Public schools

Even Social Engineers Don't Want Their Kids Used as Demographic Pawns

The logic behind school busing is back. And so is flight from government-operated schools.


Is schoolenfreude a word? If so, a Wall Street Journal article from Saturday produced buckets of the stuff.

Seems an area man who helped design the devilishly complicated algorithm that determines the middle school designations for New York City public school kids, and who also supported the trailblazing (and controversial) diversity plan in Brooklyn's mediagenic District 15, found himself on the losing end this spring when his incoming middle school daughter was assigned to just her 10th-ranked choice of government-run school. So what did Neil Dorosin and family do?

They chose a charter school closer to home. And I do not blame them, not one little bit.

The school his daughter was assigned to, Sunset Park Prep, features comparatively poorer students (a majority of them, unlike Dorosin, are nonwhite) achieving comparatively decent test results, so that was attractive enough to include on her school rankings (as it was for my daughter, who is in the same school district and age group). But: "He worried about the travel distance. He said his daughter cared that none of her friends were going to Sunset Park Prep, some were going to the charter, and she found the charter's building more appealing."

As Matthew Ladner wrote in an unrelated piece about New York charter schools yesterday, "We should celebrate anytime any family finds a good fit school for their children. They paid their taxes after all; if they are happy, then so am I." Indeed. And there is no ammunition for a charge of hypocrisy here, either, as Dorosin does not to my knowledge share Mayor Bill de Blasio's unreasonable hostility to charters.

But the initial experiences of parents on the vanguard of District 15's experiment with "controlled choice"—as in, families choose their ranked preferences, then the school system chooses their assignment based on a mixture of lottery and demographic leveling—suggest that more people than before are choosing exit rather than compliance.

Dorosin's Brooklyn Urban Garden School (BUGS), one of five privately-run charters in a district that has 11 Department of Education-operated middle schools, "had a surge of interest in the past year," the Journal reported:

Its officials said 502 children living in District 15 entered the charter's lottery for sixth-grade for this fall, up from 315 the previous year, before the district's new admissions method. Now 77 of its sixth-graders come from the district, up from 37 before.

That's an eye-popping increase. We don't yet know the full enrollment picture for this fall, but a previous Journal article from the summer reported that the number of incoming sixth graders appealing their designations jumped from 350 to 450 (or from around 13 percent of the incoming class of middle schoolers to 17 percent), while the number of appeals granted plummeted from 59 to 14. As I noted in this Twitter thread at the time:

At just one middle school, the long-maligned Charles O. Dewey (I.S. 136) in the same Sunset Park neighborhood as Dorosin's assigned school, appeals went up from 22 to 50. A disproportionate number of my daughter's classmates at her comparatively affluent and successful elementary school were assigned faraway I.S. 136 despite not even including it in their rankings. (You can select up to 12 publicly run schools; charters are handled separately.) I have yet to hear of a single one of those families accepting their assignment.

Meanwhile, we know of at least three parents of District 15 elementary public schoolers who have either moved or are in the process of moving away from this area altogether as a direct result of their middle school placements. Have I mentioned that my elementary school subdistrict may soon be changing to controlled choice?

As it happens, just today—the same day as a crucial public meeting about the fate of my youngest daughter's elementary school—the Cato Institute has published a new policy paper about controlled choice, by George Mason University education professor emeritus David J. Armor. Keep in mind that this particular policy approach toward integrating schools, which is the successor of the racial-integration busing policies of the 1970s, is preferred not just by my district, but by New York City's whole Department of Education, and pretty much the whole school-diversification establishment.

So what does Armor conclude?

In larger school districts, controlled-choice plans can generate controversy and middle-class flight among parents who prefer neighborhood schools, similar to the "white flight" observed in earlier decades when mandatory busing was used to attain racially balanced schools.

A review of controlled-choice plans in six large districts in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida shows considerable and ongoing higher-income and white losses in these districts. While other demographic forces cannot be ruled out (e.g., urban to suburban movement for reasons unrelated to schools), neither can the unpopularity of controlled choice. More important, none of these districts has demonstrated significant closing of achievement gaps between higher- and lower-income students, one of the main justifications for these plans.

