Thursday, July 19, 2018

Trump vs. De Blasio on Race and School Admissions

Among the two dozen letters of guidance that the Trump administration announced two weeks ago it is rescinding were multiple joint Department of Justice and Department of Education guidance letters from previous administrations that urged schools in the country to ensure by varied means racial diversity in classrooms. The Trump administration’s rescindment of the letters of guidance illuminates for others where the executive office stands on the issue of race and admission to educational institutions.

As the federal executive branch makes it clear that it stands for “race-neutral” school admissions, however, the proudly-progressive mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, wages assault on non-race- based school admissions in the city.

The Trump administration’s moves are just. The de Blasio administration’s plans are wrong.

Indeed, in New York, interest groups and school alumni are continuing their forceful protests against Mayor de Blasio’s dual approach to diversify the racial compositions of eight of nine specialized public high schools in the city. The continuing protests against the plans announced in June are pushback against actions emblematic of a harmful identity politics ideology in practice.

As so many non-charter public schools in the city continue to fail academically, de Blasio’s ideology pushes him to endanger the best among the city’s very few academically-rich schools.

De Blasio’s ideological delusion is that only some people, based on their racial or ethnic backgrounds, as well as their prior religious education background, deserve assistance in moving up the socio-economic ladder.

Race should not determine who receives help, as poverty, non-ideal family lives, and distressed communities are not exclusive to any race or ethnicity. Neither should race determine who receives rewards, which the Trump administration showed it recognizes. As one sees generally with identity politics ideology, de Blasio’s plans pit people against each other; here specifically by making school admission about race rather than other factors.

The first part of de Blasio’s specialized high school racial diversification plan, to begin in the fall of 2019, entails an expansion of the Discovery program, which will set aside 20 percent of seats in eight of the city’s specialized high schools for students coming from high poverty junior high schools. This plan is a backdoor to an automatic 20 percent black and Latino student selection. Five percent of students admitted to the specialized high schools already come from the Discovery program, which gives students who missed the admission exam cutoff, and who are from low-income households, a chance at admission after they attend free summer preparation and meet some other guidelines.

For the second part of the plan, de Blasio is seeking approval from Albany to scrap the admissions test for the specialized schools and rather base admission on junior high school rank and state test scores. His plan calls for phasing out the test over three years and instead taking the top 7 percent of students from each junior high school, reserving 90 to 95 percent of seats for these students. The remaining five to ten percent, to be chosen by lottery, would be reserved for students from religious junior high schools, students new to New York City, and students from the high-poverty junior high schools who did not make the first top-7 percent cut.

Both parts of de Blasio’s specialized schools plan are unjust because they discriminate against certain students, namely those not considered to be black or Latino. The plans also discriminate against students coming from religious junior high schools by setting aside as little as five percent – and most likely far less than that percentage – of seats for these students.

De Blasio is not trying to scrap the admissions test because of a principled opposition to standardized testing, but rather his sole aim is to increase black and Latino enrollment above the potential 20 percent enrollment he can reach with part one of his plan. Finding different student selection models – any model that brings in more black and Latino students and not just one that eliminates the standardized test – brings de Blasio to the end that he seeks. His actions – such as pushing to scrap the admissions test – are simply a means to his end.

De Blasio has made nothing but clear his intention with the changes. Unlike the vast majority of New York City schools, the specialized high schools are not majority black and Latino, and, simply put, de Blasio wants to make them – forcibly – majority black and Latino. These seats are to be taken from Asian and white students who would have earned them. If the second part of his targeted plan were approved, it would satisfy his discriminatory efforts at the high schools, cutting enrollment of white students from 24 percent to 15 percent, Asian students from 62 percent to 20 percent, thereby bringing the schools to a majority black and Latino population, with those groups comprising 46 percent of students.

Black and Latino students comprise 67 percent of New York City public school students but yet only 10 percent of accepted students at the specialized high schools this year came from these groups (and, recall, five percent of students were selected from the Discovery program and the city offers free test preparation).

Asian students are the overwhelming majority at these schools. Asian interest groups and Asian politicians have denounced the plan and have held opposition rallies. All students who gain admission have undeniably worked hard and none of them should be penalized or discriminated against simply because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.

De Blasio rather should work toward improving communities and schools that make it difficult for black and Latino students to compete justly with others seeking admission to the city’s specialized high schools (the Latino street gang that murdered an innocent 15-year-old boy this month in the Bronx reportedly recruits members in city schools). The mayor should also consider the academic successes of the city’s Catholic schools and charter schools in an attempt to understand what is wrong with his failing public education system. (Applications to charter schools, the number of which are capped, were at a record high last year, but there are not enough seats to accommodate all students.)

De Blasio’s two racial diversification plans spotlight contemporary social experimenters’ propensity to pull others down unjustly and harmfully. In a failing education system, and in a state that spends the most money per student in the country, the city’s most academically advanced students have neither earned nor deserved to be pulled down by ideological social experiments.

Lifting up those only of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds while intentionally ignoring and disenfranchising others is outright discrimination.

Following the Trump Administration’s recent move to rescind prior letters of guidance on race and school admissions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos should take a close look at de Blasio’s plans, for they are an unfortunate case study of active discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion. Taxpayer-funded schools should not disenfranchise individuals based on the experimental social initiatives of the moment.


Religious education is more vital than ever in an increasingly diverse society and needs a higher status, says former home secretary Charles Clarke

Mr Clarke is co-author of a report calling for better religious education in school and a widening of the subject to include "beliefs and values".

The report argues that assemblies should no longer be expected to have a "broadly Christian" character.

