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Commentary By Bob McManus

Quota Games Won't Fix the Racial Gaps in NY's Schools

Cities, Education New York City, Pre K-12

There’s fresh infamy afoot in New York City’s public schools.

No, not word that black and Hispanic students have vastly underperformed in getting into the city’s justly famed competitive-entry high schools. That’s a scandal, for sure, but it’s hardly big news.

This outrage resides in Albany — where the body that oversees all formal education in New York is poised to drop a test meant to determine whether potential new schoolteachers can read.

That’s right. Read.

But whereas there’ll be no end of soapboxing over the city’s selective-admissions high schools, hardly a word has been raised about the reading requirement. It’s set to disappear next week when the Board of Regents — New York’s ultra-politicized education-oversight panel — is expected to drop the Academic Literacy Skills Test administered to all prospective new teachers.

It’s not a particularly hard test, not for folks supposedly trained to teach others to read. And in a fully functioning school system it wouldn’t rate a mention, let alone merit elimination.

But, as The Post reported Monday, it’s apparently a hurdle too high for many black and Hispanic teaching applicants. In 2014, just 48 percent of black teaching candidates, and 56 percent of Hispanics, passed the test — compared with 75 percent of whites.

So the test must go — replaced, if past affirmative-action practices hold, with measures that downplay, if not deep-six altogether, objective performance standards.

And not by coincidence, that’s precisely the prescription being advanced to address the eye-popping ethnic imbalances at the city’s selective-admissions high schools. Entry to those high schools — including Stuyvesant and Bronx Science — is driven solely by a single exam taken by tens of thousands of eighth-graders each year.

This year’s results were announced Wednesday — and to absolutely nobody’s surprise, Asian kids profoundly outperformed their peers. Just like last year. And the year before that.

Asians comprise barely 15 percent of the city school system’s enrollment — but won a staggering 53 percent of the 5,000-plus seats opening in September. Black and Hispanic kids, who together make up more than 70 percent of enrollment, won 3.8 and 6.5 percent of the seats, respectively. (Whites, with 14 percent of total enrollment, accounted for 28 percent of the new admissions.)

There’s a lot going on here — but not much that anybody is eager to discuss. Easy explanations — for example, that poverty drives underperformance — fail before the fact that Asians, largely impoverished immigrants themselves, face many of the same challenges black and Hispanic students do.

On the other hand, Asian kids applied for the admissions test out of all proportion to their presence in the school system. And they came prepared. Effort matters.

But not to everybody. For many — including a disturbing number of those who make New York’s critical policy decisions — kids are merely beans to be counted.

For them, raising black and Hispanic test-performance levels is subordinate to raising black and Hispanic admissions levels — which stands to convert the process into a quota-driven zero-sum game that corrodes excellence and leads eventually to the destruction of the specialized schools altogether.

To that end, Mayor de Blasio, the City Council and New York’s education establishment are discussing eliminating the single test in favor of interviews and portfolios — with extra credit for exemplary attendance! (Imagine that.)

In other words, they’re preparing to embrace subjectivity of the sort that has the Board of Regents on the verge of eliminating a literacy test for teachers. And for the same reason: It’s hard to count beans if you don’t have enough of the correct color in the jar.

For sure, there’s more involved than simple quota-driven policy making.

The move to eliminate the reading test reflects the corrupting influence of the state’s teachers unions. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may be on his way to prison, but his successor, Carl Heastie of The Bronx, still calls the tunes with the Regents — and the unions still choreograph the speaker.

The specialized high schools’ demography is a more nuanced matter, to put it mildly — but overall, the numbers paint a fair picture of the state of the public schools generally. The system doesn’t work well, period, but the greatest disparity is between the 35 percent of students who graduate prepared for college or a job and the 65 percent or so who don’t. Anybody want to guess which ethnic groups migrate to what category?

Those are the numbers that really matter.

Yes, the high-school selection process is judgmental — a little Darwinian, even. But it’s not the least bit arbitrary, and in the end, it produces excellence.

The same can’t be said for the city’s public schools generally — mere competence would be a treat — and hiring teachers who can’t read will fix nothing. What goes around comes around.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal. He retired as editorial page editor of the New York Post in 2013 and has since worked as a freelance editor, columnist, and writer.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post