• School Daze in NYC

    November 20, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    For  most Americans, which high school their children attend is a pretty basic decision. They either go to the school designated by where they live like everyone else (Smallville students from Smallville Middle School move on to Smallville High School) or they attend one of a few private schools in their area, typically religious schools such as Our Lady of Grace of Smallville. Not so in New York City, where a combination of 2022-style fairness and woke politics leaves one wondering how much do we really hate our children.

    Up until two years ago, the system in NYC worked like this for high school, with a similar system in place to choose a middle school: at the top, a very few specialty high schools, including Stuyvesant High (STEM), Bronx High School of Science, and LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and Performing Arts (The FAME! school; grads include Nicki Minaj, Al Pacino, and Timothée Chalamet) allied with the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts. All had individual and very specific requirements, in the case of the former two an entrance exam that produced a rank order entrance list irrespective of grades and other factors. The schools were hypercompetitive and ended up racially tilted toward white and Asian students (in a recent year only seven black students got into Stuyvesant, out of 895 spots.) There are expensive consultants and prep programs, themselves competitive, available to maybe get the odds in a student’s favor.

    For everyone else, absent private schools, the city gave eighth graders the option of applying to 160 public high schools, each with their own criteria and “Applicant-to-Seat” ratio to help divine academically rigorous from easy. Typically entry meant evaluation by a combination of grades, various test scores, essays, portfolios, and other work. Schools made their choices, expressed preferences really, and students made their own preferential list on a scale of one to 12. The whole mash of grades, etc., and preferences was then run through a “deferred acceptance algorithm.” The algorithm matched applicants to schools based on their highest mutual preference, all similar to how medical students are matched with residency programs. NYC high school students received a list of 12 schools they had been accepted to, and made their choice. The thing is everyone “knew” which schools were better and which were to be avoided out of the 160 on offer, and the “good” schools were hypercompetitive and ended up racially tilted toward white and Asian students. There are expensive consultants and prep programs, themselves competitive, available to maybe get the odds in a student’s favor. It was a lot of work to stay semi-woke, but not enough for some.

    While never a system without controversary, it was a system that acknowledged certain realities: some kids are smarter and work harder than others. Attendance counted; you can’t learn if you are not present. The testing at the core of the system asked math, science, and history questions, not queries somehow only a white or Asian child would know. A poor kid really good at math stood the same chance as a rich kid really good at math. But the black and Hispanic students who make up nearly 70 percent of the school system were not moving on up. You know what came next.

    Under former Democratic Mayor Bill De Blasio the first attack was against the specialty high schools, particularly Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, and their do-or-die entrance exams. The predominance of white and Asian students matriculating into those schools after excelling at those tests could mean only one thing to the mayor’s woke supporters: the tests had to be unfair to black and brown students. Earlier attempts to even the admission rates by providing free after school tutoring (the Discovery Program) to black and brown students (and excluding many poor Asian students) had not succeeded. So the next obvious step was simply to eliminate the entrance exams in favor of grades as assigned by the home school teachers. That way a student from a “bad” school could have a teacher who issued A’s for effort and compete his straight-A’s against a child from a rigorous school where an A represented successful college level work in 8th grade. It was just like Smallville, where Coach Johnson gave all the football players A’s in U.S. history and Health classes!

    Under New York state’s system, dropping the STEM schools’ entrance exam actually required an act of the state Congress, who under extraordinary pressure from Asian families and lawmakers shunned the change (AOC studiously avoided a public stance on the matter.) The bill in fact never even made it to a full floor vote, with one opponent accusing the mayor of creating a “nasty narrative” that pitted Asian families against black and Hispanic parents. Another likened De Blasio’s plan to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a 19th century law restricting Asian immigration to cut back on economic competition with whites. The STEM entrance exam remains in place today.

    Of course there is more, those 160 other high schools in New York not subject to single entrance exams and which were part of the “algorithm” system. Using the pandemic as an excuse and not requiring state-level approval, De Blasio was able to remove attendance as a criteria for admission. Same excuse to eliminate standardized test scores. Instead, middle schoolers were placed in one of four tiers based on their highest grades over two years — that A for effort from a friendly teacher standing proudly alongside that A for calculus success from a tough one. A lottery was then held for each group, with the highest numbered lottery winners free to chose their preferred high school. This was deemed fair somehow, though an eighth-grader with an academically stellar record but a poor lottery number could easily lose out to a merely good-enough student with a great lottery assignation.

    The results were as expected and intended: 90 percent of black students got into one of their top five schools, same as Hispanics. For Asians, the number was only 70 percent.