Mr Clarke says understanding other faiths builds more "tolerant" views.

The report, co-authored by Prof Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, says the place of religion in schools in England and Wales is still shaped by legislation from the 1940s, despite "enormous change in the religious and cultural landscape".

'Learning to talk'

"Our society has become massively more diverse," says Mr Clarke, a former Labour education secretary, in a report supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

As well as those not identifying with any religious group, there are many more "different religions and ranges of belief within religion", he says.

"We are becoming more diverse, more individual. That's a good thing, but children growing up need to understand that society and be able to interpret it," says Mr Clarke.

The idea that religion would eventually be "discarded as irrelevant" has proved to be mistaken, he says.

Prof Woodhead says understanding about religions such as Islam, Hinduism or Judaism should be part of everyday life.

"These are children in your classroom or your neighbours, we're all part of the same society and we have to learn to talk to each other more intelligently," she says.

But the report argues the place of religious education in school needs to be updated and strengthened to stop a decline which has seen it treated as a "second-class subject".

It calls for a national syllabus that would be taught in all state schools and that it should be known as "religion, belief and values".

Act of worship

The report argues in favour of keeping a daily "act of collective worship" but that it should no longer be expected to be of a Christian character, but could reflect the "values and ethos" of the school.

The study says faith schools should continue and that parents should be able to choose to send their children to schools of their own religion.

Mr Clarke argues that, rather than driving segregation, good quality religious education can protect against extreme interpretations of beliefs that can be "divisive and dangerous".

"The best defence against that is to have children who are well-educated, well-informed and understanding about religions in our society," he says.

"Teaching about religious education generally builds a more tolerant society, a stronger society, a more resilient society to deal with the pressures that can otherwise lead to segregation in communities up and down the country."


But the proposed way of reforming the subject has been opposed by the Catholic Education Service.

The Bishop of Leeds, Marcus Stock, said it would not be acceptable for the state to "dictate what the church is required to teach in Catholic schools".

He said there needed to be a choice for schools in whether religion should be taught as a theological rather than "sociological" subject.

The National Secular Society rejected the proposals as "a real disappointment".

"The proposals represent baby steps in the right direction, but the report generally appears to be an admission that necessary reforms are not possible without the approval of religious bodies.

"That is a worrying state of affairs for a modern education system," said the group which campaigns for a separation of religion and state.


'Absolute prize': Why Australian selective schools are eclipsing private schools

Because they are more selective.  Private schools cater for a wider ability range

Selective schools have overtaken private schools as the state's most advantaged, with schools such as Normanhurst Boys and Hornsby Girls now eclipsing elite colleges such as St Ignatius, Barker and Ascham.

More than half of the state's top 20 most socio-educationally advantaged schools are now state selective because they are the "absolute education prize" for parents, a report from the Centre for Policy Development has found.

Securing a selective school spot requires such investment of time and money that almost three quarters of their students come from the highest quarter of socio-educational advantage, and only two per cent from the lowest.

But their popularity has come at a cost; researchers also measured the wider ''brain drain'' when new selective schools were established, and found that results and enrolments at neighbouring suburban schools fell.

The report, part of a series on equity in schools, argues that selective schools were designed to cater for all high achievers but are now dominated by the children of parents with the resources to pay for things like coaching.

"It reflects the ferocious competition to get into these schools," said co-author Christina Ho. "They are public schools, you wouldn't expect to see them at the top of these advantage lists. It doesn't seem possible for them to be eclipsing private schools.

"But among middle class families they have become the absolute education prize. Families begin planning years in advance. Tutoring begins in early primary school, costing thousands. If you don't start planning early, you jeopardise your chances.

"Those resources are not available to most families. That's how you end up with this concentration of [advantaged] families."

The socio-educational score of a school looks at the education and occupation of its students' parents.

The report also looked at selective schools' impact on suburban high schools by studying the opening of four partially selective schools in Sydney's south-west in 2010, namely Bonnyrigg, Prairiewood, Moorebank and Elizabeth Macarthur.

Between 2005 and 2017, the number of HSC ''distinguished achievers'' rose at those selective schools. At Moorebank, the proportion rose from 13 per cent to 28 per cent. But neighbouring high schools experienced no increase or a decrease.

In some cases, their number of high achievers halved. Enrolment dropped, too.

Co-author Chris Bonnor said the loss of high achievers to selective schools made neighbourhood schools less desirable. "They lose enrolments, they lose those aspirant students that make up [more challenging] classes," he said.

A teacher from one of the south-west Sydney schools affected, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the impact on her school had been stark. "We used to be able to say to parents, 'we can help your children get really good results'," she said. "We can't say that any longer."

The NSW government is reviewing the selective school and primary school opportunity class tests amid concerns that wealthy families are gaming the system by engaging tutors for their children.

A department spokesman said the final report would be released later this year.

But Dr Ho said the review was "tinkering around the edges of the admissions system," and called for bigger changes. "We have the means, the technology, and the model that could inform a much more far-reaching review of selective schools so we don't have this segregation of students," she said.

Mark Jordan's two children, Sophia, 15, and Bill, 12, both attend the partially selective Sydney Secondary College Balmain Campus. Bill might have attended a private school if he didn't get into Balmain, and did some coaching ahead of the entrance test.

With the money he has saved on private school fees, Mr Jordan invests in extra coaching. "We spend about $1800 [a year]. It's not a small amount of money but it's a lot cheaper than private school fees."

''We've noticed less diversity than we expected,'' Mr Jordan said. ''So we think the entry process could be unfair."


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