Everything else gets ignored: As we noted yesterday, Eliza Shapiro's profile of Richard Carranza's first year didn't seem real complimentary.
Carranza has finished his first year as chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. Like other school systems across the nation, Gotham's academic profile features massive "achievement gaps" between different racial and ethnic groups. And no, they aren't the result of "test prep," as the New York Times' Eliza Shapiro has inexcusably claimed, perhaps due to true belief.
The gaps are very large. Presumably, there is no magic wand Carranza could wave to address this punishing state of affairs. But in her lengthy front-page report in last Saturday's New York Times, Shapiro almost seemed to portray Carranza as a bit of a slacker when it comes to classroom instruction:
SHAPIRO: [S]ome educators say that Mr. Carranza also urgently needs to address the uneven performance of schools across the system.Can we talk? There are 1800 schools in the New York City system. Based on national norms, more than "dozens" of these schools would qualify as strikingly "low-performing."
[Mayor] de Blasio canceled a $773 million school improvement program, known as Renewal, after it was unable to turn around many long-struggling schools, and Mr. Carranza has not created an alternative initiative for the dozens of lowest-performing schools.
David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College, said Mr. Carranza’s “impact on the classroom at this point seems insignificant.”
That said, Shapiro made it sound like Carranza hasn't done much in the way of addressing classroom instruction. Most amazingly, this topic wasn't raised until paragraph 32 of Shapiro's front-page report.
On average, Gotham's roughly 770,000 black and Hispanic kids stand at the punishing end of gigantic achievement gaps. What was Shapiro doing for 31 paragraphs before she got around to briefly discussing this topic?
What else? Shapiro doesn't gargle or brush her teeth without discussing the "entrenched segregation" she and her editors are able to spot, and loudly decry, in Gotham's public schools. Hard-copy headline included, this is the way her front-page report began:
SHAPIRO (8/24/19): A Promise to Desegregate Schools in New York City Goes UnmetInteresting! According to Shapiro, the newly-hired Carranza had vowed to pursue "desegregation!" He said it was his top priority. He made this focus clear.
Soon after he took the helm of the nation’s largest school district last year, Richard A. Carranza made his top priority clear: desegregation.
He sought to set himself apart from previous New York City schools chancellors and even his own boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, by promising both frank talk about racial inequality and sweeping action.
At an event for student activists this spring, he slapped the side of a podium and shouted: “No, we will not wait to integrate our schools, we will not wait to dismantle the segregated systems we have!” He repeated the message in speeches, television appearances and national magazine profiles.
It was this rather fuzzy pledge which dominated Shapiro's profile this day. But uh-oh! As she continued, she made it sound like Carranza had staged a bit of a flip:
SHAPIRO (continuing directly): But now, as he enters his second year, he seems to be trying to reset expectations. In an interview, Mr. Carranza described himself as a “realist.”We don't know if Shapiro's presentation is fair. But her first 31 paragraphs were burned away on the claim that Carranza's promise has gone unmet—that he has failed to act on his (rather fuzzy) pledge to "desegregate" Gotham's schools.
“If I integrated the system, the next thing I’m going to do is I’m going to walk on water,” he said.
Might we talk? In our view, Carranza's fiery promise hasn't simply "gone unmet." It also goes largely unexplained in Shapiro's lengthy report.
Given the ugly history of American public schools, "segregation" will always sound like a dragon to be slain. "Desegregation" will always sound like a noble goal to pursue.
That said, in what sense are New York City's public schools "segregated" at this point? What would Gotham's schools look like after they've been "desegregated?" And how would that help Gotham's kids?
Such matters are rarely clarified in Shapiro's endless jihads on this, the New York Times' favorite topic in the realm of public schooling. Saturday's lengthy report provided no exception to this annoying rule.
At several points, Shapiro acknowledged that "desegregation" of Gotham's schools would be a daunting task. In this passage, she does at least provide a sense of what this noble-sounding term might mean:
SHAPIRO: Even some of the most avid proponents of integration have acknowledged that the system’s demographics make school-by-school diversity daunting, and have focused on ways to desegregate schools in mixed-income, racially diverse neighborhoods.Speaking some unnamed version of English, Shapiro seems to say that accomplishing "school-by-school diversity" would be a "daunting" task.
Still, activists and academics have offered proposals that they say could begin to chip away at segregation: The city could change selective admissions policies that tend to exclude black and Hispanic students from the highest-performing schools; adopt a cross-borough school transportation plan; or require that specific neighborhoods create desegregation plans for their schools.
She says the Gotham schools could "chip away at" its poorly-defined "segregation" if they'd just "focus on ways to desegregate schools" in certain types of neighborhoods. The system could "require that specific neighborhoods create desegregation plans for their schools."
Out of repeated circular definition, a likely picture emerges. It would be better if Gotham's individual schools more closely matched the racial/ethnic demographics of the system as a whole.
