Archives for the month of: July, 2020

Trump decided a few weeks ago that he could help his prospects for re-election if he could get schools across the nation to reopen fully, regardless of the state of the pandemic in their community, regardless of the risks to students and staff. He has threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that refuse to reopen fully, and he proclaimed that he and Pence were pressuring the CDC to weaken its guidelines.

At first, the CDC held firm, urging schools to practice social distancing, to require personal protective equipment, and not to reopen unless all safety precautions were in place.

But the CDC buckled to the White House pressure. It changed the tone of its guidance, now stressing the necessity of reopening over the importance of safety.

Now the CDC sings the song that Trump, Pence, and DeVos want to hear.

The top U.S. public health agency issued a full-throated call to reopen schools in a package of new “resources and tools” posted on its website Thursday night that opened with a statement that sounded more like a political speech than a scientific document, listing numerous benefits for children of being in school and downplaying the potential health risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the new guidance two weeks after President Trump criticized its earlier recommendations on school reopenings as “very tough and expensive,” ramping up what had already been an anguished national debate over the question of how soon children should return to classrooms. As the president was criticizing the initial C.D.C. recommendations, a document from the agency surfaced that detailed the risks of reopening and the steps that districts were taking to minimize those risks [the document was incorrectly dated 2019].

“Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being, and future of one of America’s greatest assets — our children — while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families,” the new opening statement said.

The package of materials began with the opening statement, titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall,” and repeatedly described children as being at low risk for being infected by or transmitting the coronavirus, even though the science on both aspects is far from settled.

“The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms,” the statement said. “At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”

While children infected by the virus are at low risk of becoming severely ill or dying, how often they become infected and how efficiently they spread the virus to others is not definitively known. Children in middle and high schools may also be at much higher risk of both than those under 10, according to some recent studies.

Beyond the statement, the package included decision tools and checklists for parents, guidance on mitigation measures for schools to take and other information that some epidemiologists described as helpful.

The new materials are meant to supplement guidance the C.D.C. previously issued on when and how to reopen schools, with recommendations such as keeping desks six feet apart and keeping children in one classroom all day instead of allowing them to move around.

The new statement released on Thursday is a stark departure from the 69-page document, obtained by The New York Times earlier this month, marked “For Internal Use Only,” which was intended for federal public health response teams to have as they are deployed to hot spots around the country.

That document classified as “highest risk” the full reopening of schools, and its suggestions for mitigating the risk of school reopenings would be expensive and difficult for many districts, like broad testing of students and faculty and contact tracing to find people exposed to an infected student or teacher.

An Associated Press/NORC poll this week found that most Americans said they were very or extremely concerned that reopening K-12 schools for in-person instruction would contribute to spreading the virus. Altogether, 80 percent of respondents said they were at least somewhat concerned, including more than three in five Republicans.

Thanks to Trump, the public can no longer trust the impartiality of the CDC. Under pressure, it revised its guidelines to please the president. Science will not “get in the way” of Trump’s political campaign. Any student or teacher or other school personnel who dies because of a premature opening will be blood on the hands of Trump, Pence, DeVos, and the CDC.

The CDC and its director, Dr. Robert Redfield, are hereby enrolled on the blog’s Wall of Shame.

Betsy DeVos wants schools to open. She wants to help Trump win re-election. Trump wants schools to open so the economy will restart. DeVos claimed that children don’t get sick from the virus, so they won’t spread it. She thinks they might even be a brake on the virus. The Washington Post gave her claims a fact check.

The Fact Checker wrote:

“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of — the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.”

— Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in an interview on “The Conservative Circus” (iHeart radio), July 16

Our eyes popped out when we first heard this comment by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as she pressed the administration’s case for reopening schools in the fall with in-person classes.

Could children actually be “stoppers” of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus? That would be great news — if true. The interruption of school threatens to create a learning deficit — and many parents may find it difficult to return to work if children are not in classes.

