The Corner

De Blasio: Pro-Cronyism, Anti-Meritocracy

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, continues to remind us that yes, he supports some really bad policies that will make New York a worse place to live. This time, it’s education, something that New York doesn’t excel at but which Mayor Bloomberg did his best to reform. He tells the Daily News that competitive, elite public schools in the city should be . . . a little less competitive and elite:

Tackling an emotional issue for parents and schoolchildren across the city, the Democratic mayoral nominee blamed the reliance on the test for creating schools that he said did not reflect the city’s diversity.

Using the grueling two-hour test as the only basis for admissions creates a “rich-get-richer phenomenon,” because wealthy parents can afford expensive test preparations for their children, he said in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News Editorial Board.

Although more than half of the city’s residents are black or Latino, just 12% of the students at the elite high schools — which include Stuyvesant High School, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech — were black or Latino last year.

“These schools are the academies for the next generation of leadership in all sectors of the city, and they have to reflect the city better,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio — whose 16-year-old son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Tech — said he would push for a change that would require a variety of factors to be used in the admissions process, including grades, portfolios and extracurricular activities.

He dismissed critics, including his Republican rival for mayor, Joe Lhota, who claim that allowing other factors into admissions decisions beyond one standardized test would reduce the quality of students in the schools.

De Blasio recalled a conversation he said he had a few years ago with the admissions director of one of the nation’s elite public universities.

“He said he could fill the entire University of California, Berkeley, with students who had 800s on their SATs. He said he could fill literally every single spot … [but] he doesn’t do it because he wants leaders, he wants talent, he wants creativity, he wants people of different interests,” de Blasio said.

Maybe the use of standardized-test scores in magnet-high-school admissions should be reexamined, but de Blasio makes it clear enough what he’s getting at: affirmative action. New York’s competitive high schools — especially the top tier: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and the quasi-independent Hunter College High School — are phenomenally successful, but de Blasio wants to harness them to create a “more diverse” class of leaders for the city. The comparison to elite-college admissions is flawed for a number of obvious reasons: Universities, even state ones, aren’t a limited resource in the way high schools are (if a less-qualified applicant takes your place at Berkeley, you can always go to UCLA or UT, rather than a community college that’s the equivalent of a non-magnet high school), are endowed with the huge resources to assess students (cities smaller than New York have the resources to do this with their population too), are self-contained communities that we should maybe try to make diverse in a way high schools don’t need to be, etc. De Blasio’s worry that private test prep is privileging rich kids above the rest is a bit of a canard: Yes, highly expensive test prep is available, but so is free or really cheap preparation for the tests, and there happen to be signs for such courses all over Chinatown. Standardized tests aren’t perfect but especially when New York’s three best public high schools are math-and-science-focused, they are a reasonable measure of aptitude. And, as a Stuyvesant parent pointed out to the Daily News, the résumés, interviews, and essays de Blasio is suggesting should be included in the admissions project are obviously subject to the same kind of gaming and preparation that standardized tests are. The main effect would be moving from a rigorous, objective system to one where liberal priorities can be applied to really important admissions decisions. There are smart ways to recruit kids and encourage them to apply to elite high schools; standards don’t need to and shouldn’t be watered down. 

De Blasio, by the way, is a graduate of a special pilot program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin (which sounds like a special school but is actually just the main public school in Cambridge, Mass.), but has been assailing charter schools throughout his campaign — more of a payoff to the teachers’ unions that have generously supported him than the above ruminations about making New York’s elite schools mediocre. (See this South Bronx mother explain to the Journal’s Mary Kissel why his hostility to charter schools is going to hurt poor kids.)

But if you’re looking for even more direct evidence of corruption, look no further than a recent story about de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, in the New York Times. In 2005, De Blasio introduced his wife, who was working in communications for Citigroup at the time, to the executive of Maimonides Medical Center, a Brooklyn hospital. She wasn’t happy flacking for the 1 percent and was interested in a new job — which Maimonides, for which Councilman de Blasio had recommended millions of dollars in city funding, promptly created for her. Hiring relatives of an important elected official for $90,000 a year to ensure ready access to public funds is, of course, not unique to de Blasio, and the Times explains that plenty of New York hospitals are fans of the practice.  

But it might actually be a lot worse: State senator Dov Hikind, a powerful Brooklyn Democratic political boss, is being investigated for possibly accepting what amount to bribes from Maimonides, which advertises on his radio show, and de Blasio’s wife may be involved. McCray/Mrs. de blasio was in charge of ad buys when the questionable, undisclosed payments were being made, making her remarkably close to the corruption probe — if something untoward went on, it’s very hard to imagine she didn’t know. Maimonides has tried to insulate her though, saying that the kind of ”ethnic and niche marketing” that buying time on Hikind’s show apparently represents would fall under the hospital’s community-affairs arm. That may well be true, but it’s certainly concerning that she’s so close to a possible corruption scandal involving a crucial Jewish political leader who’s been a strong supporter of her husband.

Unfortunately, a new poll out today has de Blasio leading his Republican opponent, the mildly libertarian Joe Lhota, by 44 points. So New York has that going for it.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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