This opinion piece was first published in the New York Daily News on Sept 4, 2019 by Maud Maron
Freezing out too many parents: De Blasio’s diversity advisory group didn’t want to hear from moms and dads who use screened schools
It’s back-to-school week in New York City, and public school parents are left to wonder if some of the best schools in the five boroughs will be shuttered as a result of the recommendations released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG). The group’s second report finally said what, it seems, the panel was assembled to say from the outset: Get rid of screened schools and gifted and talented (G&T) programs.
SDAG’s first report’s recommendations were relatively innocuous. They ranged from saying “goals for socioeconomic integration should be based upon research” to creating a “task force to recommend equitable PTA fundraising strategies.”
Turns out, that was just throat-clearing. If the Department of Education were to adopt the second report’s recommendations to eliminate screened schools and phase out G&T programs, it would have devastating consequences for the city and its school children.
Many of us had reason to believe this day was coming. This spring, Maya Wiley, one of the panel’s co-chairs, testified before the City Council that “our principles and our goals” — by “our,” she meant members of the advisory panel — “have been the same.”
That of course is the problem. The echo chamber that produced this report ignored all the voices that support the schools and programs that are now targeted for elimination. Parents who value and rely on G&T programs never had a seat at the table. Neither, for that matter, did the teachers union nor the principals union in any meaningful way; both have publicly disagreed with the findings.
The composition of the advisory group unjustifiably excluded parents who year after year want to send their children to screened schools, G&T programs and academically accelerated programs. Many in predominantly black and Latino communities, in fact, have campaigned for years to restore the G&T programs that were closed in de-tracking movements in the 1990s.
True diversity cannot be achieved unless all parents, including those who believe in screened and G&T programs, have a say in making the necessary changes to our schools.
Some people see screened schools and programs as a segregating force; I see the failure to educate over 50% of NYC’s public school students to read and do math on grade level as the true driver of segregation.
In Manhattan’s District 2, the largest school district in the city, applicants for sought-after screened programs apply at a rate of 13 students per available seat. Every year, more than 25,000 students take an exam on a Saturday to try to earn one of the 5,000 seats at an academically rigorous Specialized High School.
More than 15,000 students took the G&T test last year, hoping for one of 3,700 offers.
Charter schools have a waiting list of 50,000 families citywide.
Behind each number is a family saying “I want a better education for my child.”
The Diversity Advisory Group ignored all that. How did they justify their blinders? They acknowledge in the report that New York City could “lose students” if screened schools and G&T are eliminated and some families leave the city or choose private schools.
But they don’t bother to ask or answer the most important question: Why would families leave the public school system in response to these changes?
There are of course two possible answers. One reason is that the families believe their children’s education will get worse. The other reason is purported racism.
If you assume the latter — and doing so is somewhat absurd in the case of non-white families — you can conveniently disregard what those families are telling you. After all, you have preemptively declared them and their reasons morally deficient.
But if it is the former, then you must listen, engage and discuss with families to find out what they want, need and expect from their public schools.
How do we deliver an education that keeps families from leaving — a real necessity if the vital and important goal of integration is ever to be achieved?