The New York City public schools and Affirmative Action

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2015 file photo, students arrive for the first day of school at Stuyvesant High School in New York. A push to diversify New York City's most elite public high schools is facing a backlash from the group that makes up most of the schools' current student bodies: Asian-Americans. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2015 file photo, students arrive for the first day of school at Stuyvesant High School in New York. A push to diversify New York City’s most elite public high schools is facing a backlash from the group that makes up most of the schools’ current student bodies: Asian-Americans. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)


I have previously noted how Harvard University is discriminating against applicants of Asian descent. Now comes Minh-Ha T Pham, writing in The New York Times who is simply appalled that Asian-American parents would want the best for their children, telling us that changing admissions qualifications to the top New York City high schools — and New York City has the most racially segregated public schools in the nation — due to unevenly ‘diverse’ results isn’t Affirmative Action, and is, in fact, anti-racist:

De Blasio’s Plan for NYC Schools Isn’t Anti-Asian. It’s Anti-Racist.

It gives a diverse group of working-class kids a fairer shot, which shouldn’t be controversial.

By Minh-Ha T. Pham¹ | June 13, 2018

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has introduced a plan to change the way students will be chosen for eight of the city’s elite specialized high schools. Under his proposal, 20 percent of seats at the schools would be reserved for students from under-resourced middle schools who score just below the cutoff score on a standardized test, which is now the sole criterion for entry.Eventually, his goal is to eliminate the exam, called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Instead, top students from all of the approximately 600 middle schools in the city would be admitted to the elite high schools. This would make the student bodies of these schools — among them storied institutions such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science — more closely resemble the city’s wider public school population in terms of race and class.

This is not just a good thing. It’s the right thing.

Unfortunately, some Asian-American parents in New York are protesting this proposal, arguing that it is anti-Asian because it would decrease the number of Asian children in elite schools. They are on the wrong side of this educational fight.

The mayor’s plan isn’t anti-Asian, it’s anti-racist. It would give working-class parents — including Asian-Americans — who can’t afford and shouldn’t have to find ways to afford expensive test prep programs a fairer chance that their child will be admitted into what’s known as a specialized high school. True, taking a test prep course doesn’t guarantee admission to such a school, but it does offer clear benefits and is widely understood to be essential to test-takers.


There’s more at the original, but there’s an obvious, if unstated undercurrent: if Asian-American parents are protesting a plan which sets aside seats for lower performing students, it is because they recognize what we already know, that students of Asian descent perform better on the tests, as a group, than other students, again, as a group.

Of course, Dr Pham tells us that no, this isn’t Affirmative Action, but “simply giv(ing) kids from a wider variety of backgrounds access to a public resource: an excellent public high school education.” That statement means, inter alia, that the rest of New York City’s high schools are not, in her opinion, providing “an excellent public high school education.”

Do Asian parents more frequently send their children to admissions test preparatory programs? Perhaps they do, but isn’t that something we say we admire in American culture, students working hard to get ahead, and their parents doing everything that they can to support their children’s achievement?

In other words, Asian-American critics of Mr. de Blasio’s plan are arguing to preserve a racist system in which whites, not Asians, are on top. They may gain short-term goals (a seat at a prestigious school) but they lose the long game of acquiring more seats for everyone: middle- class and working-class black, Latinos, American Indians, whites — and yes, other Asian-Americans, especially those from Southeast Asia, whose educational achievementincome and employment rates are significantly below their East and South Asian American counterparts while their incarceration rates are higher. To gain more seats, Asian-Americans must build cross-racial, intra-racial and cross-class solidarities with other groups.


And yet, Dr Pham told us, just a few paragraphs earlier, that this wasn’t Affirmative Action at all. That Dr Pham appears to be of Vietnamese extraction,² a Southeast Asian, if you will, “whose educational achievement, income and employment rates are significantly below their East and South Asian American counterparts” certainly plays no part in her arguments, does it?

To gain more seats, Asian-Americans must build cross-racial, intra-racial and cross-class solidarities with other groups.

No, to gain more seats, Asian-Americans must do well on the tests, which is what they had been doing all along. Admission to the top schools is won by achievement, not “build(ing) cross-racial, intra-racial and cross-class solidarities with other groups.”

This is simply the 2018 version of the 1930’s “Jews were seen to be doing rather too well,” because Jews in Western nations have a cultural heritage which stresses doing the things that make people successful: working hard in school, and then working hard in their adult careers.

Dr Pham tell us that the Mr de Blasio’s plan is “anti-racist,” but it was formulated precisely due to race, due to the fact that not enough black and Hispanic students were winning admission to the top high schools based on a test that has nothing to do with race. This is right up there in silliness with the claim made by Dr Rochelle Gutierrez,³ a professor at the University of Illinois, that math is racist:


“On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,” Gutierrez argued.

Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

When people make it their business to study race — Dr Pham, who received her PhD from Berkeley in Ethnic Studies, is an Associate Professor “whose research examines how relations of race, gender, and capitalism shape and are reshaped by social media practices and platforms” — it isn’t surprising that they find racial discrimination, any more than seventeenth century witch hunts tended to find witches. If people who study racial and ethic differences don’t find any significance in racial and ethnic differences, they are undermining their own positions.

The use of standardized tests is how we eliminate racism from our society, is one of the ways we assess skills and achievement without regard to race or ethnicity. But, for the race theory peddlers, uneven achievement by race is simply more evidence of racism. They must be resisted, and Affirmative Action must be ended.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.
¹ – Dr Pham is a scholar of Asian-American studies whose child attends New York City public schools.
² – Her name is Vietnamese, but I was unable, in the course of my research, to find anything definitive on her ethnicity.
³ – From her University of Illinois biography: “Dr. Gutierrez’ scholarship focuses on equity issues in mathematics education, paying particular attention to how race, class, and language affect teaching and learning. Through in-depth analyses of effective teaching/learning communities and longitudinal studies of developing and practicing teachers, her work challenges deficit views of students who are Latinx, Black, and/or Indigenous and suggests that mathematics teachers need to be prepared with much more than just content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, or knowledge of diverse students if they are going to be successful. They need political knowledge. Her current research projects focus upon: developing in pre-service teachers the knowledge and disposition to teach powerful mathematics to urban students; the roles of uncertainty, tensions, and “Nepantla” in teaching; and the political knowledge (and forms of creative insubordination) that mathematics teachers need to effectively rehumanize mathematics in an era of high-stakes education.”



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