.