Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1150 Tue, 10 Dec 2019 13:32:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Why It’s Time to Re-think Bloomberg Era Gifted & Talented Programming in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8770-time-to-rethink-gifted-talented-programs-in-new-york-city-education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8770-time-to-rethink-gifted-talented-programs-in-new-york-city-education maybdb dance movement

(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)


Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), on which we served, released its second report calling for all students to have access to enrichment opportunities as a forward-looking replacement for the city’s antiquated system of “gifted and talented” education programs. This provoked a significant volume of responses from a variety of stakeholders who have come to see G&T programs as legitimate and needed. But it is essential that anyone considering what the SDAG is recommending have the full picture -- of both the group’s recommendations and the research they are based upon -- before judging the conclusion.

As SDAG and other critics have noted, the separate and unequal G&T programs are problematic on several levels, in large part because most of them admit students based on an arbitrary cut-off score on one standardized test. In addition, they are disproportionately located in affluent areas of the city and relatedly, serve a disproportionate number of white and Asian students.

This racially and ethnically segregated G&T system reflects the biases that work against the broader understandings of intelligence, ability, and giftedness that sustain our culturally diverse city and our creative and entrepreneurial economy. Research on child development, learning, and culture tell us this is the wrong way to organize schools and label children.

As members of SDAG, New York City public school parents, a researcher (Amy), and a Community Education Council President for District 16 (NeQuan), we argue that New York should lead the national movement to shun so-called gifted education programs in favor of universal enrichment programs that allow all our children to reach their highest potential.

It is important to note that SDAG’s recommendation is holistic -- not simply to throw away G&T and leave everything else as-is -- and grounded in a vast body of evidence about the appropriate uses of standardized tests and programs that separate those labeled “gifted” based on test scores alone.

For instance, the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education released a joint statement on the uses of standardized testing in education, proclaiming that, “Decisions that affect individual students' life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone.”

This joint statement issued by three of the most prominent research associations in the field of education sums up the research evidence on standardized tests and their appropriate uses. It echoes the frustration of millions of parents in New York City and elsewhere who know that their children’s intelligence and ability, their gifts and their promises, cannot be measured by one test taken at the age of four.

The inaccuracy of one standardized test to measure individual “giftedness“ is reflected in the stark racial disparities in enrollment in New York City’s G&T programs, which are less than 25 percent black and Latinx in a school system that is 75 percent black and Latinx. These demographics are testimony to not only the racial disparities in income, parental education levels, and access to educational resources. They also reflect the cultural biases inherent in standardized tests that only accept one right answer to questions that could be open to different interpretations when examined through different cultural lenses.

We know, for instance, that the research on how people learn concludes that intelligence is shaped by culture and experience, and that the best test-takers have had life experiences most culturally aligned with the test-makers. A cultural lens through which tests are written and perceived suggests that rather than measure a pure or objective form of “intelligence,” they measure a culturally-shaped understanding of who has knowledge that is aligned with those who wrote the exams.

A 2018 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine concluded that the cultural contexts in which students grow up affect their ability to answer test questions.  When these tests have dire consequences for students’ access to educational programs, they can also have a deep and negative psychological impact on students’ sense of themselves.

Even researchers and educators who once advocated for separate G&T programs for those students with good test scores have changed their minds, calling on more parents to “rethink” gifted education and consider whether these narrowly defined programs even make sense. In research that The Public Good Project has conducted in New York City on racially diverse schools, we have studied schools that have eliminated their G&T programs, and they are thrilled.

As one teacher noted, echoing all of her colleagues: since the school eliminated the G&T program, there is much more diversity at the classroom level and the parents who choose the school now really value that diversity over a label. She said that when the school had the G&T program, the students were more segregated and isolated. Now, she said, “I have a few students who I think would probably test into talented and gifted but their families don’t even bother, and I think it’s because they know that’s it’s great instruction and it’s a nurturing environment…and it’s a truly diverse school and I know that’s rare in the city.”

But why is it so rare in a city like New York, when these research findings are but one reason why a growing number of educators and parents are rejecting the “gifted” labels for programs and students? Through experiences as parents in New York City public schools we know that G&T programs within a racially and ethnically diverse district like District 3 in Manhattan lead to unacceptable levels of racial and ethnic segregation between and within schools. They also lead to skewed understandings of which schools are “good” even when schools that enroll students with lower test scores have stronger curricula and better teachers.

