By MICHAEL BARONE
As his two terms as mayor of New York City come to an end, and long after his presidential campaign ended in a groan, Bill de Blasio sounded a final act of destruction: a proposal to end the Entrance through Gifted Public Schools Exam and Talented Program for first graders.
De Blasio’s criticism is that screening by testing results in a student body that is, as New York Times reporter Eliza Shapiro slyly put it, “widely criticized for exacerbating segregation.” Of course, what de Blasio, Shapiro and the anonymous critics she repeatedly refers to complain about isn’t actually segregation, which means a racially enforced separation. It’s the fact that the racial percentages of gifted students differ from those in the city as a whole.
Specifically, this program, and those at selective high schools such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science, which de Blasio tried to abolish, include much higher percentages of students classified as Asian and lower percentages of those classified as black and Hispanic. .
In practice, de Blasio’s proposal is unlikely to be effective. Eric Adams, who seems certain to be elected mayor next month, wants to develop rather than contract gifted and talented programs.
There is an argument that the test at age 5 is just too early. But the proposal is an example of a destructive mindset that is at work well beyond New York’s five boroughs. San Francisco abolished the long-standing exam-based entrance program for Lowell High School last February. Fairfax County, N. Virginia, has proposed to end exam entry to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, often ranked No. 1 in the country by US News & World Report.
The complaint in each case is what one might call racist: too many Asians. This echoes the complaint from Ivy League colleges a century ago: Too many Jews. Both cases involve a large number of low-income immigrant sons and daughters demonstrating the intellectual capacity and personal discipline to advance in society, to the great benefit of the nation as a whole.
A century ago, public schools and colleges in New York City and other major cities offered such an avenue to the top. Now progressives like de Blasio want to close this path to thousands of talented young people.
It is an act of destruction similar to the destruction of the statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Keeping it open and opening more such avenues is part of the work of restoring the best American traditions.
Blasio’s state of mind is opposed to these traditions. This assumes, as critical race theory and oft-cited commentators like Ibram X. Kendi teach, that any under-representation of blacks and Hispanics is “segregated” and “racist.” He wants to advance corrosive beliefs such as critical race theory and close upward mobility to racially unworthy people.
Interestingly, polls show that such assumptions are shared more by white college graduates than black or Hispanics. And in the New York Democratic primary, Adams lagged behind college-educated white voters, but won a huge margin among black voters.
Another assumption behind Blasio’s impulse is that the liberals in charge of education systems and teachers’ unions, who are hostile to gifted and talented programs, have a particular expertise that ordinary citizens must bow to.
This hypothesis was exposed during the Virginia governor’s debate when Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running for a second non-consecutive term, said: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should be teaching.”
Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin ran ads with McAuliffe’s statement – unsurprisingly, as a poll in Virginia on who should “have more influence on the school agenda” shows 52% of voters say parents and only 33% say school boards. Youngkin also criticized the abolition of entrance examinations to Thomas Jefferson High School and the Critical Racial Theory program in neighboring exurban Loudoun County.
The vehement protests at school board meetings there may have prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland’s astonishing proposal for the FBI to monitor what the National Association of School Boards described as “the equivalent of a form of domestic terrorism “at such meetings. Garland made the order without evidence that local law enforcement was unable to resolve the issues, and despite his son-in-law having a profitable business selling material on systemic racism, white supremacy and the implicit biases against local school boards.
De Blasio will soon be removed from office, but Blasio’s mindset of pushing forward false theories of systemic racism and opposing programs that offer upward mobility to talented students appears to persist.
Michael Barone is a senior policy analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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