Culture, Science & Faith

Choosing Diversity Over Literacy

Because an insufficient percentage of minority teacher candidates passed the tests.

Arnold Ahlert · Mar. 13, 2017

If one is looking for a reason why the nomination of Betsy De Vos for secretary of education was fought tooth and nail by progressives defending an indefensible status quo, look no further than New York. The state Board of Regents aims to deep-six a literacy test for those applying to teach in public schools. In addition, they will allow applicants who “barely fail” a performance test to be certified, based on other “mitigating factors” that include teacher recommendations and grade point averages. Why? Because an insufficient percentage of minority candidates passed the tests in previous years.

Currently prospective teachers are expected to pass four exams, including the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) and the edTPA, a test that requires teachers to videotape their lessons. Both of the tests were added as part of the hiring requirements during an overhaul that began in 2009. At that time, the Board of Regents reasoned that more rigorous qualification standards, especially those focused on literacy and classroom performance, would ensure students better levels of education.

Times have changed. Such ambitions will be swept aside by those who believe a commitment “diversity” is more important than hiring teachers who can actually read.

“In 2013-14, only 48 percent of aspiring black teachers and 56 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed the exam, compared to 75 percent of prospective white teachers,” explains Chalkbeat columnist Monica Disare. “That has prompted concern that trying to solve one problem created others, keeping more teachers of color out of classrooms just as the state is trying to boost those numbers.”

Make that incompetent teachers.

After those results came in, hand-wringing quota-mongers made it clear where they stood. “The statistics are quite alarming,” said Harriet Fayne, dean of Lehman College’s School of Education in the Bronx. “Diversity of the workforce, absolutely, is critical,” said Senior Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner, who nonetheless insisted it is important “to send a very clear message that it should be difficult to enter the profession.”

Not exactly. Blaming tests themselves for producing a lack of diversity has become a cottage industry for the Left, and they have taken to the courts to get either the tests themselves, or the results they produce, nullified.

The most egregious example was the city of New Haven’s attempt to toss out the results of a firefighter’s test for promotion to captain and lieutenant, because only white candidates passed it. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled 5-4 in favor of the test-takers. In doing so they negated a ruling by the original U.S. District judge, who tossed the case pre-trial in 2006, as well as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous affirmation of that dismissal — one joined by Sonia Sotomayor prior to her Supreme Court appointment.

In New York, the battle over teacher test discrimination has gone on for over 20 years. As far back as 1996, black and Hispanic teachers filed suit in New York City, and in 2012, Manhattan Federal District Court judge Kimba Wood ruled an older state-certification test used until 2004 to measure teachers’ knowledge of liberal arts and sciences was racially discriminatory.

The “logic” in this ruling and countless others is always the same: because the minority candidates were failing that test in greater numbers, the burden is placed public officials to prove such tests serve a valid purpose. “Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts,” Wood wrote in her opinion.

Imagine that.

Columnist James Joyner cuts through the subterfuge. “One would think that to be ruled racially discriminatory would require affirmative proof of either discriminatory intent or specific discriminatory content,” he writes. “But, no: mere differential results along racial lines apparently puts the burden of proof on the state.”

The ALST is also the target of a lawsuit. And as Daily Caller columnist Blake Neff so aptly puts it, the plaintiffs are arguing “that there is no clear evidence strong literacy skills are essential for a teacher.”

What about the students themselves? “I want to ask Judge Wood would she be willing to have any of these teachers teach her own children or grandchildren, and I would bet my life she’d say no,” stated National Council on Teacher Quality president Kate Walsh, whose group advocates tougher certification requirements. “They’re saying, at the risk of not appearing racist, or at the risk of having to make a hard call against adults, I’m going to sacrifice the best needs of kids.”

In New York, sacrificing the needs of kids is standard operating procedure. And it comes courtesy of the usual suspects. “The move to eliminate the reading test reflects the corrupting influence of the state’s teachers unions,” writes NY Post columnist Bob McManus. “Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may be on his way to prison, but his successor, Carl Heastie of The Bronx, still calls the tunes with the Regents — and the unions still choreograph the speaker.”

What they are choreographing is the continuing failure of a decades-long status quo where minority children routinely underperform, relative to their white and Asian counterparts.

Note that in virtually every progressive discussion about “minorities,” Asians are conspicuously absent from the mix. That’s because Asians not only outperform blacks and Hispanics, but whites as well. Thus characterizing them as minorities constitutes a mortal threat to those who worship at the altar of “disparate impact,” an odious, but government-enforced concept that presumes bias absent any evidence of it, based solely on statistical outcomes.

The mixture of statistical outcomes and Asians has produced another inconvenient reality utterly anathema to progressive New Yorkers: Asians have once again dominated the group of students who passed the test for admission to NYC’s eight elite high schools in the upcoming academic year. They secured 52.5% of the total seats, while 28% of whites, 6.5% of Hispanics and 3.8% of black students made the cut.

What to do? “Mayor de Blasio, the City Council and New York’s education establishment are discussing eliminating the single test in favor of interviews and portfolios — with extra credit for exemplary attendance!” McManus reveals.

In other words, if excellence in and of itself doesn’t accrue to the progressive agenda, embrace the race-based mediocrity required to produce the “proper” outcome.

“If minority kids are forced to attend lousy schools staffed with teachers who lack skills, it’s cheating the very group — minorities — that such a policy is meant to help,” the Post editorial board explains. “When will New York’s educrats put the interests of kids first?”

The answer is never, not as long as the same unions and their political lackeys who despise accountability remain in control. Even more insulting, these educrats are apparently immune to the reality that under-qualified teachers producing under-qualified students — who in turn become the under-qualified teachers of the future — insures a never-ending cycle of educational bankruptcy.

Educational bankruptcy that is acceptable, as long as “diversity” is served.

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