Barone: Bill de Blasio is on the way out, but his mindset lingers
As his two terms as New York’s mayor approach their end, and long after his presidential campaign ended with a whimper, Bill de Blasio has chimed in with one last act of destruction: a proposal to end the public schools’ entry-by-exam gifted and talented program for first graders.
De Blasio’s gripe is that selection by tests 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 references are complaining about is not actually segregation, which means imposed separation by race. It is the fact that the racial percentages of the gifted students differ from those of the city as a whole.
Specifically, this program, and those at selective high schools such as Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, which de Blasio tried to abolish, include much larger 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 expand rather than contract gifted and talented programs.
There’s an argument that testing at age five is just too early. But the proposal is an example of a destructive mindset that is at work far beyond the five boroughs of New York. San Francisco abolished the long-standing exam-based entry program for Lowell High School last February. Fairfax County in Northern Virginia has proposed ending exam-based entry to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, often rated No. 1 in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
The complaint in each case is one that could be described as racist: too many Asians. It echoes the complaint of Ivy League colleges a century ago: too many Jews. Both cases involve large numbers of sons and daughters of low-income immigrants showing the intellectual capacity and personal discipline to work their way up in society, to the great benefit of the nation as a whole.
A century ago, public schools and colleges in New York and other great cities provided such an avenue upward. Now, progressives like de Blasio want to close that avenue off for thousands of talented young people.
That’s an act of destruction akin to tearing down statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Keeping it open and opening up more such avenues is part of the work of restoring the best American traditions.
The de Blasio mindset is opposed to those traditions. It assumes, as critical race theory teaches and oft-quoted commentators such as Ibram X. Kendi argue, that any underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic people is “segregation” and “racist.” It wants to advance corrosive creeds such as critical race theory and to close off upward mobility to the racially unworthy.
Interestingly, there’s polling showing that such assumptions are shared more by white college graduates than by Black or Hispanic people. And in New York’s Democratic primary, Adams trailed among college-educated white voters but won Black voters by a huge margin.
Another assumption behind the de Blasio impulse is that the liberals in charge of educational systems and teacher unions, who are hostile to gifted and talented programs, have special expertise to which ordinary citizens must bow.
That assumption was on display in the Virginia governor debate when Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking a second nonconsecutive term, said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin has been running ads with McAuliffe’s statement — not surprisingly, since a Virginia poll on who should “have more influence in the school’s curriculum” shows 52% of voters saying parents and only 33% saying school boards. Youngkin has also been critical of the abolition of exam-based entry at Thomas Jefferson High School and the critical race theory curriculum in nearby exurban Loudoun County.
Vehement protests at school board meetings there may have prompted the astonishing proposal by Attorney General Merrick Garland directing the FBI to monitor what the National Association of School Boards described as “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism” at such meetings. Garland issued the order without evidence that local law enforcement was unable to deal with any problems, and despite the fact that his son-in-law has a profitable business selling materials on systemic racism, white supremacy and implicit bias to local school boards.
De Blasio will be out of office soon, but the de Blasio mindset, bent on advancing bogus theories of systemic racism and opposing programs providing upward mobility for talented students, seems to be lingering on.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.