Let’s examine DeVos’s evidence that children do not transmit the coronavirus, as it appears to be influencing administration policy. President Trump echoed her claim in a news briefing Wednesday evening. “They do say that [children] don’t transmit very easily, and a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit,” he said. “They don’t bring it home with them. They don’t catch it easily; they don’t bring it home easily.”

The Facts

An Education Department spokesperson supplied four reports from around the world:

American Academy of Pediatrics: Evidence suggests that children don’t contract or spread the virus the way adults do, in contrast to how they spread influenza.

New South Wales, Australia: Eighteen infected people who had contact with nearly 900 people resulted in only two additional infections, with “no evidence of children infecting teachers.”

France: An infected 9-year-old in France came into contact with 172 people while attending three ski schools, and none of them — not even the child’s siblings — appeared to contract the virus.

Saxony, Germany: A study (in German) found no evidence that schoolchildren play a role in spreading the virus, with a researcher quoted in a news report as saying that “children may even act as a brake on infection.”
“We’re mainly looking at the German study — one of the people who helped run it is the one who first said that kids can act as ‘brakes’ on virus transmission,” the Education Department spokesperson said.

Well, there’s a problem with that. The German study has not been peer-reviewed; it is still in preprint review by the Lancet, meaning it should not be used to guide clinical practice.

Moreover, the German researchers told The Fact Checker that the results do not apply to a country such as the United States, where infections have been soaring. Germany, by contrast, is among the countries that are considered to have handled the outbreak with skill and diligence, keeping infections per million people relatively low.

“Our results depict a situation with low infection rates after the initial transmission peak is under control,” Jakob Armann, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at University Children’s Hospital in Dresden and co-author of the study, said in an email. “If you have rising infection rates — as in the United States currently — putting people in close contact will obviously lead to transmission of respiratory viruses as SARS-CoV-2.”

The key, he said, is to get the situation under control, as most Europeans countries have. Then “there is a way to safely reopen schools and schoolchildren are not ‘hidden’ hotspots of transmission.”

Reinhard Berner, Armann’s colleague, made the “brake” comment, but Armann said his quote was “widely exaggerated through in the media.” (The phrase does not appear in the study.)

“The point he was trying to make is that these findings are in contrast to the earlier assumptions that children will spread the virus to a much higher degree than adults,” Armann said. “We are not trying to argue that children do not spread the virus at all, and you are absolutely right that in high-infection communities, children will get infected and will transmit to close contacts.”

It’s easy to find studies and news reports that contradict DeVos’s assertion:

South Korea: A large study using contact tracing found that children ages 10 to 19 can spread the virus at least as much as adults do; children younger than 10 were half as likely to transmit the virus, but there was still a risk.

Israel: At least 1,335 students and 691 staff members contracted the coronavirus after Israel reopened its entire school system without restrictions on May 17, believing it had beaten the virus. The spike in infections among the children spread to the general population, according to epidemiological surveys by Israel’s Health Ministry. As of mid-July, 125 schools and 258 kindergartens have been closed because of infections. (One study suggested that the disease spread quickly at a high school, affecting more than 260 people, during a heat wave, when mask rules were suspended and air conditioning was in constant use.)

In the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 241,904 child coronavirus cases were reported as of July 16, with children representing 8 percent of all cases. There was a 46 percent increase in child cases from July 2 to July 16, although mortality remains low, with 24 states reporting no child deaths so far.

Although there have been relatively few deaths of children — fewer than 70, according to state reports — about 3.3 million adults ages 65 and older live in a household with school-age children, according to a July 16 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s about 6 percent of all seniors in the United States, who have a greater chance of becoming severely ill from the virus if a child becomes infected.

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said that too often people have latched on to studies that later turn out to be flawed. “There have been so many studies, sometimes with strident conclusions, only to be blown out of the water later” when conditions change, he said. “The bottom-line message is that school-age kids will see transmissions. How much is unclear, but they definitely are not brakes.”

After we communicated the response from the German researchers, we received this statement from the Education Department: “The science remains on the side of reopening schools, even at the highest levels of the medical field. As the Secretary has said, we have to think about the impact on the whole child if schools continue to remain closed. In addition to a quality education, students need the peer-to-peer interaction, access to mental health care, and nutritious food that schools provide. As she has said previously, decisions on schools fully reopening will need to be made on case-by-case basis depending on the local health situation, and the goal should be fully reopening in the fall.”

