Mayor de Blasio’s Push for Affirmative Action in the City’s Elite High Schools

Why are Black Students Lagging?

This is the title of Felicia R Lee’s 2002 New York Times article about Professor John U Ogbu’s book Black American Students in an Affluent Suburbs: A Student Disengagement. Professor Ogbu’s research and theories on the educational gap are well-known and respected. In her article, Ms. Lee stresses the relevance of Professor Ogbu’s belief that African-Americans own cultural attitudes are a serious problem that is too often neglected. Professor Ogbu’s statement at the time on the matter was incorporated into the Time’s piece:

”No matter how you reform schools, it’s not going to solve the problem,” he said in an interview. ”There are two parts of the problem, society and schools on one hand and the black community on the other hand.”

For decades academicians argued that there were more relevant factors contributing to the achievement gap than failed education initiatives and ineffective government responses. The real impediment to reducing the gap has been the Progressive Liberals resistant to engage their Minority allies in a discussion about what they can do to

John U. Ogbu

Picture Courtesy of Wiki

address their communities’ feeble response to the problem. Why don’t more Blacks and Latinos articulate social self-awareness that includes strategies for communal betterment? Profesor Ogbu, a Nigerian born Black, was often criticized by the Progressives and everyday Democrats for supposedly being out of touch with the Black community.

Nancy Solomon wrote a poignant article for NPR  entitled “Facing Identify Conflicts, Blacks Students Fall Behind.” In the 2009 piece(s), Ms. Solomon recited the well-known statistics about the achievement gap. She offered plausible reasons why Black (Minority) students fail to achieve on an equal footing as their non-Black counterparts do. She suggested that regardless of affirmative action and racial quotas, Blacks’ problems with low self-esteem, ingrained cultural stereotypes, and a confusing cultural identity in terms of academic excellence are forces that hold Blacks back in terms of achievement. Ms. Solomon’s logic and deductive reasoning are sound. She too believed that the achievement gap cannot be solved without their being a drastic change in the psyche of the Black student. As a logical extension of her thoughts, how Black students enter school and how they progress once they are there are more factors of their upbringing then affirmative action programs.

There is an obvious question that today’s politicians should be asking; what can the Black and Latino communities do differently to ensure that their kids achieve better results in schools. Many sociologists and education experts believe that the achievement gap cannot be closed without their being a corresponding change in the minority communities mentality and social structure. Families must make education a priority and work diligently to keep their kids focused on education and doing well in school.

On Wednesday, the NYS Assembly considered Mayor de Blasio’s and Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Baron’s bill to scrape the SHSAT. The legislative body’s Education Committee approved the politicians’ bill that would phase out the standardized test for admission to the city’s elite schools.  In support of the legislation, the Brooklyn Assemblyman recited the Progressives’ much-publicized script:

Basically, it would phase out the exam because we are looking at an education system where only nine percent of black and Latino children enter into these specialized high schools, yet blacks and Latinos are nearly 70 percent of the educational system

The sponsors of the bill and the lawmakers who voted for it in committee knew that the entire Assembly would never consider it. Consequently, they saw no need to engage in political compromising to produce a bill based on a true consensus of differences. The Speaker said before the committee had taken up the bill that there was little likelihood that the bill would come up on the Assembly’s floor. The reason being that the entire Legislature was set to adjourn in days. Many political commentators believe that the committee’s action was nothing more than political grandstanding.

In my opinion, the movement to do away with SHSAT has more to do with setting racial quotas than bringing about diversity in the NYC’s elite high schools.  Competition has always been used in America as a determinative factor for advancement to a superior level. During the political debate over SHSAT, no one has put forth the proposition that an elite school should actively recruit non-elite students. Mayor de Blasio accepts this central premise but argues that Minorities who “are close to achieving a qualifying grade on the SHSAT” should by legislative fiat be considered elite. What does this really mean and how would this policy be implemented?

No one disputes the fact that there are only a limited number of seats at the elite schools. Hence the legislatively created Minority elite students would take seats away for students who have already proven that they belong in the schools. Is it fair to the better-prepared students who have worked hard to advance to the highest educational levels to be denied admission due to the politics of racial appeasement?  Mayor De Blasio and the Progressive Liberals understand the difficulty of convincing non-Blacks and non-Latinos that affirmation action and quotes are necessary evils to improve the presence of Minorities at the elite schools. If the SHSAT was scrapped, then the discussion over affirmative action and quotas would be moot.

The real dilemma that the Liberal Left faces in arguing for doing away with SHSAT is bubbling below the surface of the public debate, but probably not the private one. After decades of “Great Society’ type programs, affirmative action, racial quotas and preferential treatment in education preparatory programs the achievement gap between Minorities on one side and everyone else on the other has steadily grown over the decades. Clearly, Mayor da Blasio must realize that affirmative action and quotas are not likely to reverse this trend. Are White Progressives ready to discuss in earnest with their Minority political allies the possible social reasons why their kids are not progressing academically? The discussion that needs to take place is a difficult one and ushers in self-reflection on a cultural level.

A well-respected stalwart of liberal principles, former NYS Senator Daniel Moynihan, wrote a report as to the social and family-related problems that “the Negros faced” that prevented them from progressing to a status equal to Whites. Moynihan’s report was written in 1965 (emphasis supplied) during turbulent times in American history. The central theme of the report, which was generally accepted as valid at the time, was that the Black (and present-day Latino) family structure and dynamics prevented many them from competing with Whites on any level, especially in terms of education.

I believe that Moynihan understood that government intervention could only partially resolve the problem of Blacks achieving on levels comparable to Whites. He postulated that Blacks had to adopt family dynamics that would give them a better chance of closing the gap with Whites. Progressives need to engage their Black and Latino allies in a public discussion as to how best to improve family dynamics to help close the educational gap.

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