    As can be imagined, there were a lot of unhappy parents, and so the school assignment process is far from over even as it increased the number of black matriculating students at the most wanted schools. Some white parents talk about private schools, others of moving to the suburbs. Manhattan has already lost 9.5 percent of its under-five population over the last two years.

    Still others plans rallies and lawsuits under the banner “Merit Matters,” and, with De Blasio out of office, political pressure. The New York Times, still clinging to the idea that random choice is the woke answer, plans on blaming the system for the system, stating “It will take a long time to know whether these tweaks in the system will effect the desired change, something contingent, in part, on the kind of support students who might be new to intensely rigorous curriculums receive in order to succeed.” Nothing much will be said about the larger lessons such a system teaches, specifically that diversity only means measuring the numbers of black kids, and not understanding that “Asian” can mean Chinese, Japanese, Korea, Cambodian, Indian, Thai, etc., never mind rich, poor, immigrant, non-native speaker, etc.

    New York’s current mayor, Eric Adams, couldn’t avoid adding to the woke chaos. After one admissions round, he just recently eliminated the lottery for junior high schools in favor of malleable grades. At the city’s competitive high schools, priority for seats will be given to top students whose grades are an A average, or the top 15 percent of students in each school. Criteria for admissions anywhere will not include state test scores, now basically irrelevant. The new plan seems to lessen the impact of the random lottery drawing, and crank up the value of individual grades which can be adjusted on a per-student and per-school basis to achieve the desired racial outcomes. The immediate goal will be for these changes to increase access for “communities who have been historically locked out of screened schools,” while still rewarding students who work hard academically. The broader goal seems to be how to create more racially balanced top schools while trying to prevent middle-class families fed up with the lottery from abandoning the system. NYC is bleeding students; roughly 120,000 families have left traditional public schools over the past five years.

    You know what to expect: lower standards at once-rigorous schools as the only practical way of manhandling unprepared students out of the way so the others may learn at top levels, Student A struggling to add round numbers sitting next to Student B nailing advanced trig. After all, fair is fair, they both got A’s from their teachers. Sorry kids.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Black Men Are Dying in New York Like Their Lives Don’t Matter

    May 15, 2021 // 3 Comments »

     

    Black men are systemically shot and killed in New York City and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. If you say discussing this is a distraction from racism, you do it from atop a lot of graves. And how can anyone say that doesn’t matter?

     

    Begin by asking how many are dying in New York, who is dying, who is doing the killing, where is it taking place, and why. The context is New York City saw its bloodiest week in late April with 46 separate shooting incidents, a 300 percent surge from the same week in 2020. These shootings were part of a 205 percent overall increase in shootings in NYC in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996. The body count continued to rise in early May.

    Who is dying? Some 65 percent of homicide victims are black, though they make up less than quarter of the city’s population. In the unsuccessful homicides, e.g. “shootings,” blacks are over 70 percent of the victims. The dead include more and more young people. In the first half of 2020, 53 persons under 18-years-old were shot versus 37 during the same period a year earlier. Additionally, there have been 215 shooting victims ages 18-24 during the same period versus 125 in 2019. This is because it is gang-related activity that is driving the shootings in the city. Over 90 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks, not by white supremacists or cops.

    In 2020 290 black people were murdered and over 1000 were shot, almost all by other blacks. By comparison, only five of the 20 years of the Afghan war killed more Americans in a year. In further comparison, in 2020 the New York City police killed five blacks. You have to wonder which pile of bodies is really the distraction and which is really the more serious problem. This is what a systemic problem actually looks like.

     

    A disproportionate number of the killings and shootings take place inside the vast public housing world of New York City, the 2,602 buildings controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) There are 334 developments which fill an area three times the size of Central Park. Because there are so many people living “off-lease,” no one knows the actual NYCHA population, but it is believed to be over 600,000. If NYCHA were its own city, it would have about the same population as Boston. While much of the public housing is in “bad” parts of town, not all of it is. The housing was built largely on NYC-owned and available land and was championed by wealthy liberals in the 1950s and 60s. Some of NYCHA’s worst residences sit across the street from million dollar condos on the Upper East Side.

    New York in general, and NYCHA in the specific, is simultaneously one of the most diverse places in America and the most segregated. About 27 percent of the city’s households in poverty are white, but less then five percent of NYCHA households are white. In contrast, blacks account for about a fourth of the city’s households in poverty but occupy 45 percent of NYCHA units. But even that does not tell the real tale. NYCHA is segregated building-by-building. Rutland Towers in East Flatbush is 94.9 percent black. Though Asians make up less then five percent of the overall NYCHA population, the La Guardia Addition at Two Bridges is 70 percent Asian.

