GAPS AND THE AVOIDANCE OF GAPS: Mayor de Blasio has a plan!

MONDAY, JUNE 11, 2018

Part 1—It involves disappearing the gaps:
The New York Times is deeply invested in "desegregation."

The paper seems less interested in Gotham's giant achievement gaps, and in the hundreds of thousands of good, decent kids those gaps define and affect.

(With a few screwballs thrown in.)

When we've spoken about "desegregation" in recent weeks, we've been speaking about "desegregation" of the New York City Public Schools, the nation's largest school system. We've especially spoken about the proposed "desegregation" of the "highly selective middle schools" of the school system's District 3, which covers part of Manhattan.

This week, we'll add a related matter. We'll be discussing Mayor de Blasio's new proposed plan for the city's eight (or nine) "specialized high schools," the elite, sometimes famous schools to which admission is gained, at the end of eighth grade, by taking a one-day test.

Let's start by recalling this:

As we've noted on several occasions, there's only so much "desegregation" you can perform in a giant, sprawling school system whose student population is only 15 percent white.

On the other hand, the system's giant achievement gaps affect the bulk of the city's million students. Those gaps affect the nation itself. They affect all those students' lives.

At any given time, only two percent of New York City's students are enrolled at one of those "specialized" high schools. By way of contrast, well over half a million kids, in all grades, stand on the brutally short end of the city's giant achievement gaps.

The Times, so in love with the two percent, doesn't seem real invested in them.

Due to a mission of national import, we'll only be posting four days this week. During those four days, we'll be looking at several intriguing proposals concerning our biggest school district.

We'll continue looking at District 3's proposed plan to "desegregate" its "highly selective middle schools." We'll also look at some of the stranger aspects of such proposals citywide—proposals Winnie Hu described, without analysis or comment, in this wonderfully strange news report last week.

Beyond that, we'll be looking at Mayor de Blasio's plan for the specialized high schools. You've actually heard of some of these schools. Some of these schools are famous:
New York City's "specialized high schools:"
The Bronx High School of Science
The Brooklyn Latin School
Brooklyn Technical High School
High School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York
High School of American Studies at Lehman College
Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
Staten Island Technical High School
Stuyvesant High School
LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
To gain admission to one of those schools, a student has to take a a single, one-day, high-stakes exam—Gotham's own Specialized High School Admissions Test. (To attend LaGuardia, the student must also perform an audition.)

Some of those schools are famous; they teach advanced courses of study. For generations, New York's leaders have emerged from those elite schools—but dating at least to the 1960s, those schools have exhibited a type of problem.

Jim Dwyer described this problem in his column in Saturday's Times, perhaps disappearing the gaps a tad along the way. As he started, he linked to a recent essay by the mayor at the education web site, Chalkbeat.

Over at Chalkbeat, de Blasio's essay appears beneath this headline:
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our specialized schools have a diversity problem. Let’s fix it.
At least he didn't say "desegregation," the way the Times always does.

The mayor wants to fix the diversity problem at those high-powered high schools. That sounds like a good idea to us—but along the way, he almost seemed to disappear, perhaps even misstate, the problem of the gaps.

If you keep choosing to disappear a problem, when will you ever try to address it? We tend to regard such essays with contempt. Tomorrow, we'll start to say why.

Tomorrow: Is the mayor perhaps engaged in a small tiny bit of deception?


  1. Several of my cousins attended Bronx Science and Music and Art. I would have attended Bronx Science if my family had remained in the Bronx. I find it personally repugnant to focus on "diversity" when discussing these schools. Every student is an individual human being. Those who can benefit from special education should be the ones to get the opportunity.

    A separate question is whether the schools can apply racial and ethnic quotas without destroying their specialness. I don't know the answer. But, to me it's immoral to apply ethnic quotas even if that practice doesn't harm these schools.

  2. Yeah, Bob, let's dumb down the public school system to the lowest common denominator. Surely every NY limousine liberal has extra $50K/spoiled brat/year for a good private school.

  3. Bob, for mocking Richard Painter's disability: up yours.

    1. I noticed that too. Somerby is becoming more and more Trumplike.

    2. I didn't see that mockery. Can you point it out? Thanks!

    3. From yesterday's post:
      "Carlson massacred the animatronic Richard Painter"

      Painter has Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which causes, among other things, facial paralysis, which can lead to sufferers seeming, what's the word...."animatronic."

      But of course Bob Somerby would never call someone names, right? He's so MLK-like. He spends extra time looking up the educational details of journalists. No way he could've learned about Painter's affliction.

      You see, words matter to Somerby. When someone else uses them.

  4. Somerby sure seems to know what *won't* work to fix achievement gaps. But after 20 years of thinking and blogging about this topic, he owes it to his readers it to wade into the discussion and tell us what he thinks would actually work, if anything. I see more constructive discussion about this issue from his commenters.