In the predominantly black and Latinx District 16 in Brooklyn, parents fought to bring G&T programs into their schools. Nevertheless, when a new program was added, it was underfunded and low quality in part because the teachers were not well prepared. Thus, the addition of this G&T program led to more divisiveness within the district as only a small number of students gained the “gifted and talented” label.

This divisiveness occurred even when the program used broader criteria and admitted students for third grade instead of kindergarten, making it less problematic than the majority of G&T programs in the city. While the D16 parents thought they were achieving more equity by gaining a G&T program, they soon realized that adding G&T created a bigger set of equity issues, making many of the district’s constituents eager to pilot the new, SDAG-recommended Enrichment for All program.

For the sake of our children, our city and our racially and culturally diverse nation, we hope that District 16 can provide the model we need for an enrichment program that will lead the way to a more humane system that identifies the multiple gifts and talents of 1.1 million students. It’s time to let go of our 20th century model of educating a small number of students with poorly-defined academic "gifts" and adopt a 21st century model of appreciating the many different gifts within students and the family and community cultures that foster them. 

***
Amy Stuart Wells is a Professor of Sociology and Education and the Director of Reimagining Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. NeQuan C. McLean is the President of the District 16 Community Education Council in Brooklyn. They are both members of the Mayor’s School Diversity Advisory Group.

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Why It’s Time to Re-think Bloomberg Era Gifted & Talented Programming in New York City Tue, 03 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions district 15 div plan announce

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Following the city’s adoption of 62 recommendations targeting diversity and desegregation in public schools, a new report expected this month from the same advisory group will aim to tackle the tough topics of screened admissions and gifted and talented programs.

The two reports come from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which Mayor Bill de Blasio formed in 2017 amid increasing demands that he take significant steps toward desegregating the city’s highly racially-segregated schools. The group released its first report with 67 recommendations in February, and the city accepted 62 of them in June, including adding diversity targets in middle school admissions, encouraging more districts to come up with diversity plans, and adding diversity metrics to an annual report, among other potential changes. The first set of recommendations largely dealt with elementary and middle schools at the district-level, with more specific admissions proposals coming in the second wave.

Members of the advisory group said in June that the second report was expected in just a few weeks, but have since said the report should be public by the end of August.

While some said the adopted recommendations are a positive step after years of the mayor and the DOE balking at the issue of school segregation, critics noted that as it stands the plan lacks timelines for implementation and more aggressive citywide solutions, including taking on high school admissions. The city did not accept recommendations to create a Chief Integration Officer or to consider moving the supervision of School Resource Officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

The first recommendations focused on pushing individual school districts to develop their own diversity plans -- de Blasio has expressed support for the few districts that have taken this on in the past and said he believes integration should be pursued by local communities not pushed by the administration. The city also adopted a framework created by the student-led advocacy group Integrate NYC called the five R’s (race and enrollment, resource equity, relationships across group identities, representation of staff, and restorative justice), which will be a foundation for creating school integration policy.

“Our schools are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city, and we’ve taken real steps to integrate our schools, including adopting the student-developed ‘5 R’s’ framework for real integration,” DOE spokesperson Will Mantell said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We thank the students, educators, and families who have made their voices heard, and we’ll continue to act.”

Matt Gonzales, a member of the School Diversity Advisory Group and school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the second report will lay out ways the city can change admissions policies as well as more detail on goals and timelines for implementation. He said the group wants to see some of their recommendations in the second report start to be put into effect in the fall.

Gonzales said he could not detail the specifics of the report, but that the group focused on areas where enrollment policies create “concentrations of privilege and vulnerability.” He added that the SDAG found that gifted and talented and screened admissions are tools that enable segregation.

The group’s intention, Gonzales said, was to originally write only one report, but the members later decided that the first report would lay out the framework for the conversation around desegregation. The next report will be more specific.

“The second report is really about following through on trying to address some of the primary mechanisms that facilitate segregation,” Gonzales said. “We could write a hundred reports, probably, on what needs to be done. There will be more to say and do after this report comes out.”

