Ending selective admissions for top performing public middle schools in New York will disadvantage the city's brightest and highest achieving students as well as those who are not academically gifted.
New York had 1.1 million public school students, though that number has now shrunk to 900,000 or so, and they are not all academically gifted. Most of the kids who have left the public school system since the pandemic are from low-income families. Those who are not academically gifted, or even who are not academically driven, are not stupid, bad, or in need of having all the super smart kids descend on their classes.
De Blasio and the United Federation of Teachers believe that because the diversity at the top performing middle and high schools does not reflect the ethnic and racial makeup of the city, there's something wrong with these schools. Instead of being pleased that the city is able to serve the most academically gifted students with free, world-class educations, de Blasio and the UFT think they need to destroy those programs and replace them with, well, nothing.
As Eliza Schapiro wrote in The New York Times, "In doing this, Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently end the city's academically selective middle schools, which tend to be much whiter than the district overall." Most of the city's top achieving students, however, are Asian.
The gifted kids will remain in their neighbourhood zoned schools as the admissions standards for middle schools are put on hold. Those top schools will now admit kids based on a lottery. Sheer chance will decide which kids end up in the schools with the most academically rigorous pace.
Neither grades nor test scores will determine placement, instead chance will be the deciding factor. For high schools, geographically priority will be ended for six of the top high schools in Manhattan. Families who intentionally lived in proximity to these top six schools so that their kids could attend will have no reason to stay either in Manhattan, where these six schools are, but in New York at all. De Blasio's plan to tax and redistribute wealth will be a problem if there is neither wealth to tax nor to redistribute.
The mayor and the UFT think they are helping the kids who are super smart but can't manage to get the grades or the test scores to prove it, for whatever reason. They think it's useful to send kids who are unprepared to meet the challenges of the top schools straight into those schools, with the idea that the kids will simply level up. But those reasons that prevented them from attaining the merits that would have been needed to gain entry under the old system will not magically disappear and allow them to literally make the grade.
The kids who should be in accelerated academic tracks, who find themselves instead at their local schools, will not benefit either. There's a reason we separate kids in school by academic ability, and it's because kids who are at the same level should be tracked together so kids don't fall behind.
It's easier for teachers to teach at one pace in the classroom instead of at several different ones. It's easier for kids to learn when there aren't a bunch of their peers going way too slow and holding up the teacher from moving on, or when there are others moving too fast, leaving the kids who need a little more time unable to keep up and so learning nothing.
New York City does not meet the needs of all students. There are students who are homeless who are struggling with remote learning due to the transient nature of their lives. There are students who have special needs, and while the Dept. of Ed. tries very hard to accommodate them all, it doesn't. The city is constantly trying to integrate a school system that, because of zoning, often reflects the makeup of the neighbourhood the schools are in and not diversity of the entire system.
But admissions based schools are a way to provide students with a more elite educational environment, and the city does it for free. The kids who earn their place in these classrooms deserve to be there and they have proved it. Undoubtedly other kids would like that opportunity, but taking it away from kids who've earned it, or refusing entry to them, is more unfair than a merit based opportunity being only available to those who meet the standard for entry.
The UFT supports removing admissions barriers for many of the city's top schools, including the top five. New York has five, exceptional, world-renowned public high schools, and combined they produce an inordinate amount of Nobel Prize winners. The admissions testing has come under scrutiny because it doesn't result in schools that have populations that mirror the demographics of the city.
Mostly, these schools have a dense population of Asian kids, with other races and ethnicities sprinkled throughout. Those kids who can achieve at a high level should be encouraged to succeed, the city should be proud of them regardless of their race or ethnicity. Asian parents have fought back against the city's discrimination against their kids.
The changes enacted by de Blasio come on top of an academic school year that was a complete disaster for so many of New York's kids. Schools shut their doors on March 16, and didn't open again until September 21. Like so many kids in major American cities, the schools switched to online learning, where kids would meet with their teachers in the mornings and were then expected to work independently on a slew of online assignments.
Many kids didn't show up for these meetings, either they didn't have the tech, the broadband to support the tech, or the wherewithal to deal with the pointless meeting and endless busywork. New York decided to abandon the grading system and opt instead for a pass/fail system. This made it possible for teachers to simply pass kids who were otherwise close to failing, removing the consequences for poor performance, while simultaneously disincentivizing those kids who strive to make good grades.
As the BLM movement kicked into high gear after the death of George Floyd, New York City parents were treated to a front row seat, through remote learning, of the lengths that critical race theory had gained in curriculum. Lessons on white privilege and systemic racism went on for days, and the learned words, phrases and concepts became part of lesson plans across disciplines. Critical race theory teaches kids to look at everything through the lens of racism and under the guide of anti-racism teaches that there are stark differences between the races.
It is critical race theory that has also led de Blasio to make the decision to do away with admissions standards for 400 of New York's 1,800 schools. It's not just that ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion have infiltrated the classroom, but they are present in every level of the academic institution, and in the policies for which educational administrators and legislators advocate.
First, kids were kicked out of schools. Then their schools and teachers were replaced with digital screens. When this was found to not be effective, the measure by which effectiveness could be gauged, grades, were simply removed. Now, under the guise of equity, the most academically gifted New York kids will not be able to study at more advanced levels.
We know from Thomas Sowell's Discrimination and Disparities that when kids are allowed to self-sort they do better, and he was specifically talking about the rigorous academic achievements of poor black kids when they have the freedom to steer clear of both their white peers and their black peers who are not driven to academic success.
Not being into academics doesn't mean a kid isn't smart and capable of achievement, and being in the top schools is not the only way to succeed or do well in life. Equal opportunity should mean that every student has the opportunity to learn at the pace that works for them.
What's happening in New York City schools is anathema to the liberal ideals that birthed them. The idea was that the city should have exceptional, free schools for its exceptional, but not rich kids. The playing field cannot be leveled by trying to force everyone to be the same.