The Pinocchio Test

As a Cabinet secretary, DeVos has a responsibility to provide accurate information to the public. It’s easy to pick and choose medical studies to assert a political point. But it’s irresponsible to mainly rely on a news account of a report that has not even been peer-reviewed yet — and that concerns a low-infection environment not yet applicable to the United States.

There is evidence that children may not get as sick as adults, and younger children especially may not transmit the virus as easily. From an educational perspective, certainly it would be better to provide in-class instruction than to continue remote learning. But to claim that children actually may stop the spread of the disease shows a stunning lack of due diligence.

DeVos earns Four Pinocchios.

The National Education Policy Center posted this interview with Elizabeth Dutro, whose work centers on teaching children who have experienced traumas.

We live in traumatic times. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 135,000 thousand in the U.S., and has sickened many more. The economic downtown has resulted in more than 50 million unemployment claims. Police have continued to kill unarmed people of color, touching off nationwide protests that may or may not lead to widespread permanent reforms. All of this has disproportionately impacted people of color and low-income families, who have been more likely to get sick and die from the virus, lose their jobs, and face violence at the hands of law enforcement. 

Throughout it all, schools, which serve not only as a place to learn but a sanctuary and source of comfort for many, have been closed since March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With the resurgence this summer of the disease, remote instruction may continue in many places through the fall.

In the Q&A below, trauma and learning expert and National Education Policy Center Fellow Elizabeth Dutro responds to difficult questions about how teachers can effectively and respectfully address the traumas that are touching so many of their students’ lives, either in person or from afar, even as they, themselves, may be experiencing similar traumas of their own. A professor of education at the University of Colorado Boulder, Dutro is the author of The Vulnerable Heart of Literacy: Centering Trauma as Powerful Pedagogy (Teachers College Press, 2019).She is currently collaborating with children and teachers to examine what trauma means and how it functions in classrooms. Her other research interests include teachers’ opportunities to learn together in the context of their daily work and relationships with children, as well as the role of teacher education in critical and affective teaching.

Musician Dave Grohl wrote this article in The Atlantic in honor of his mother, who was a dedicated teacher. America’s teachers need a plan, not a trap, he writes.

My mother was a public-school teacher.

As a single mother of two, she tirelessly devoted her life to the service of others, both at home and at work. From rising before dawn to ensure that my sister and I were bathed, dressed, and fed in time to catch the bus to grading papers well into the night, long after her dinner had gone cold, she rarely had a moment to herself. All this while working multiple jobs to supplement her meager $35,000 annual salary. Bloomingdale’s, Servpro, SAT prep, GED prep—she even once coached soccer for a $400 stipend, funding our first family trip to New York City, where we stayed at the St. Regis Hotel and ordered drinks at its famous King Cole Bar so that we could fill up on the free hors d’oeuvres we otherwise could not afford. Unsurprisingly, her devoted parenting mirrored her technique as a teacher. Never one to just point at a blackboard and recite lessons for kids to mindlessly memorize, she was an engaging educator, invested in the well-being of each and every student who sat in her class. And at an average of 32 students a class, that was no small feat. She was one of those teachers who became a mentor to many, and her students remembered her long after they had graduated, often bumping into her at the grocery store and erupting into a full recitation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, like a flash mob in the produce aisle. I can’t tell you how many of her former students I’ve met over the years who offer anecdotes from my mother’s classroom. Every kid should be so lucky to have that favorite teacher, the one who changes your life for the better. She helped generations of children learn how to learn, and, like most other teachers, exhibited a selfless concern for others. Though I was never her student, she will forever be my favorite teacher.