For larger school districts…it is clear from the cases reviewed here that controlled choice for economic integration is not working as intended. It is still controversial, and it may be contributing to growing racial and economic isolation among some larger school districts. Most importantly, this policy has not been successful at achieving one of its major goals: closing achievement gaps.


As I have said whenever asked, I don't know if my school district's new system will be good or bad, and I'm happy that some populations that previously did not even think to apply to some of the highest-reputation middle schools got admitted this year. Choice is a wonderful thing, and poorer families especially should have more of it.

But the lure of control is ever-present. Two weeks after a Democratic presidential debate spat between Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) and former Vice President Joe Biden made school busing national news again, New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote a deeply knowledgeable and interpretatively questionable cover story with the provocative headline, "It Was Never About Busing: Court-ordered desegregation worked. But white racism made it hard to accept."

I can testify that Hannah-Jones' conclusion resonates with many of the people driving diversity-conscious admissions changes to schools in New York and elsewhere: "Busing did not fail. We did."

Parents who balk at accepting the results of the new busing will be branded as racist, one of the gravest accusations one can level at another human being in modern society. As one woman just emailed me while I was finishing this post:

For schools to become integrated and, more importantly, equalized, it means that some kids will suffer. Those kids are likely to be those who already have an enormous amount of social capital, if not downright wealth. They will survive. If their parents choose to send them to private school instead, let it be on their conscience about how they are supporting a racist and classist system and how they are, indeed, racists.

All parents, Neil Dorosin included, are going to do what they think is best for their kids. If the school they are assigned to is objectionable on grounds of distance, or test scores, or curriculum, or cleanliness, or safety, or leadership, they will look for ways to opt out. And if in the process they are treated like privilege-hoarding accomplices to a system of white supremacy, then that noise you will hear is the slamming of doors behind them.

"The whole process [has] left us so traumatized and frankly angry that I can't see myself going through it again for our younger daughter," one District 15 parent of a sixth grader emailed me last week. "And, we look forward with terror at the high school admissions and the real possibility that the same forces will be at play by the time we're up. It's become [such] a toxic subject of our lives that I really can't live with anymore. So, [the] end result is that we have decided to leave Brooklyn altogether."

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  1. Just demographic pawns?

  2. Ah Welch, you sad fucking racist. Send your kid to the school you got and shut up racist.

    With your racist ass.

    1. Matt will opt for a pale-pupiled private "charter school" like Jefferson Davis Middle School, Stonewall Jackson Christian Academy or Nathan Bedford Forrest Prep.

  3. Busing and school assignments are not enough to achieve education equality, given the leading role that family life has on learning. At some point, hard-core egalitarians will demand that children live in state dormitories, starting before their first birthdays. Or that children be re-assigned to families based on the same kind of crappy algorithm.

    1. Current pedagogy demands that home life can be corrected for in the school with the right procedures.

      I find this assertion... difficult to agree with.

      1. Or we should abandon all metrics that can be linked (or claimed to correlate) with family life.

        1. Also true. Which is weird, because of a simultaneous focus on home culture, and outside of school resources.

    2. Kibbutz-ise our schools! For Great Justice!

    3. "Education equality" is not possible because education is not like ice cream that you can dish out in equal amounts. It's a process in the student's mind and different students process information and acquire understanding at different rates. Most parents instinctively know this, even if it's too politically incorrect to admit, and naturally try to have their kids in schools with the best students.

  4. They chose a charter school closer to home. And I do not blame them, not one little bit.

    I do. It's like politicians that foist a single-payer or national health plan on their unsuspecting citizens, then quietly slip across the border for private healthcare.

  5. "Busing did not fail. We did."

    And by 'we', she means "you". Teachable moment requiring mandatory sensitivity training for everyone BUT her.

    1. Oh, by the by, yes, busing DID fail. If you implement a plan that claims X will be achieved, and X wasn't achieved, your plan failed. End. Finito. Es Todo. No mas, el fin, el punto final.