    He taught in inner city Baltimore public schools. He once told us of the anguish of some of his students who were having trouble performing. Did he as a teacher do something to help? Mentor that student? Talk to the parents? Suggest something to school administrators? Or throw up his hands and head for the exit to pursue standup comedy? And, when that failed, start a blog where he can imply his own great insight into the mysteries of education and his own moral greatness as the only liberal who cares about education?

    What a putz he is.

  5. "Nobody cares about this:Long ago and far away, Jonathan Kozol wrote a book which won a National Book Award."

    That post was about Kozol's 1967 book "Death At an Early Age."

    Somerby, who greatly admired Kozol, seems not to have read or grappled with Kozol's slightly newer book (from 2005) "The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America". From Wikipedia: "Kozol documents the continuing and often worsening segregation in public schools in the United States, and the increasing influence of neoconservative ideology on the way children, particularly children of color and poor children of urban areas, are educated."

  6. Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend the following:

    • We’ve all been reading TDH for so long that we know Somerby personally. In fact, let’s call him Bob since we’re on such close terms. We know his thoughts, feelings, motivations, etc.
    • We all agree that Bob is a terrible person — he’s no liberal; in fact, he supports Trump. He knowingly ridicules the disabled. He hates women, and in fact, can’t respect any woman he’s had sex with, Bob couldn’t even imagine Hillary as President. Bob was once a teacher, but he had so little moral fiber that he gave up that career to become a comic. A failed comic, since what he lacks in humor he makes up for with obsessive posts about Al Gore and NAEP.
    • Mao isn’t a pathetic troll but someone with incisive insight. David in Cal isn’t a moral and intellectual idiot, who would have attended Bronx High School of Science if only he hadn’t been run out of town by angry mobs of acquaintances.
    • I genuinely respect those I disagree with here, and my snarkiness in no way is an expression of contempt for those who can’t read for comprehension or think straight.

    Notice that I’m not pretending that anyone who sees a problem can’t point out that problem unless he has a solution to said problem. Only an idiot would believe that (and I mean that in the most loving way).

    TDH (Oops! I mean that miserable cur Bob) makes several points: How can you fix a problem that you don’t acknowledge exists? How can you “desegregate” a school system that has 15% white students? What is the implication of admitting low-performing students to high-performing schools?

    Any mention of Bob would be superfluous since we all agree about him.

    1. Somerby has been making the same point for 20 years about achievement gaps. Obviously, others in the world know they exist, or they wouldn't be trying to fix them, by desegregation and other "horrible offensive" measures.

      You say:
      "What is the implication of admitting low-performing students to high-performing schools?"

      That was the focus of the debate that DeBlasio's ideas had unleashed. The report in the Times was not an advocacy of his ideas, just reporting on them, and on opposition to them as well. The report included a link to a study which addressed the very question you raised. It concluded that it raised the performance of lower performing students without appreciably impacting the performance of higher performers. There may be other studies which show opposite results, but it is disingenuous at best for Somerby to wonder if there's any reason to assume DeBlasio's idea would work. You can disagree, but based on what?

      The "high performing" schools, as Somerby himself pointed out, didn't magically become high performing. They instituted selection exams to become high performing. 40 years ago, such "school choice" in public schools didn't exist. It has changed the landscape of public schools, particularly in urban areas.

    2. 11:09,
      Maybe. I found the abstract, which says "Generally speaking, students in detracked groups performed slightly better academically than their equivalent-ability peers in tracked groups." Slightly? This is a meta-study. Are any of the component studies relevant to the NYC situation? (Sorry, but I don't intend to subscribe to find out.) Even assuming the best, how many low-performing students could possibly benefit (slightly) from DeBlasio's ideas?

      Nobody is trying to fix the gaps. DeBlasio is trying to fix the segregated "high-performing" schools. This may be an admirable goal. Some evidence suggests that reaching the goal could help a few low-performing students at little risk to their high-performing peers.

      For some idea of the political reality of reaching the goal, see the first comment by our resident moral and intellectual idiot.

      Having a few selective, high-performance schools hasn't changed any landscapes. The gaps remain.

      That's the point.

    3. Oh I see, your point is the gaps remain. Well mighty big thank you, you're so helpful bwahahaha

      Of course there is more intent than the mere literal meaning of your comment.

      Your raison d'être here is to show your contempt for those who can't...blah blah blah? Risible self serving drivel. You're here to pick low hanging fruit to prop up your fragile ego, what's laughable is that you're often wrong. Would anybody want to hear solutions from a misguided asshole like you? Anybody......? Nope I didn't think so. DeBlasio is blasé on gaps, or suggests same idea as your boyfriend?

      Bill de Blasio's Pre-K Crusade

      Bill de Blasio: Universal Pre-K Closes Achievement Gap

      Sam Seder


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