Mayor de Blasio began his tenure by rewarding New York City’s worst-performing schools with added funding. He’s now set to end it by punishing the city’s best.
In his first year, de Blasio launched the Renewal Schools program, which allocated hundreds of millions in extra funding to roughly 100 low-performing K-12 public schools. The program was cancelled in 2019 after it largely failed to boost graduation rates or state exam scores at participating schools—though schools identified as struggling by the state continue to receive extra city investment.
Two weeks ago, de Blasio announced a major overhaul of the admissions process at the city’s approximately 400 selective public schools, which as of 2019 enrolled about 15 percent of public high school students and 18 percent of public middle school students. Middle schools must instead use a random lottery for a year, while high schools must permanently stop using geographic proximity in their admissions decisions.
De Blasio justifies the overhaul as necessary due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including a cancellation of state exams last year.
The pandemic however may be a pretense. Early in his tenure as Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza said that screening is “antithetical to what I think we all want for our kids.” De Blasio in May suggested that the cancellation of spring 2020 examinations invited “a series of changes that bring equity” and cited “screened schools” specifically.
In this context, the screening changes appear to be the opening salvo in a campaign to scrap screened admissions altogether. Carranza suggested the administration would “support” initiatives at a more local level to permanently stop screening admissions.
The debate may feature prominently in next year’s mayoral race. Candidate Dianne Morales tweeted that under her guidance, screens would be “permanently abandoned, and that is just the first step desegregating our schools.” New York City Council member and mayoral candidate Carlos Menchaca has also expressed opposition to selective admissions.
The argument that screens exacerbate racial segregation is not new. Last year, an education panel appointed by de Blasio and Carranza recommended dropping screens as a desegregation maneuver and concluded that the racial composition of each public school should reflect the racial composition of the city.
Trouble is, according to the ideal standard established by de Blasio’s panel, screened high schools in New York City more closely match citywide student demographics than non-screened high schools.
As of 2019, Black and Hispanic students accounted for 65 percent of high school enrollment in New York City. But they comprised 59 percent of enrollment at screened high schools and 82 percent at unscreened high schools.
Both de Blasio and Carranza are silent on low-performing schools and their role in exacerbating racial achievement gaps. Instead, they seek to undercut some of the best schools in a low-performing system that has already lost 31,000 students this fall compared to last fall.
When it comes to schools in New York City: If it succeeds, shame it. If it keeps succeeding, subvert it. And if it stops succeeding, reward it.