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Don’t blame the test for lack of minorities at elite NYC high schools

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Don't blame the test for lack of minorities at elite NYC high schools

The class of ninth-graders that in September will enter the city’s eight “specialized high schools” — entry to which is determined solely by doing well on a standardized test — will be substantially less black and Latino than before.

Per Department of Education data, black and Latino kids, who make up almost 70 percent of the school population of about 1.1 million, got only 9 percent of the total admission offers to the elite schools. That’s down substantially from the last two years. Asian students scored two-thirds of the places at prestigious Stuyvesant HS. 

Predictably, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new education boss, Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, pointed the finger of blame for this demographic imbalance squarely in the wrong direction: at the test itself. “Far more students could thrive in our Specialized High Schools, if only given the chance,” she tweeted. “Instead, the continued use of the Specialized High School Admissions Test will produce the same unacceptable results over and over again.” 

But why is that? Nothing about the SHSAT is culturally biased — it doesn’t ask questions about which club to use on an approach to the green if there’s a water hazard or which year comes after Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac or what Navaratri celebrates. Nor can anti-testers say that it unfairly favors rich kids, because the city’s own measures show that Asians have the highest rate of poverty in Gotham.

Some complain that test-prep companies marketed to particular communities offer an unfair advantage, but the city long ago established free programs (defined as “Diversity Initiatives”) meant to offer black and Latino kids the same high-quality test preparation that some families pay big bucks for.

But test prep, many experts contend, is a red herring for the real problem. Sure, it’s always good to practice, but it’s not like there are secret tricks to break the code on a standardized test. It’s not a video game.  

The real test prep, as serious people know, occurs in grades K through 8, when kids learn the fundamentals of math and reading comprehension, and develop the habits of mind that translate into discipline and success in school and life.  

A great deal of the responsibility for getting more black and Latino kids ready to do well on the SHSAT lies with none other than the DOE itself. As New York public-school parents know, there’s a vast “missing middle” in the school system — a gaping lack of quality middle schools.

Chancellor Porter knows this better than anyone — but it’s easier to blame the test than her own failing system, dominated by unionized teachers. 

Remember, too, that it wasn’t so long ago that the specialized high schools had many black and Latino students. Brooklyn Tech was majority black in 1982, for instance, and 53 percent black and Latino as recently as 1993. Massive Asian immigration accounts for part of the change since, but the steady elimination of Gifted and Talented programs for kids in the fourth grade also limited opportunities for bright minority children.  

Teachers and principals used to be allowed to identify smart kids and place them in higher grades or mark them as ready for advanced work in middle school. This gave these kids the confidence and footing to apply for and do well on the SHSAT and succeed in the elite schools. 

But so-called “tracking” of students is considered unfair and discriminatory now, so giving brighter kids in disadvantaged communities a leg up is frowned on. Better to keep the smart kids bored and dissatisfied with school than admit that some sorting is natural and inevitable: Call it the “No Child Gets Ahead” system.

Would eliminating the SHSAT actually build a “more equitable way forward,” as the chancellor argues? Or would it just dilute the culture of achievement that the specialized schools offer the city’s best and brightest?  

Through a vicious cycle of negative reinforcement, the DOE has created a problem that it doesn’t really want to solve. The cabal in charge of education policy doesn’t even like the principle of excellence, because it’s exclusionary by definition. From this perspective, destroying the city’s best schools by muddling their standards isn’t even an unfortunate consequence — it’s basically the goal.

Seth Barron is managing editor of The American Mind.

Twitter: @SethBarronNYC

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Opinion

Expert rates the winners and losers of first televised NYC mayoral debate

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Expert rates the winners and losers of first televised NYC mayoral debate

Last night’s mayoral debate was, if nothing else, a good forum for some of​ ​the candidates who many voters haven’t had much chance to get to know.

That​ ​meant it was particularly good for Kathryn Garcia and Ray McGuire who were​ ​able to get across the who, what, where and how of where exactly they stand.

Maya Wiley, wasn’t at her finest. As a TV veteran, she should have known​ ​better and instead broke all the rules by acting as though the rules didn’t apply to her. She ran over her time, wouldn’t stop talking when the moderator asked her to, and interrupted other speakers and overall showed a breathtaking lack of respect for the process.

Scott S​​tringer? He was classic Scott Stringer, the guy who always seems to​ ​need a carton of Red Bull and who, aside from a couple of good lines, was as​ ​unemotional as your tax attorney. That’s great for the city’s fiscal watchdog, but I​ ​just don’t think this comes across well when the public is looking for a strong​ ​presence.

And there was Andrew Yang once again trying the election trick that​ ​knocked him out of the presidential race: The offer of a thousand bucks to​ ​everyone who believes that Andrew Yang will give them a thousand bucks. 

Again.​ ​Been there, done that. 

He was particularly weak in answering to the fact that he’s never even voted for a mayoral candidate or a citywide referendum.

Eric Adams owned, as expected, the public safety issue. His lack of energy​ ​however was somewhat surprising for the candidate who knows the streets, the​ ​racial situation and the problems with the police so well.​ ​

The couple of exchanges he with Wiley and Dianne Morales were too polite,​ ​too softball, when he should have given as good as he got.​ ​

And speaking of Morales, she definitely has some important ideas on racial​ ​inequality and homelessness, but I’m not convinced that she came close to​ ​explaining how we’re supposed to pay for it with a city heading to an estimated​ ​$3 billion budget deficit in 2022-23.