It takes a certain kind of person to devote their life to this difficult and often-thankless job. I know because I was raised in a community of them. I have mowed their lawns, painted their apartments, even babysat their children, and I’m convinced that they are as essential as any other essential workers. Some even raise rock stars! Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Adam Levine, Josh Groban, and Haim are all children of school workers (with hopefully more academically rewarding results than mine). Over the years, I have come to notice that teachers share a special bond, because there aren’t too many people who truly understand their unique challenges—challenges that go far beyond just pen and paper. Today, those challenges could mean life or death for some.

When it comes to the daunting—and ever more politicized—question of reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, the worry for our children’s well-being is paramount. Yet teachers are also confronted with a whole new set of dilemmas that most people would not consider. “There’s so much more to be addressed than just opening the doors and sending them back home,” my mother tells me over the phone. Now 82 and retired, she runs down a list of concerns based on her 35 years of experience: “masks and distancing, temperature checks, crowded busing, crowded hallways, sports, air-conditioning systems, lunchrooms, public restrooms, janitorial staff.” Most schools already struggle from a lack of resources; how could they possibly afford the mountain of safety measures that will need to be in place? And although the average age of a schoolteacher in the United States is in the early 40s, putting them in a lower-risk group, many career teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, nurses, and janitors are older and at higher risk. Every school’s working faculty is a considerable percentage of its population, and should be safeguarded appropriately. I can only imagine if my mother were now forced to return to a stuffy, windowless classroom. What would we learn from that lesson? When I ask what she would do, my mother replies, “Remote learning for the time being.”

Remote learning comes with more than a few of its own complications, especially for working-class and single parents who are dealing with the logistical problem of balancing jobs with children at home. Uneven availability of teaching materials and online access, technical snafus, and a lack of socialization all make for a less-than-ideal learning experience. But most important, remote setups overseen by caretakers, with a teacher on the other end doing their best to educate distracted kids who prefer screens used for games, not math, make it perfectly clear that not everyone with a laptop and a dry-erase board is cut out to be a teacher. That specialized skill is the X factor. I know this because I have three children of my own, and my remote classroom was more Welcome Back, Kotter than Dead Poets Society. Like I tell my children, “You don’t really want daddy helping, unless you want to get an F!” Remote learning is an inconvenient and hopefully temporary solution. But as much as Donald Trump’s conductor-less orchestra would love to see the country prematurely open schools in the name of rosy optics (ask a science teacher what they think about White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s comment that “science should not stand in the way”), it would be foolish to do so at the expense of our children, teachers, and schools…

America’s teachers are caught in a trap, set by indecisive and conflicting sectors of failed leadership that have never been in their position and can’t possibly relate to the unique challenges they face. I wouldn’t trust the U.S. secretary of percussion to tell me how to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” if they had never sat behind a drum set, so why should any teacher trust Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to tell them how to teach, without her ever having sat at the head of a class? (Maybe she should switch to the drums.) Until you have spent countless days in a classroom devoting your time and energy to becoming that lifelong mentor to generations of otherwise disengaged students, you must listen to those who have. Teachers want to teach, not die, and we should support and protect them like the national treasures that they are. For without them, where would we be?

This is the most important post you will read this month or maybe even this year. It refutes the basis of American education policy.

This is major study of the relationship between scores on PISA and economic growth. It demonstrates that there is none.

It was written by Hikaru Komatsu (Associate Professor at National Taiwan University) and Jeremy Rappleye (Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education) for the Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training. The authors criticize the work of Hoover economist Eric Hanushek and demonstrate how his theories of human capital development were widely adopted by American and European organizations and became the convention wisdom.

Komatsu and Rappleye demonstrate the flaws in Hanushek’s theories, which have led to unprecedented emphasis on improving standardized test scores in many nations.

They begin by reviewing a paper published by the European Commission, based on Hanushek’s human capital theories. Open the link to see the graphs.

The EC report was written by Eric Hanushek (Hoover Institute, a think tank on the campus of Stanford University) and Ludger Woessmann (University of Munich, ifo Center for Economics of Education). It laid out the same findings, methods and arguments that can be found in a range of publications in the United States dating back to the early 2000s (e.g., Hanushek & Kimiko, 2000), and reaching back even – with a bit more historical awareness – to the heady Anglo-American neo-liberalism of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s (e.g., Hanushek, 1981, Hanushek, 1986). These claims were articulated strongly in a 2013 book by the same authors, published by the Brookings Institute and intended to reach US policymakers, entitled Endangering Prosperity: A Global Look at the American School. These same findings were also publicized in major reports by the World Bank (2007) and the OECD (2010, 2015), both of which commissioned Hanushek and Woessmann to write their findings into development policy. The World Bank would later officially adopt the model as the underpinning logic of Learning for All (2011) (see Auld, Morris, and Rappleye, 2019), while the OECD’s 2010 report entitled The High Cost of Low Educational Performance – The Long-Run Impacts of Improving PISA Outcomes would be virtually transferred carbon copy into the EC’s 2019 report. That is, the EC 2019 Report claims that an aggressive, focused 15-20 year reform push to raise scores by 25-points would “add €71 trillion to EU GDP over the status quo” and which “amounts to an aggregate EU gain of almost 3 times current levels of GDP and an average GDP that is seven percent higher for the remainder of the century”. Based on the Hanushek and Woessmann numbers, Andreas Schleicher enticed European leaders with precisely that same narrative in 2010, as shown here in a slide from his presentation below (Slide 34 in the original presentation). Schleicher claimed that a PISA-improvement reform add 30% of the current GDP in 2100, which makes the total economic value of this reform is equivalent to 340% of the current GDP – the exact value shown in Figure 2…

For quite some time, we and others (here, here, here, and here) have pointed out that the Hanushek and Woessmann “findings” are deeply flawed. Our work includes a number of published papers, newspaper articles, and blogs published since 2016. We have tried to call attention to this situation in two previous NORRAG blog pieces here and here. Our argument in the main 2017 paper was simple. Hanushek and Woessmann used a relationship between students’ performance in international tests and economic growth for estimating the economic value of improving 25 points of PISA scores. However, Hanushek and Woessmann surprisingly compared students’ performance for a given period and economic growth for the same period. However, as it logically takes several decades for that cohort of students to occupy a major portion of workforce and then contribute to economic growth. We logically compared students’ performance for a given period and economic growth for a subsequent period. Surprisingly, in doing so we discovered virtually no relationship between them, casting strong doubts on the purportedly strong causal claims (Komatsu & Rappleye, 2017). While we find it disheartening that there has been no response to our work, it is far more disappointing that find that now the EC have turned to Hanushek and Woessmann, paying them hefty consultancy fees to write policy recommendations for Europe. We wonder aloud: Why does the EC Directorate for Education, Youth, Sport, and Culture need to turn to American think tanks to generate new policy ideas?…

Returning again to the larger picture, it seems that now the EU and OECD, alongside the World Bank, OECD and often highly influential figures in UNESCO, are now utilizing the same Hanushek and Woessmann Knowledge Capital claims. What makes this ‘Western consensus’ so alarming – at least to us – is not simply that education and economics are being so tightly coupled or that PISA is being embedded deeply into policymaking goals through these works. It is, instead, that so many leading minds in the West seem unable or unwilling to think differently.

A decade ago, when I wrote The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I quoted a study by Keith Baker, a statistician who worked for many years in the U.S. Department of Education. Baker pointed out that the U.S. had placed last in the first international assessment in 1964, yet over the next half-century had outperformed the eleven nations with higher scores. He concluded then that test scores do not predict economic growth or anything else. Every time the results of a new international assessment are released, whoever is in charge says that the performance of the U.S. students is horrible, shameful, alarming, and proclaims “a new Sputnik moment.” And every time I point out that the U.S. has never been number one on international assessments and that these scores are meaningless. But the press reports the lamentations without contradiction anyway.

The Providence Journal published a scathing editorial about Governor Gina Raimondo’s dereliction of duty in demanding the full opening of schools next month while failing to provide sensible plans to do so.

It is titled “Rhode Island’s Education System Goes from Mediocre to Just Plain Chaotic.”

Raimondo is a former venture capitalist who redesigned the state’s pension system by cutting them. She is also a “reformer” who welcomes charter schools and is a favorite of DFER. And she is chair of the Democratic Governors Association.