      1. In the end, they needed inter-district bussing for the plan to succeed. That was fought harder than the original school integration fight and in the end, the pro-bussing side lost. In the end, the courts decided that the was no valid constitutional basis for force neighboring districts into a single inter-district desegregation plan with a district operating under a desegregation order.

    2. People resenting being treated like objects by the system and resisting such treatment is their fault, not the system.

  6. " So, [the] end result is that we have decided to leave Brooklyn altogether."

    The progressive answer to all the the fucked-up shit they create. Run away, if you can. Nice.

    1. Then they bring that same leftist (not progressive) crap via their ingrained voting habits to the new place to where they move. They do not realize that they are part of the problem from which they are escaping.

  7. It's become [such] a toxic subject of our lives that I really can't live with anymore. So, [the] end result is that we have decided to leave Brooklyn altogether."

    Move to Brooklyn for the hip, woke atmosphere. Leave because of the totalitarianism.

  8. "The logic behind school busing is back"

    There was logic behind school bussing?

  9. How long until the charge of racism stops carrying weight in general? I already tend to discount or ignore allegations of racism, as 9 times out of 10 when I read further I see no reasonable evidence for the charge.

    1. Pretty much has lost all significance for me.

  10. If ranked choice isn't working out, then the fix the flipping algorithm. There's no reason anyone should be stuck with their tenth choice for a local school. When it happens it means either the first nine choices weren't local, or there are unnecessary criteria in the algorithm.

    So you make the first rule: the nearest school gets put on the top of the list. Even if it was not chosen. It sucks, but we're talking about government schools here. You don't like your local government school, get out of the system and attend a private school. If what you want is a market run system, then stop trying to prop up a non-government system. Just abolish it.

    Second rule: No special interest criteria. Figure out what the actual goals are and stick to them. Apply fairness moderately. Too much fairness is unfair. If your district only has twelve disabled gay students from Tonga, and fifteen schools, your ultra-fairness is just going to split them up so they are all alone. That's not fair. So you limit your fairness by ignoring the whines from the special interests. Try to match the racial demographics of your district, but don't go overboard with fucktard intersectionality.

    Third rule: If the school population doesn't exactly match the demographics, that's okay. Don't be shitting your pants that a school has one more white student than the statistics say should be there. Use your fucking brain. Leave a small leeway. If it means the school in the white neighborhood has 5% more white students than the school in the black neighborhood, that's okay. It reflects the neighborhood. It's better to have local students in a local school then to ship them across the city like they're cattle. Children are not cattle.

    1. Or let people choose their fucking school themselves, put schools on a first come, first served basis, and if they are too late, choose again. Get the government bureaucrats out of it.

    2. You don’t like your local government school, get out of the system and attend a private school.

      And those thousands of dollars a year that you pay in taxes to the government schools get to stay in the system.

  11. "Even Social Engineers Don't Want Their Kids Used as Demographic Pawns."

    Social engineering for thee, but not for me.

  12. The problem is the district's answer is not that they weren't outright anti-choice. You can always hear the passive-aggressive tone in their dismissive responses. The problem is that they don't even countenance what might happen if someone is given a terrible choice and they can't just pick a charter or move out.

    As always, regressive, anti-freedom policies hurt the most vulnerable people the most.

  13. This story strikes me as quite local.

  14. As with all governments programs, this will involve employing a committee to monitor it, and when it fails, another committee to study why, then another committee to research and draft a new busing/desegregation plan, and another one to monitor it, then another to find out why that one, failed...endless six figure jobs for public employees

  15. My town went the busing route heavily over the last 30 years and we have the largest gap between white and non-white in the nation and getting worse all the time no matter how much money we throw at the problem, according to all of the experts.

    My job gives me access to a lot of low income households and the number one thing I see is that kids are not actually in school. I am constantly wondering why it is Tuesday at noon and all of the kids are home (this is true of whites and minorities, the common demoninator is low income). How about instead of continuing something that has been proven not to work we try something new.

    If your child was not in school and there is not a reason why and there have been more than just the occasional absence then benefits are cut for the parents. We are paying for social programs for families because we want to educate them out of poverty. It is the parent's job to get the kids on the bus daily. Like anything else on the planet, when people feel something in their pocketbook it creates change, other than that not many things do.

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