New York City’s Department of Education recently decided to change admission into its Gifted and Talented program from a single test for students in kindergarten through third grade to a questionnaire for the pre-K teachers of applicants and a lottery system. This change—widely criticized by parents — is a perfect example of the pitfalls of the current push for equity in education.
I have no issue debating the merits of the previous admissions process. My problem is that the entire justification for replacing the previous process was that black and Hispanic students make up about one-quarter of students in the program despite being 70 percent of students citywide.
City leaders don’t claim minority students are being kept out of gifted programs because of their race. If they did, I would support steps to address the discrimination, because the success of the program is personal for me.
Almost all of the students in my elementary school’s gifted program were black. We had teachers who cared about us, pushed us to strive for excellence, and helped each of us maximize our potential. This is the type of equity I believe in.
Vice President Kamala Harris’s definition of equity reflects the dominant position on the left: in a truly equitable world, all people would have the resources they need to succeed and we would all end up in the same place. The left claims to believe distributing resources according to need is the means to equity, but in reality, they see the uniformity of outcomes as the measure of equity.
Proponents of this worldview look at disparities in education outcomes between what they claim are oppressed groups (blacks and Hispanics) and privileged groups (whites and Asians) and assume the tools used to measure performance are racist and must be eliminated. The problem is that equal outcomes are impossible even under the most favorable conditions.
Lowering Standards Hurts Students
For proof, consider professional sports. The NFL, NBA, and MLB provide the environments equity advocates demand. Between the three leagues, revenue is redistributed to bring competitive balance, the best draft picks are assigned to the worst teams, and each team literally competes on the same playing field. In addition, all three leagues have players who have spent their entire lives training their bodies and minds for elite athletic competition.
The leagues are a model of equity in resource allocation, yet wins, playoff appearances, and championships are far from equally distributed. Some teams have a consistent track record of success, others have a long history of mediocrity, and most have periods of performance between the two extremes. The New York Yankees have 27 World Series titles. The next closest team has 11. There is a little more parity in the NFL, but Tom Brady’s seven Super Bowl wins are more than any other franchise in the league.
Sports fans accept these outcomes as the natural result of competition. We realize that meritocracy does not guarantee the same outcomes for each team. We also don’t demand population representation in each league with respect to race. Even when leagues do make efforts to broaden their appeal to demographic groups, it is never done by lowering the standards that have long been in place.
If the equal outcomes being promised by proponents of equity can’t be achieved in the most ideal settings, why would anyone expect them to occur in a country with millions of people with different skill sets, talents, interests, priorities, backgrounds, beliefs, and values? No one would suggest changing the rules in sports to benefit underperforming individuals, but the notion that standards must be abolished in the name of equity has somehow found its way into American classrooms.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 million to sponsor a training program created to dismantle racism in mathematics. The creators of the curriculum claim “white supremacy culture” shows up in the classroom when students are required to show their work and the focus is on getting the right answer. I can’t imagine anything worse for black K-12 students who want to become engineers than teachers who think they can’t meet the same standards as their classmates.
Schools are not just failing to educate our children. Journalist Christopher Rufo recently published a series of articles that show schools infusing the classroom with political ideology in an attempt to indoctrinate the next generation of Democratic voters.
Teachers in Buffalo are being trained to view their job as training activists for antiracism through the use of “culturally responsive” curricula. The students, some as young as five, are taught that America has created a “school-to-grave pipeline” for black children and “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.” This is all occurring in a school district where 27 percents of all students, and 17 percents of black students, were proficient in English by the time they entered high school.
Success Starts in the Home
The people who think that the nuclear family, objectivity, and hard work are expressions of “whiteness” are the last ones we need to shape the minds and morals of our children. Students have the best chances at success when they have parents who provide a stable home environment that cultivates a love of learning.
They also need teachers who are competent, caring, and willing to challenge them to exceed their expectations. Teaching black students that white supremacy is the most important force keeping them from succeeding is an exercise in defeatism.
Likewise, teaching white students they need to become “white abolitionists” and attacking Asian students for benefiting from “white privilege” will do nothing to improve outcomes for any students. The only thing this approach to education will do is inflame ethnic tensions and make all students as anxious and neurotic around issues of race as the adults pushing them to see one another as either victims or oppressors.
I don’t doubt that the people advocating for equity in education care for students, but their behavior takes on a religious quality that casts them as saviors. Woke scholars, educators, and activists of color play the role of prophets declaring traditional standards of evaluation oppressive. They believe that abolishing them is a form of liberation only possible through their radical acts of resistance. Their woke white counterparts see melanated skin as a curse, un-woke whites as oppressors, and themselves as the only people with the power, privilege, and purity to set black students free and atone for the sins of their kinsmen.
I resent the patronizing superiority that motivates both groups, but my indignation mainly comes from the effects this combination of bad thinking and personal vanity will have on students. It is impossible to simultaneously lower standards and raise performance, whether on the playing field or in the classroom. The people who believe merit is racist will leave this generation ill-equipped to interpret and deal with the complexities of life.
I don’t want any student to become the type of person who creates concepts like “multi-racial whiteness” to describe blacks and Hispanics with political views they dislike. That will be the legacy we leave our children if people don’t speak up about what is happening today in schools all across the country in the name of equity.