The editorial begins:

On June 10, Governor Gina Raimondo asserted that all students would be back in the classroom on August 31.
This was after her confusing narrative that Rhode Island was “#1 in online learning,” a claim that sends chills through frustrated parents, educators, and students who knew another reality this spring.

Raimondo nearly every day proclaims Rhode Island is #1 at something, but the reality is that Rhode Island may only be #1 in ridiculous claims of being #1.

No state is #1 in this pandemic and certainly, neither this state nor any other are winning anything — it is all different degrees of losing.

Raimondo is not responsible for the disease and she has made a number of solid decisions, but also some major errors. The decision to return infected hospitalized nursing home patients to nursing homes caused the additional unnecessary spread and deaths. This helped drive Rhode Islands’s per capita death rate to be the 5th highest in the United States.

As part of her Trump-like doctrine to return to schools, she ordered all of the school districts to develop “their own” plan for returning to the classroom.

This chaotic approach of asking beaten down administrators and faculty to develop their own plans with little support has been an exercise in futility and frustration. Doesn’t the state have the expertise on the disease?

One would hope the state’s consultants – paid millions via a no-bid contract – would have more expertise on best practices than a principal in Exeter-West Greenwich does on how to design a safe school environment to protect children and faculty.

This entry appeared today in Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac.”

It was on this night in 1967 that an uprising began in Detroit. An all-white squadron of police officers decided to raid a bar in a black neighborhood where there was a party to welcome home two recent veterans of the Vietnam War. The police stormed the bar, rounded up and arrested 85 black men and began loading them into vans.

The riot that broke out raged for five days. Thousands of soldiers from the Michigan National Guard were called in, along with tanks. The National Guardsmen fired off more than 150,000 bullets over the course of the riot. Citizens were terrorized, beaten, and murdered, as depicted in the movie Detroit (2017), based on the recollections of witnesses to the Algiers Motel Incident.

Forty-three people were killed and whole blocks of the city went up in flames. After the riots, many of the white residents of the city moved to the suburbs in “white flight.” Detroit became one of the poorest cities in America.

The latest video from the Lincoln Project documents Trump’s pronouncements about the pandemic. It is brilliant.

K.A. Dilday is a parent and journalist who lives in Central Harlem.

She wrote critically about efforts to integrate the selective high schools. Putting your child into an academic pressure-cooker is the wrong definition of success, she believes. She wants something better for her child.

She writes:

This weekend, nearly 30,000 eighth graders in New York City will take the Specialized High School Admission test (SHSAT). About 5,000 of them will score high enough to get an offer to attend one of eight of the city’s prestigious specialized high schools.

When the classes are compiled, the demographics at these schools do not resemble New York City, and they certainly do not mirror the demographics of its public-school students. The three schools that serve the bulk of SHSAT-admitted specialized high-school students have populations that are disproportionately Asian, white, and male.
For 50 years, admission to this trio (The Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical high schools) has been determined by this test. The five other specialized schools were created in the 2000s; together, these eight institutions serve about 6 percent of the city’s high school population. There’s been a fierce debate locally about whether the specialized schools should look more like the city’s general population, and if you agree with that (some don’t), how to accomplish that.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his own plan to diversify them, which involves admitting the top students from every city middle school, and expanding the 50-year-old Discovery program, which is designed to prepare low-income students to gain admission. (So far, that program has primarily benefitted low-income Asian and white students). Some have pushed back, arguing that such reforms will unfairly penalize Asian students, and that the schools will change if admission methods are altered.
But there is a disturbing acceptance by all sides in this debate that there is one form of success and achievement, of happiness and fulfillment—that there is a “best” defined by a conventional measure. Admission to these schools unlocks it, and we all want it, or should.

I can’t get behind this: It affirms a supremacist mentality. I thought we were done propping that up.

As a New York City parent and a journalist, I have been closely following this debate, and many studies about the systemic exclusion from success, and a good life, for blacks and Latinos in the United States. The people who fight to change the admissions believe they are fighting for the cause of black and brown children, including my 9-year old daughter. In reading these debates and studies, I’ve learned a few things. First and foremost: I am a failure, and I am setting my daughter up to be a failure.

