Pataki's Poster Boy

State's Top Expert in Schools Case Has Controversial Racial History

Nonetheless Armor found that "the amount of expenditures provided, which varies considerably among NYC schools, does not appear to benefit student performance, after controlling for student background characteristics." The "principal factors influencing student achievement," he argued, "occur outside the school, and include poverty, family structure, home environment, and other socioeconomic characteristics." When Armor contended that "we have to get to the home, especially the home environment of the infant, to raise achievement for disadvantaged students," he apparently found a welcome audience on the appellate division.

Though the panel never cited Armor by name, the three-judge majority ruled that "more spending on education is not necessarily the answer," suggesting that "the cure lies in eliminating the socioeconomic conditions facing certain students." The judges even alluded to the possibility that "investing" public funds in the family "rather than the schools" might have a greater effect.

The one dissenting judge, David Saxe, pointedly took on the Armor argument, charging that it "limits the State's responsibility to that of providing whatever educational experience would be necessary for some theoretical student, without any socioeconomic disadvantages, to obtain the requisite education." Saxe countered that to "properly weigh whether a minimally adequate education is being offered, the actual circumstances and needs of all students must be considered," a onetime axiom in public education reduced in the Pataki era to a minority position.

It was the governor's insistence on appealing DeGrasse's decision, and the judges he put at the helm of the appellate division, that effectively elevated Armor's paralyzing policy analysis to a position of prominence in New York law. Armor assured the Voice that "it's not being racist to acknowledge that black families are poor and have many single-parent households" and that "there's going to be a difference in achievement." To think, he continued, that the gap "can be alleviated by throwing more money at it is a deep misunderstanding of American society."

Pataki celebrated the appellate decision as a "victory" even though his own campaign claim to school fame is adding billions in statewide funding. Obviously the governor did not get down in the trenches and handpick Armor as the state's expert, but the two are joined by a mutual mission, the gutting of the hope of equitable funding that DeGrasse temporarily gave NYC school children.

Research assistance: Ross Goldberg, Chris Heaney, Matteen Mokalla

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