This month, state Sen. Leroy Comrie declared that pervasive disorder and violence in Mayor de Blasio’s public schools are forcing his constituents in Queens to take “their children to other schools, even if they have to pay for private schools.”
He was right. Parents shouldn’t be forced to pay out of pocket to find safe harbor for their children. Instead, Comrie should convince his Democratic colleagues in Albany to lift the cap on charter schools in the Big Apple.
New York charters tend to be much safer than the city’s traditional public schools. A 2017 analysis I conducted, based on student-survey data, found that kids tend on average to feel much safer in charters.
Charter-school opponents will no doubt claim that charters enjoy this advantage because they accept better-behaved students in the first place. But research doesn’t bear this out. In fact, one rigorous academic analysis, carried out by a scholar at Philadelphia’s Temple University, found that when new charters opened, safety in nearby traditional schools significantly improved.
That’s likely because charter schools change the incentives for traditional public-school principals. Right now, principals have a strong incentive to let misbehavior run rampant. After all, they aren’t judged on whether their students feel safe and supported but rather on how few suspensions they dole out.
As it is, the easiest way to lower suspensions is to not enforce rules. As “Teacher X” recently wrote in these pages, principals are all too eager to blame teachers when students misbehave.
The examples are legion. At the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, teachers have blamed de Blasio’s lenient, therapeutic disciplinary policies for creating an environment of such chaos that a bullied student took matters into his own hands and stabbed a classmate to death in class.
At another school, JHS 80, teachers shared a secret recording of a school administrator warning them not to officially record behavior problems, lest the administration get into trouble with the district office.
But if parents had more power to withdraw their children from a traditional school out of safety fears, the equation would change. Principals then would have to balance the directive to decrease suspensions against the imperative to maintain enrollment.
In a welcome development, the state Senate’s New York City Education Committee has given Hizzoner notice that, if he wants to maintain mayoral control, he’ll have to take steps to seriously address the school discipline crisis. But if lawmakers sincerely believe that de Blasio will keep his paper promises to improve school safety, they have radically misunderstood the problem.
To borrow a turn of phrase or two from his ideological allies, de Blasio has engineered a novel form of institutional racism that perpetuates the oppression of students of color in order to advance his political privilege.
Teachers may complain that these policies undercut their authority, but their voices are silenced through overt retaliation or subtler stigmatization. After all, these reforms are predicated on the politically correct, but factually false, assumption that teachers are to blame for racial disparities in school discipline.
Students of color may say they feel unsafe, but their voices are being silenced, too. De Blasio has proved that he cares far less about what student surveys say than he does about what his manipulated disciplinary statistics show.
In a better world, civil rights groups would speak out on behalf of students of color. But today’s so-called civil rights groups have not been — and will never be — satisfied that suspensions have decreased enough.
That’s because de Blasio and his fellow travelers have framed their war on suspensions as a matter of fighting discrimination. No matter what policy concession the Legislature might extract, this fundamental belief, which has permeated the New York City public school bureaucracy, will remain unshaken.
The only way to make schools safe again is to change the incentives for principals: Students must matter more than fake statistics. In the face of an implacable, ideologically driven bureaucracy, the only way to do that is to lift the charter cap and empower parents to withdraw their children if traditional schools can’t guarantee their safety.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a new report, Safe and Orderly Schools: Updated Guidance on School Discipline. Follow him on Twitter here
Photo by Drew Bloksberg / iStock