Just by living in this neighborhood—one which has about the same ratio of blacks and whites as the one I grew up in—I’ve knocked two points off my daughter’s IQ score, as a cute little graphic in this Vox article shows.

Oh, wait: There was a murder within seven blocks of our home. This same article relies on NYU research to tell me that my choice of apartment knocked seven more points off my daughter’s IQ. (Although I do wonder if there is a neighborhood anywhere in Manhattan where there hasn’t been a murder within seven blocks during a five-year period.)

In other words, I started off strong as a child but I am a failure who is failing my daughter, and here’s the kicker: Despite the studies that tell me that I live here because racism did the dirty to me, I claim agency in this. I chose it all. I chose not to have my daughter tested to enter kindergarten in the gifted and talented programs that feed to specialized high schools. Nor do I want her to attend a specialized high school. I am choosing for my daughter to be “left behind.”

With her father, I made these choices in location and education because we find beauty and value in our neighborhood, and reward in schools where students leave with a broad idea of what achievement looks like, an expansive idea of the path to happiness, success, societal contribution, and fulfillment—and the capacity to choose their path.

The Times offers a few clues to the criteria they use. “These schools have a vital mission, to challenge the city’s sharpest young minds.” Referring to the criticism of the mayor’s plan from alumni, the op-ed concludes that “the very intensity of the response underscores how formative an experience it is to attend a specialized high school.”

The first criterion I understand but disagree with; the second makes little sense. Passion about changing admissions indicates that it is such a formative experience? I think it’s more that admission confers bragging rights, something very important in highly competitive New York City.

“They all but shut out black and Latino students,” the article states, “leaving untold numbers of New York’s brightest children behind.” The Times seems to know who is “bright” and who isn’t: Like the SHSAT, they feel confident this can be assessed. And where is this “behind?” Those “shut out” students are left to attend many other good schools in New York. “Behind” implies that the specialized high schools are in front, and that schools that don’t earn that honorific by choosing a student body based on that narrow form of achievement are lesser.

Let’s dial back a bit. As I said, I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, but I didn’t mention that it was in Jackson, Mississippi, 1972 to ’87. I fully understand that my parents—first-generation college attendees—gave me choice. My background and private-college degree helped open up a world of opportunity. I was able to choose a rewarding but not well-remunerated (compared to working graduates of a university like mine) job. I was able to choose where I lived, and I knew I didn’t want to live in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses neighborhood, whether it was mostly white or brown, or Asian. I chose my neighborhood because of its mixed-up income and mixed-up races.

So why do so many people who lament what is called white supremacy—and who hate the fact that it is guarded so jealously—reaffirm its values? Our lives are diminished because we are “shut out” of specialized high schools; our lives are limited because we live in majority black and brown neighborhoods. Our proximity to too many poor people, after having started life in middle-class communities, is evidence of slippage.

Until I read all of these school debates and articles about the drawbacks of my area, I was happy and pleased with the life I was providing my child. I thought that, through her neighborhood and education, she’d have what I had wanted from mine: familiarity, ease, and appreciation of an incredibly wide range of people; capacity for hard work; intellectual and moral rigor; and a desire to do something good in the world. But to academics and reporters, black, white, Latino, etc., my child and I are tragic: We are black American retrogression.

Jason Warwin, a New Yorker who came through the New York City public school system, graduated from Central Park East Secondary School, a small progressive 7-12 school in East Harlem. I met him while fighting to preserve my daughter’s progressive public elementary school when the New York City Department of Education was insisting that a more rigid form of education was the only one suitable for brown children in Harlem.

Warwin recalls being set extra work at Central Park East Secondary and being annoyed sometimes when he was asked to work with other students to teach them something he had already mastered. But it didn’t take him long to appreciate what the teachers and administration wanted him to realize.