To the extent possible, Shapiro would like the "diversity" in each school to match that of the overall system. In the early passage shown below, Shapiro makes a familiar, punishing claim about the New York City schools, and she gives us the clearest picture of what she means when she says that Gotham's schools are heavily segregated:
SHAPIRO: The past year has given Mr. Carranza an education in the complexities and challenges presented by the nation’s largest school system, an often unwieldy collection of 1,800 schools that sprawls across five boroughs and enrolls 1.1 million students.New York City is operating "one of the most segregated school systems in the country," Shapiro says, failing to explain the basis on which she makes this eye-catching claim. "Roughly half the city’s schools are more than 90 percent black or Hispanic."
New York is home to one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Black and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the system, and white and Asian students represent about 15 percent each. About three-quarters of students are low income, and roughly half the city’s schools are more than 90 percent black or Hispanic.
Shapiro seems to feel it would be better if fewer schools, or no schools at all, fit that demographic profile—and in that judgment, she and her obsessive editors certainly may be right.
What's wrong with a public school which is more than 90 percent black or Hispanic? There are many answers to that question, some more compelling than others.
Long ago and far away, the New York Times' N. R. Kleinfield penned an insightful report which explored one important answer. He held a group discussion with ten middle-school kids at Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, a school where almost all the students were black.
Kleinfield posed a basic question to these good, decent kids: "What did they think of the absence of racial diversity?"
In an outstanding report, he recorded what those kids said:
KLEINFIELD (5/11/12): What did they think of the absence of racial diversity?Though not all alike, those are beautiful thoughts. Those good, decent kids were discussing the problem of "racial isolation."
“It doesn’t really prepare us for the real world,” said Tori Williams, an eighth grader. “You see one race, and you’re going to be accustomed to one race.”
Jahmir Duran-Abreu, another eight grader, said: “It seems it’s black kids and white teachers. Like one time we were talking and I said I like listening to Eminem and my teacher said this was ghetto. She was white. I was pretty upset. I was wondering why she would say something like that. She apologized, but it sticks with me.”
Jahmir, one of Explore’s few Hispanic students, is its first student to get into Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s premier schools. He was also admitted to Dalton, an elite private school, where he intends to go. He wants someday to become an actor.
Shakeare Cobham, in sixth grade, offered a different view: “It’s more comfortable to be with people of your own race than to be with a lot of different races.”
Tori came back: “I disagree. It doesn’t prepare us.”
Yata Pierre, in eighth grade, said, “It doesn’t really matter as long as your teachers are good teachers.”
Trevon Roberts-Walker, a sixth grader, responded, “When we are in high school and college, it’s not going to be all one race.”
Jahmir: “Yeah, in my high school there will be predominantly white kids, and I think this school will be so much better if it were more diverse.”
Kenny Wright, in eighth grade, piped in, “You could have more discussion instead of all the same thoughts.”
Ashira Mayers, in seventh grade, said: “We’d like to hear from other races. How do they feel? What’s happening with them?”
Most of those kids seemed to feel that they were missing out on something because they weren't attending school with kids of other "races." There's a lot to be said for that view—and kids of other "races" may well be missing out on something by not going to school with those Explore Charter kids.
That said, a public school doesn't run on "diversity" alone. The giant achievement gaps which obtain in Gotham''s schools wouldn't magically disappear if someone waved a magic wand and made every school magically conform to the perfect pattern in which an unwavering 15 percent of the students were "white."
Nor would that magic degree of diversity likely extend into the classrooms of those schools. Gotham's giant range of achievement levels would suggest the need to organize instruction in ways which could be called "tracking" or "grouping."
Unless we're prepared to pretend, as Shapiro has explicitly done, that the racial component of those gaps is simply an illusory artifact of "test prep," that school-by-school diversity would tend to fade away on a classroom-by-classroom basis. This unavoidable reality can create new "segregation" problems, perceptions and concerns on a within-the-school basis.
Few such matters ever survive the deeply propagandistic way the New York Times discusses this important topic. In last Saturday's lengthy report, Carranza's attention to classroom instruction didn't get mentioned until we'd burned away 31 paragraphs on the poorly explained claim that Gotham's schools 1) are severely "segregated" at present and 2) are subject to some substantial form of "desegregation."
Even Shapiro was prepared to admit that it didn't make sense to believe that Carranza could produce more than a certain amount of increased "diversity." But in the deeply uncaring New York Times, that limited advance in school-by-school diversity seems to be the only things that actually counts.
The New York Times cares about who gets into Stuyvesant High. Beyond that, it wants to juggle diversity numbers along the margins. It doesn't seem to care (or even know) about those massive achievement gaps, or about the hundreds of thousands of good, decent kids who struggle beneath their yoke.
"Segregation" is a painful, powerful word—a powerful word from the past. You could almost say that this powerful word leads back to 1619.
For reasons only it can explain, the New York Times seems to be in love with the powerful word, full and complete total stop. It seems to care about no other aspect of its city's public schools.
Rather than a bow to the past, we'd advise a search for tomorrow. What explains those giant gaps? Starting on this very day, what can someone like Richard Carranza possibly do to address those gaps?
Good, decent kids are losing out. Aside from the few who might end up at Yale, does anyone care about them?
Tomorrow: "New York is home to one of the most segregated school systems in the country."
Where does that favorite claim come from? Also, dividing the tribes.