    NYCHA is also a very dangerous world. The NYPD counted 59 homicides in NYCHA properties in 2020, up 41 percent in 2019. The murder rate is far worse in the projects than elsewhere. As of late 2020, the projects had seen 15.5 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to only four per 100,000 elsewhere in the city. Police counted 257 shooting incidents in NYCHA projects in 2020, a 92 percent increase over 2019. Some 67 shootings were reported per 100,000 NYCHA residents, compared to 12 per 100,000 in the rest of the city.

    The vast majority of these shootings are gang related, the gangs involved in some of the worst locations are mostly black, and the beef is over control of turf to sell drugs inside the city’s vast gulag archipelago of public housing. The mayor’s office both acknowledges and sidesteps this uncomfortable truth by blaming the shootings on “interpersonal beefs.” Worried about the Thin Blue Line, when cops won’t testify against other cops? Try finding a witness inside the projects for a black-on-black gang killing.

     

    It wasn’t always this way. The last time NYC saw a decrease in crime was in 1993 after black Mayor David Dinkins implemented a “quality of life” initiative. This set the stage for what came to be known as “broken windows” policing. It posits minor infractions such as graffiti, panhandling, and public urination create disorder which, when left unchecked, gives the impression crime is tolerated. Aggressively punishing minor crimes creates a perceived intolerance of crime, thereby lowering serious crime.

    The numbers support this. New York City experienced a steep decline in homicides from 1990 to 1999. Homicides peaked in 1991 with a mean of 22 homicides per 100,000 people, and fell to a low of slightly more than four per 100,000 in 1998.

    Everything changed with the 2014 election of current Mayor Bill De Blasio, who did away with broken window policing, and specifically outlawed the liberal use of stop and search tactics by the police. In the wake of BLM, New York also stopped locking people up for many crimes where they had previously been held for bail, and cut back on undercover and special police units.

    Following these changes, complaints about discriminatory policing went down. But violent crime went up. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes last year.

    Since lived experience is so important today, before De Blasio changed policing policy, I could walk my dog through a nearby NYCHA complex. No one was gracious, but I was left alone. Today if I go to the same place a young black man will soon pop out to ask “You buying?” and when I say no he’ll growl “Get the f*ck outta here” in reply.

    These NYCHA islands, once thought to be the solution, are now incubators of the problem. We can argue over why they exist, but only in the face of how absolutely nothing that has been tried over decades has made a significant change. The deaths of young black people persist. It has proved near impossible to provide incentives that out do what the gangs offer, including quick money, access to drugs, a sense of belonging, a lifestyle promoted by hip hop music, and protection from other gangs. That’s needed today more than ever as the police withdraw (this year the NYPD saw an 75 percent increase in departures and retirements, the loss of over 5,300 cops.)

    We have been squawking about longer term solutions for decades, with NYC providing one of the most comprehensive menus of such ideas in the nation — near free housing, education, internships, public medical care, benefits to mothers and children, before and after school programs, pre-K, school breakfasts and lunches, college scholarships, help centers, free or reduced cost public transportation, renaming, canceled statues, and on and on. There is little of the lives of the people affected in New York that has not been touched in an effort to fix something.

    The standard progressive response to white people talking about black-on-black killings is that it is a distraction from the real issues, a trick of misdirection, a way to minimize the real problem of police killings. That ignores the harsh light; the score in NYC is 290 dead in black-on-black homicide to five killed by the cops. You bandage all wounds, but start with the one most life-threatening.

    Another argument is blacks already talk plenty among themselves about intra-racial violence and that’s enough. But it’s our city, too. We all live here, and sorry to break the narrative, but many of us care for others beyond ourselves. We can also talk about more than one thing at a time, especially if the media, politicians, and black “leaders” will give us the room to do so and stop trying to shut down the dialogue to keep the wound open.

    Whites talking about black violence isn’t a palliative for other violence but an acknowledgement complex problems exist which cannot be solved by ignoring some things, and dismissing others with argument-ending pronouncements of racism and systemic bias, now reduced even further to code words like “1619.” The job is pretty easy when you blame everything on one thing, racism, as if it was really that simple.

    Yet while we wait for all this to be sorted out, the young black men of NYCHA seem to face our choice between aggressive (“discriminatory”) policing which lands many them raw in jail even as it saves lives, or lite policing which allows young blacks to kill other young blacks as they wish. It’s almost as if their lives don’t matter when the politics of race are in play.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas

    Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas