New York City has become the poster child for how identity politics is counterproductive in government, but this insanity is impressive even for Comrade DeBlasio.
Yesterday it was announced that Bill DeBlasio’s diversity panel recommended New York schools end their gifted and talented programs, as (non-Asian) minorities are dramatically underrepresented in them. Civil rights activists argue that the programs’ raison d’etre was always to keep relatively wealthy white children in public schools and not to encourage children with bona fide intellectual gifts. They note that some families are paying thousands of dollars to hire tutors for four-year-olds so they can qualify for admission to the best public schools. The administration must combat this scourge of rational economic actors!
Only a couple days ago, I wrote about how more than a quarter of children in New York City are now educated outside of the public school system. The data show this is not only a story about white privilege. It’s also a story about acute government failure. It’s not only rich white people on the Upper East Side that are pulling their kids from public schools. It turns out minority families are pretty good at being rational economic actors too.
Surely the families that can afford to spend thousands on tutoring for preschoolers are more likely to send their children to private schools if the city eliminates its gifted programs. But many, many families in minority neighborhoods are also choosing to leave the system for charter schools. This includes a lot of high achievers. Eliminating gifted and talented programs will likely increase the numbers of families seeking education alternatives across the spectrum. A “diversity panel” should understand this.
These same advocates argue that the policy idea that most reliably improves academic outcomes (which to them only means test scores) is moving disadvantaged kids into mixed-income schools. (This is the same attitude that gave us the failed policy of busing.) Somehow it does not occur to them that eliminating what they take to be the only draw public schools have for relatively wealthy families is not going to achieve that goal either. Instead it might remove the only opportunity an academically gifted minority in the public school system might have at social mobility.
Right now, the kids in New York Public schools are ethnically diverse, but hardly economically diverse: “About 15% of students were white, 16% Asian, 26% black and 41% Hispanic in the last school year, by city data. About 73% were in poverty.” But policymakers are absolutely obsessed with where less than a third of the kids in their system go to school. Meanwhile, almost every family that can afford to remove their children from the school system has.
New York City is hardly alone in this phenomenon. If you look at Chicago or Los Angeles schools, you will see the same pattern. Urban housing patterns reinforce socioeconomic divisions, and you see the impact of concentrated poverty in public schools.
DeBlasio and his fellow fans of social engineering are not going to change who owns property in the city (though I wouldn’t put it past him to try). What they are going to do is hasten the school system’s downward spiral.
What should someone who wants better opportunities for their children do? Move. Leave New York City. It is irrational to think government schools in a city characterized by this profound level of economic inequality can ever be shaped to work to the benefit of children.
I’ve thought for a long time that if the federal government wanted a lot of bang for its buck in education spending, what it should subsidize is relocation packages. This isn’t just true for New York City; it’s true for places like Appalachia. Federal, state, and local government agencies spend billions and billions of dollars every year trying to prop up institutions that are designed to fail because they are dealing with people who live in extreme conditions. The easiest way to change the circumstances of future generations is to remove their households from extreme living conditions. New York City is already naturally losing people because it is too big and too corrupt to govern effectively. But you have a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck who are essentially trapped in a specific community. And that traps their kids in specific schools. The government could promote social mobility by investing in physical mobility.