Manhattan Institute

Diversity First—Education, Whenever

In New York City, a blue-ribbon task force agrees that demographics are the best measure of school quality.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school-integration task force just dropped its initial report—a multilayer cake of mostly impenetrable social-justice jargon, interspersed with a dangerous idea or two, and with a dismaying lack of emphasis on the enduring value of teaching children to read, write, and do numbers. In fact, the report represents a significant victory of show over substance, establishing “diversity” as the principal goal of public education in New York City while exiling accountability—teacher accountability, parent accountability, student accountability—to the ash heap.

In its willingness to sacrifice function to form, the School Diversity Advisory Group’s initial report (a second is expected later in this school year) is a classic example of an old trope—to a hammer, the world looks like a nail. As panel member Matt Gonzales told the New York Times: “The idea of a good school versus a bad school is based on narrow assumptions [including tests and attendance].  We wanted to shift the narrative about how we measure school quality. Good schools are integrated schools.”

Or, as the report itself puts it at one point, “the use of exclusionary admissions screens . . . which judge . . . kids on behavior, test scores, and other biased metrics, is the biggest contributor to . . . segregation.” Get rid of “biased metrics,” in other words, and— presto—the problem is solved. But good luck educating children in an environment where behavior and other quantifiable performance standards are deemed an objective impediment to progress.

The report has its genesis in the dubious proposition that New York City’s public schools are the most segregated in America. It’s not clear what such an assertion even means in a system where only 15 percent of students are white to begin with, let alone that it should become the basis for a sweeping overhaul of that system.

Not that an overhaul isn’t badly needed—it surely is. With some estimable exceptions, the city’s schools are at best mediocre, many are abject failures, and most of the rest are teetering on the edge. But taking direction from this report would move them in the wrong direction. To adopt as official policy the elimination of objective performance standards, as Gonzales counsels and the report ratifies, would bring an end to formal teacher evaluations. It would eliminate all the other benchmarks that parents, taxpayers, and the general public traditionally use to hold officials accountable for schools that don’t educate.

In this sense, the report represents a significant victory for the United Federation of Teachers, education bureaucrats in New York City and Albany, and the money-now, results-later coalition that has been dictating public-education policy in the Empire State for decades. At the same time, it’s a big win for the racialists and other social-justice disrupters intent on dismantling the city’s internationally famous selective-admissions high schools and the various programs meant to give high-performing pupils a leg up in the lower grades.

Given America’s unhappy history of forced public-school integration, it’s hard to imagine a more effective means of driving the middle class out of the city’s public schools. That goes double for the Asian immigrant communities emerging across the five boroughs. But, again, the UFT/educrat/activist alliance stands to prosper from these reforms, so expect to hear much more about school integration in New York. Just don’t be misled by the rhetoric of equality. True justice has nothing to do with this report.

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