Upon announcing that the city and state would give Amazon a $3 billion tax break in exchange for locating offices in Queens, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that many of the promised 25,000 jobs would go to locals. “We’ve made clear to Amazon, those jobs need to go to everyday New Yorkers, those jobs need to go to CUNY students or City University students, those jobs need to go to public housing residents,” the mayor announced. But this is a false guarantee; few New York-area students will get any of the “good-paying” jobs at Amazon, or anywhere else in the tech-based economy, in part because Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have rejected academic merit as a key standard at the Department of Education.
Bad city schools are no big deal to Amazon, Google, or the other high-tech companies that are transforming the municipal economy because they don’t rely on a local workforce; talented people from around the world come here to work for major companies. But New York kids deserve a shot at a high-tech future, too, and preparing them for that possibility should be a key educational goal. Alas, de Blasio and Carranza are headed in the opposite direction, embracing homogenized ethnicity as the lodestar of Gotham’s public school system, at the expense of what remains of merit-driven schooling in the city.
“We’re not about improving the system. We’re about changing the system,” Carranza declared at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters recently, describing his throw-out-the-baby approach to managing the country’s biggest school system. New York City is home to some good schools, as one might hope, given the Department of Education’s $32.3 billion budget. But many more are bad ones and, as a matter of policy, the mayor and his schools chancellor seem keen to degrade the good ones, while doing virtually nothing to make the bad ones better.
The pair has dusted off the hoary notion, for example, that black and Latino children, whenever possible, must be seated next to white children before they can learn. They don’t say so explicitly, of course, because that would be socially and politically incendiary. Yet, Carranza is targeting relatively high-functioning schools with above-average white enrollment, effectively squeezing out most of the white kids and replacing them with black and Hispanic children from under-performing schools. So far, he’s enraged middle-school parents in Park Slope and on the Upper West Side, even as he threatens to homogenize the merit out of the city’s globally famous competitive-entry high schools.
In a fully functional school system, what Carranza is doing wouldn’t make a lot of difference. In the real world of today’s New York, it will. What he’ll get will be an under-performing mess—a school system that explicitly rejects achievement in favor of Carranza’s notion of ethnic balance. He will indeed have “changed the system” without “improving” it—and thus will have succeeded, at least by the bizarre standard he has set for himself.
Both the city and the state Board of Regents have been watering down high school graduation standards since the late nineties—and while they’ve managed to maintain relatively high graduation rates, they’ve been pumping out thousands of economically nonfunctional kids. When Carranza became chancellor last April, he inherited a system with a high school graduation rate in the 70 percent range—but more than 60 percent of graduates are unqualified to do City University-level academics, according to a watchdog group.
Recently, we’ve heard encouraging news: that more kids are graduating who are qualified to skip remediation programs. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of students needing academic remediation before they could enroll in CUNY fell, from 80 percent to 62.5 percent. But it seems that CUNY has been degrading the benchmarks that it uses to determine who needs remediation in the first place. The result: an “improved” statistic, based on a process so opaque that few outsiders can comprehend it.
Both de Blasio and Carranza will likely be nowhere in sight when it eventually becomes clear that Amazon, Google, and the rest of the high-fliers might have some janitorial and similar service jobs for New York City kids, but precious few of the “good, high-paying jobs” that everybody’s been bragging about. Pressure will inevitably be brought on the essentially meritocratic tech sector to bend its ways to cover up the city’s failures. It’s not likely to comply—nor should it.
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