Warwin went on to an Ivy League university, Brown, where he met a fellow student from New York City, Khary Lazarre-White. As undergrads, they created an organization they still direct called Brotherhood Sister Sol, a mentoring, academic, and social support organization primarily for black and brown students in Harlem. When we spoke this fall, Warwin was only slightly aware of the current demographics of the specialized schools. I can only guess that this is because it is marginal to his students’ experience, and to what he hopes for them.

“Supporting people who are trying to live moral lives is not something you hear as a focus of these [specialized] schools,” Warwin told me. “Of course, we [at Brotherhood Sister Sol] are very happy when a young person gets into an Ivy League college. But our primary objective isn’t to get them into elite schools. We want them to develop in a positive direction in how they interact with the people in their lives.” He said he’d rather see the city develop more consortium high schools, similar to the one he attended, and particularly in low-income neighborhoods like West Harlem where Brotherhood Sister Sol is located.

And I myself, can get only so enthused about discussing initiatives to diversify these schools: To me, the families who want the brand enough to submit their children to the hours and hours of homework and intensely competitive environmentof these specialized school hothouses and send their children for hundreds of hours of test prep(and many of the families who do are of modest income) are welcome to it. I lump these schools in the same category as I put Gucci handbags and Patek Philippe watches: expensive trophies for the status conscious. I can get something that does as good a job or better, for a fraction of the monetary or human cost.

The parent of one of my daughter’s school friends disagrees with me. He’s a black man who attended one of the big three and went on to earn Ivy undergraduate and graduate degrees. He says that this fight is important because any chance people get, they will discredit the intellect and achievement of people of color: More of us need degrees from these institutions because they serve as irrefutable counter to such claims. But I wonder: If the admissions processes are changed, will it continue to have that validating power?

Ani also went to Brown. She was ashamed that she wasn’t accepted to Harvard; her father, who immigrated to New York from China, always wanted her to go to whatever he thought people perceived as “the best.” She became an M.D.; only now, after her father and his parents have died, has she begun to retrain as a teacher. “I had told my dad that I wanted to teach young children, and he said, ‘Well, if you want to work with young children you should become a pediatrician.’” She also asked that her full name not be used, because “my father’s family still don’t know that I’m leaving medicine.”

Ani also chose not to have her children tested to enter the city’s gifted and talented (called G&T) program in kindergarten. Instead, she enrolled them in a progressive, non-test-focused public elementary school. “Kids bring all different kinds of things to school and that those are equally valuable,” she says. “In G&T, they are only kids who do well on a test.”

Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods would be remade and neighborhoods recast. Perhaps this long-standing idea that the specialized schools serve the city’s best and brightest would retreat. (It’s happened before: As The Atlantic recently pointed out, the number of white students dropped at the specialized schools as good alternatives emerged around the city.) Most important, these children would not only be surrounded by highly academic peers, but others from whom they might learn other, perhaps equally important, lessons.

My wan support for the quest to diversify New York City’s specialized high schools is not because I don’t believe that there is racism and inequity in the design and implementation of the New York City Public school system. I do. But the battles that are fought and the studies that are published in our names constantly affirm institutions and ideals that affirm hierarchy, convey a narrow definition of worth and success, and, by exclusion, diminish other values.

There is more honor and civic value in fighting to create graduating classes of youth whose focus is co-existing, supporting and contributing, than in facilitating the entry of more black and brown youth to a school of competitors driven to win and dominate.

It’s time for everyone—but particularly people of color and poor people—to stop directing this fight against racism and inequity toward equal access to what conventional wisdom says is most worth having.

Investigative reporter David Goldstein reported for KCBS-TV that charter schools in Los Angeles County gathered $78 million in Paycheck Payment Program, even though they had no cessation in public funding and no layoffs.

The big winner was ritzy Palisades Charter High School, which received more than $4.5 million.

The PPP was supposed to benefit small businesses that needed the money because their doors were closed during the pandemic and they needed to keep paying their employees.

For charters, PPP was a splendid payday. They never closed their doors; they never stopped getting a steady flow of government dollars; and they didn’t have to lay off anyone. It was free government money, for nothing. They had no need, but they grabbed what they could.