By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Engaged last year in buying another vainglorious term, Michael Bloomberg told black voters at a Bronx church (Daily News, September 10) that he had reversed predecessors who gave "white" schools more money than "minority" schools. (The city's school system is 30.9 percent black, 39.7 percent Latino, 14.4 percent Asian, and 14.5 percent white.)
But when he talks about white and minority schools, there's a word that the Education Mayor carefully avoids: "segregation."
Throughout the country, in big city schools and smaller ones, as Professor Gary Orfield—long a dauntless integrationist—has reported at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, there are more segregated public schools today than there were in 1954—the time of the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education.
What we have now is not de jure (by law) segregation, but de facto (actual) segregation, propelled by residential segregation and post-Brown white flight to private and suburban schools.
Dr. Kenneth Clark, whose research was integral to the Brown v. Board decision, told me on that long-ago day—when he believed that he, Thurgood Marshall, and future students had won—"Segregation twists the personality development of white as well as black children." It still does.
This year, Steven Thrasher showed vividly how school segregation works in this city. In his Voice article "Inside a Divided East Side Public School" (February 23, 2010), Thrasher described two public schools sharing the same building—one, a gifted-and-talented school that is mostly white; the other, a neighborhood school that is primarily black and Latino. The two populations are kept strictly apart: separate entrances, separate mealtimes, even separate recess periods. The white gifted school maintains low adult/children ratios by having its PTA pay for additional teaching assistants; the mostly minority zoned school, meanwhile, struggles with large classes because its parents' association is almost nonexistent.
In another illustration of Bloomberg-style segregation, Daily News education reporter Meredith Kolodner (whose byline I never miss) reports in "Enrollment of Black Students in Prestigious City Schools Drops 10% During Bloomberg Reign" (February 14, 2010): "Fewer black students are attending the city's most elite public high schools (Brooklyn Tech, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.) than when Mayor Bloomberg took over the school system about seven years ago."
She revealingly quoted Carol Boyd, a parent leader with the invaluable watchdog for our public schools, Coalition for Educational Justice/Annenberg Institute for School Reform (nyccej.org), about how students in low-income neighborhoods aren't prepared for specialized schools' entrance exams: "They're too busy . . . preparing for the New York State standardized tests"—and Chancellor Klein's testing for tests.
This connects with the November 18, 2009, New York Times integration score of the Education Mayor: "Over the last three years, high schools that receive the lowest marks from the city have been the ones with the highest percentages of poor, black, and Hispanic students, despite a [Joel Klein] evaluation system that was meant to equalize differences among student bodies."
There are, in this city, however, public schools with high percentages of black, Hispanic, and other low-income students that work so well, they're becoming national models. Particularly notable is Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone charter school—97 Harlem blocks where kids start in preschools that are preceded by a "Baby College," where parents learn about children's learning. These schools, geared for college, are in, and for, the community, and include health services for the students.
Joel Klein encourages the Harlem Children's Zone, but he has yet to learn how to practice what Geoffrey Canada teaches.
One of the schools' chancellors I've covered for the Voice since the 1960s was Tony Alvarado, who listened to creative teachers who were trying to connect with students in ways beyond teaching for tests. I was in his office one day just after the city reading and math scores had come in, showing marked improvement.
Alvarado, however, was glum. I asked him why. "When," he said, more to himself than to me, "do we teach them how to think?"
And when—I used to ask Joel Klein, when he was still speaking to me—do we teach students why they are Americans, with individual liberties under the Constitution—and what it's taken to keep those liberties from being invaded by the government? These are exciting stories, and when I was speaking in classrooms around the country years ago, it was clear how excited kids were to discover in their history why we have a First Amendment and a Fourth, and why J. Edgar Hoover was un-American.
But neither Tony Alvarado's question, nor mine, figured in the triumphant March 9 release of the city's rising high school graduation rates that the jubilant mayor told the New York Times were "historic. . . . If this doesn't put a smile on everybody in New York's face, I don't know what will."
At the Daily News, Kolodner and her colleagues didn't give us much reason to smile. In contrast to the Times' headline, "Another Rise in City Pupils Graduating in Four Years," the News was a party spoiler: "City HS Grad Rate Up—But Minorities Lag."
What about the "racial gap," much discussed here and nationally?
Seventy-four percent of white students got their diploma on time, while only 54 percent of black students did, an increase of little more—gee whiz! Two points.
In plain language, the News also reported these additional less-than-"historic" scores: "Graduate rates for students with disabilities rose 2.2 percentage points, to 24.7 percent, while those for students who speak English as a second language increased by 3.9 percentage points, to 39.7 percent." That's possible lifetime segregation, too—in all colors of the diminishing rainbow. Still, it's a rise!
Tickertape parade for these "historic rates" accomplished by Bloomberg and Klein? Not quite yet. The overall high school graduation rate was 59 percent, a rise from 56.4 percent in 2008. But only 44.6 percent of the city's students received a state Regents' diploma, a considerably more prestigious route to college admission than our "local diploma."
By 2012, however, the city's "local diploma" will be replaced by the Regents' diploma in order to graduate. Currently, students have to score 55 or higher on seven stipulated courses for a Regents' diploma, but by 2012, they'll have to get 65 or higher on those same exams.
As a result—despite the pseudo-Herculean efforts of Klein and Bloomberg—the city graduation rates will decline.
To place these years of Bloomberg control of the public schools in accurate focus, even before the coming mandated graduation Regents' scores for all city students, dig this: Among the large numbers of city high school graduates who move into the city university system, some two-thirds require remedial courses!
Alas, there are no remedial courses for the mayor or schools' chancellor.