Three former high-ranking administrators have sued New York City Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, claiming that they were demoted because they’re white. It’s an explosive charge, and one that must be proved—but the allegations reflect, at minimum, the intensifying racial tensions since Carranza took charge of the nation’s largest, most complex public school system 13 months ago.
The chancellor threw down the race gauntlet virtually on Day One. He picked fights with white parents on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, promised to achieve racial balance in the city’s famous selective-admissions high schools by essentially “reforming” them out of existence, and commissioned a $23 million “implicit-bias” social-conditioning regimen that lies at the heart of the former administrators’ $80 million lawsuit.
The program, first reported by the New York Post, assumes that New York City’s majority-minority public school students struggle because the system’s white-majority teachers and staff, consciously or otherwise, bring racist attitudes to work with them—and that this, rather than substandard teaching, administrative inertia, and non-classroom-related social issues, is the primary cause of classroom underperformance. Carranza’s reeducation program is the purported remedy, complete with racialist rhetoric, threats, and—if the suit is to be believed—race-based transfers and demotions. Eventually, all of the DoE’s 130,000-plus teachers and administrators will be subjected to such social conditioning.
Yet the DoE, despite repeated requests, can produce no empirical evidence that implicit bias exists in New York City’s schools. (This is likely because implicit bias itself is a dubious concept.) Rather than providing evidence of prejudice, the DoE justifies its program by pointing to a study prepared by an advocacy group, the Perception Institute, which itself makes no explicit case for racial bias in New York schools—or anywhere else, for that matter. Instead, the institute asserts that inequality of public school outcomes across ethnic groups is all the evidence needed for racial bias. Its report, The Impact of Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat on Student Outcomes, is an ambitious exercise in rhetorical gymnastics, but it makes no credible case for Carranza’s race-driven social-conditioning policies.
“Racism [is] any act that even unwittingly tolerates, accepts or reinforces racially unequal opportunities or outcomes for children to learn and thrive,” writes Glenn Singleton, another DoE consultant, paid $750,000 for his insights. This is nonsense. Unequal educational outcomes have many causes, ranging from social dislocation and inequitable resource distribution to uneven student ability and effort—and, of course, to differences in teaching competence. Without proper context for understanding them, disparate outcomes generally tell us little.
But one outcome dramatically undercuts Carranza’s implicit-bias sophistry. The stunning success of most of the city’s charter schools has rebuked conventional teaching practices since these schools first appeared two decades ago, and that goes double for Carranza’s racial fixations. Teacher ethnicity is essentially identical in charter and district schools—42 percent minority in charters versus 38 percent in traditional public schools. It’s all but certain that a black or Hispanic charter school child will have a white teacher, since charter school kids are virtually all black or Hispanic. So whatever harm is done by implicit prejudices should be magnified in charter schools—yet charters for the most part prosper, while most district schools do not.
The chancellor appears oblivious to this. His reckless race rhetoric, amplified by the increasingly bitter DoE hyperbole on implicit bias, should disturb anyone with memories of the last race-driven crisis in city schools—the near-catastrophe at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, in 1968. Ocean Hill-Brownsville had more to do with the unionization of the city’s teachers and community empowerment than with education policy, but it proceeded along racial lines that generated decades of bitterness.
Carranza and his associates may not even be aware of the potential explosiveness of the fight they’re picking; or maybe they do know, and assume that the prospect of racial conflict will preempt opposition to their scheme. It’s a risky bet. Carranza says that he’s combating a “white supremacy culture,” characterized by such concepts as “individualism,” “objectivity,” and “worship of the written word.” It’s hard to imagine any educator disparaging the written word, but Carranza has crossed that Rubicon. As chancellor, he’s never outlined a coherent academic agenda for the city’s 1.1 million pupils. Instead, it’s all about race.
Where is all this headed? “The goal of the trainings is to help reduce the effect of implicit biases and support high expectations and improve outcomes,” said a spokesman. Asked for a specific goal, the spokesman answered: “An 84 percent high school graduation rate by 2026.” That’s likely to be a moving target, given New York State’s continually diminishing graduation standards.
Carranza has perpetrated on city schools an empirically baseless, socially destructive program with no substantive objectives. The lawsuit’s plaintiff pool looks certain to grow. If Carranza truly wants to serve New York’s students, he should change course—or resign.
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