Shaun Donovan, who seemed to start every sentence with “When I was in​ ​the Obama administration…” or “When I was City Housing Commissioner,” was​ ​unnecessarily repetitive. OK, we got the idea, but repetition doesn’t make for an​ ​interesting or even informative debate tactic.​ 

​Bottom line? As in most first debates, nothing much will have changed. No​ ​moments that blew anyone away. Probably the undecided needles won’t move too much.

Next time? Fire the media trainers and be yourselves, because what we saw sure won’t be what we get.

Sid Davidoff is Founding Partner of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, a New York-based law and public affairs firm, and former aide to New York Mayor John Lindsay.

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Saturday’s Times Square shooting may mark a crossroads for NYC

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Saturday’s Times Square shooting may mark a crossroads for NYC

Last year in New York City, murders rose 45 percent and shootings 97 percent, numbers that have continued to rise in 2021. But New Yorkers don’t need statistics to understand that the city’s descent into chaos is accelerating. Saturday’s brazen shooting in Times Square — in which three innocent bystanders were shot, including a 4-year-old girl — may well mark a crossroads.

During New York’s bad old days, the Crossroads of the World and its pornographic theaters attracted “an unsavory and increasingly criminal crowd,” as William J. Stern, former head of the Urban Development Corporation, observed. “By the eighties, things got worse still, with an amazing 2,300 crimes on the block in 1984 alone, 20 percent of them serious felonies such as murder or rape,” he noted. Times Square’s situation suggested a city spinning out of control.

The condition of Times Square today similarly reveals the city’s social, moral and civic health. The president of the Times Square Alliance, Tim Tompkins, understands this. In 2016, he explained that “the area then — and has always been — representative of what was working or not working in New York City as a whole. . . . Throughout New York City, crime was a huge issue that was making people stay away, and . . . that overshadowed everything else.” Thus, he reasoned, “Times Square was this symbol of whether the government had either the will or the capacity to make a city safe.”

Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s commitment to tame Times Square helped Gotham restore civic normalcy. Giuliani brought Disney in to take over and renovate the New Amsterdam Theatre, which “led to the resurrection of 42nd Street and Times Square,” in the words of The New York Times.

Giuliani also targeted smut shops for legal assault in court and had his NYPD proactively arrest quality-of-life offenders: drug dealers, junkies, pimps, prostitutes, hustlers, thieves and con artists. What followed was the revitalization of Times Square — and New York’s rebirth as the safest big city in America.

New York’s reversal of fortune is no accident. Mayor Bill de Blasio cites the pandemic and closed schools as excuses for the rise in violent crime. He conveniently overlooks four culprits: catch-and-release bail reform; the abandoning of broken-windows policing; the elimination of plainclothes anti-crime units that spent their nights hunting illegal gun carriers; and the movement to “defund” the police.

Proactive police officers have no incentive to respond to non-emergency crimes when the mayor has told them to stand down, when they know perps will be swiftly released and when they worry their faces could be the next ones plastered on screens across the country if an arrest goes wrong.

Which brings us back to Saturday’s shooting. We should be grateful for the heroic police officers who responded, including Alyssa Vogel, who ran nonstop with the 4-year-old victim to the ambulance. The alleged shooter was identified as Farrakhan Muhammad, a 31-year-old CD-pushing pest with a long arrest record who intended to shoot his brother.

When New York City had a quality-of-life policing regime, CD peddlers who crossed the line from protected First Amendment activity to misdemeanor “aggravated harassment” were routinely arrested and removed from Times Square and possibly locked away. But we live in a different city now.

In 1975, the Council for Public Safety issued an infamous pamphlet titled: “Welcome to Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York.” It advised tourists, among other things, to stay off the streets after 6 p.m., protect their property and safeguard their handbags and “never ride the subway for any reason whatsoever.”

The city is still better off than in 1975 — but that’s far from the standard to which a great city should aspire. De Blasio has assured New Yorkers that “we’re not going back to the bad old days when there was so much violence in this city.” Three innocents shot in Times Square over the weekend might have a different view.

Craig Trainor is a criminal-defense and civil-rights attorney in New York. Adapted from City Journal.

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Opinion

President Biden’s charter-school dis

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President Biden’s charter-school dis

In a fresh sign of teacher-union sway over President Joe Biden, this is the first Charter School Week in 30 years not to be marked by a presidential proclamation.

That’s right: Every president going back to Bill Clinton saw fit to recognize these alternative public schools and the work they do in uplifting poor and minority students across the nation. And Biden’s old boss, President Barack Obama, was instrumental in supporting the growth of charters, even shooting down bogus teacher-union attacks.

Charters are laboratories of innovation that operate largely without union interference; their successes regularly show up the failure of union-dominated schools, especially in high-poverty minority neighborhoods. That’s why teachers’ unions despise them. But what’s Biden’s excuse?

Well, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten and National Education Association head Becky Pringle were among the Biden administration’s first and most frequent White House guests. And pressure from the top is the only explanation for how Weingarten was able to literally dictate language to the Centers for Disease Control for its “scientific” guidance on school reopenings.

In short, this president stands with his teacher-union allies against the principles of Barack Obama, the best interests of children and even good public-health policy amid the pandemic.

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