How Brooklyn’s Much-Copied Diversity Plan Helped Throw its Best Middle School Into Chaos
When then-Mayor Bill de Blasio and the entire New York City political and educational establishment unveiled in September 2018 a trailblazing new middle-school Diversity Plan that radically changed the admissions criteria for Brooklyn’s District 15 in the name of racial “equity,” they chose the most symbolic possible site for the announcement: M.S. 51, the William Alexander School, in progressive (and prosperous) Park Slope.
M.S. 51, which until that moment had screened prospective incoming students for their elementary-level grades, test scores, and attendance, was by far the most sought-after middle school in a district where enrollment was always increasing, and students were routinely moving on to the city’s eight elite high schools. William Alexander, where both De Blasio and then-City Councilman (now Comptroller) Brad Lander had already graduated their kids, was NYC’s fourth-largest feeder into the specialized high schools in 2018 with 122; a raw number it would match again in 2019, the last class before the new admissions rules went into effect.
“The current D15 admissions process presents itself as a system of choice and meritocracy, but it functions as a system for hoarding privilege,” Lander said at M.S. 51 that day. “I genuinely believe that this plan will be better for all students, and that a less segregated, less divided city will be better for all of us.”
The claim that all students would benefit from a “controlled choice” system in which families rank their preferred middle-school destinations but the education bureaucracy ultimately controls the outcome via algorithmic lottery weighted to smooth out socioeconomic imbalances across the district was not just presented as an aspirational prediction by advocates, but as scientific fact by politicians and allegedly impartial news organizations.
“The research is clear—integrated schools benefit all students,” then-New York school Chancellor Richard Carranza said that day. Asserted the city’s lengthy and triumphant press release: “The research is clear that all students benefit from diverse, inclusive schools….[T]here is widespread agreement that there are positive academic outcomes for all students attending racially diverse schools.” Echoed New York Times national education correspondent Dana Goldstein: “There’s a robust and growing body of research that pretty conclusively demonstrates the benefits of integration.”
Suppose there is a gap between those confident, science-touting predictions and the real-world controlled-choice experiences of students, parents, and schools. In that case, the implications go far beyond the fate of a few thousand Brooklyn families. District 15’s removal of selective admissions criteria (enacted at the same time as NYC’s District 3) became the temporary citywide standard in the pandemic-marred admissions years of 2020 and 2021 and is now the policy in most of the city. An estimated 185 public K-12 districts around the country have adopted policies to combat “segregation” (using the 21st-century activist sense of that word, not the 1950s definition of government-enforced racial bans) as the tenets of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) spread like wildfire through public-education institutions, particularly in Democratic-controlled polities.
Thanks to parents badgering New York’s Depart
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