The SDAG overall aims to reshape citywide policies to desegregate public schools, which a UCLA report in 2014 said are the most segregated in the nation. Though some progress has begun, the gifted programs are a stark example of the segregated school system and remain a point of tension as the city wrestles with when and how to pursue racial and economic integration.

The city’s school system is nearly 70 percent black and Hispanic with white and Asian students making up around 15 percent each. But black and Hispanic students make up only around 27 percent of students in gifted and talented programs, according to Chalkbeat.

Students in kindergarten through third grade can take an exam to get into the gifted programs at the five gifted and talented schools that take students citywide or individual district programs.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said he expects the second report to be stronger than the first, but added that the real question is whether it will have any impact or if it is part of de Blasio’s strategy to appear concerned about segregation “without really doing anything.”

“Simply calling for the change does little to meet the change,” Bloomfield said. “This go-slow approach seems to be ineffective in making the school system more equitable.”

Bloomfield said the new report could go deeper into the “hundreds” of schools that use academic screens — test scores, grades, interviews, admissions visits, or geographic location — to admit students. About 25 percent of middle schools and 33 percent of high schools use screened admission processes, and the eight specialized high schools only admit students based on their SHSAT scores.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has been critical of the use of academic screens, and the mayor this year unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the SHSAT via state legislation. Though, Bloomfield said de Blasio could do more by focusing on the ways he could make the system more equitable without having to change state law: eliminating academic screens or changing the selection mechanism. Some have also called on de Blasio to create new specialized high schools, which the city has the power to do, while it could also change the admissions criteria at five of the existing eight schools (the other three are indeed governed by state law).

On the Max & Murphy podcast, City Council Member Brad Lander -- a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city, including in his own district, which has its own school desegregation plan already showing progress -- said the city has not made “any meaningful progress” for integration at the high school level yet.

Lander said the city could move to a process that requires integration in high schools where students travel to schools across the city, relieving the burden of residential segregation.

“High schools are a big opportunity,” Lander said. “Most of the focus has been on the specialized high schools, but we have about 400 high schools. And other than those eight, the city sets admission guidelines.”

Lander said that the first set of recommendations were a good development and he is optimistic for more progress, but that integration efforts are just getting started.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Lander said. “We’re finally starting.”

***
by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test Carranza De Blasio education

Chancellor Carranza & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on June 10 that the city will adopt 62 recommendations focused on diversity and integration in public schools, focusing on middle and elementary schools, from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, a new step toward school desegregation as many students, families, educators, and others have waited years for the city to make progress.

A 2014 UCLA report said New York public schools were the most segregated in the country, but stressed that they didn’t have to be. The report said a combination of demographic transformations and a lack of diversity-focused policies led to “problematic segregation patterns.” 

Adding metrics to an annual report to track numbers related to diversity and integration, defining a city goal to aim to have “all schools to look like the city,” and investing in programs to provide more opportunities in high poverty schools are some of the recommendations that some say are the most significant. Also part of the picture is city grants to school districts that want to design their own integration plans, as a few districts have already done.

The adoption of the recommendations come after “a long period of frustration,” according to City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city. Lander added that Carranza’s leadership has been significant in moving the advisory group and broader conversation along. The city accepted all but five of the group’s 67 recommendations, with two rejected and three are still under review.

While many say the initial slate of recommendations is a positive step, some have criticized the plan for lack of timelines for implementation and not being aggressive enough to make fast progress on school integration. Members of the group have said this report is just a start, and a second set of recommendations in July will address some of those concerns, including taking on the tough subject of high school admissions. 

Some have also said the two recommendations the de Blasio administration did not select — the creation of a Chief Integration Officer position and analyzing the possibility of moving the supervision of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education — could have spurred more progress. 

The three of the 67 from the first report that are still under review would make resources available to any district making diversity plans if the DOE receives more applications than the $2 million it already set aside can support and establish a separate set of funds for districts that have not started integration discussions yet. The third suggests developing and investing in enrichment programs in elementary schools.

Since Carranza took over as chancellor in April 2018, he has taken a much more aggressive approach to school desegregation than his predecessors, the apparent result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new willingness to address an area of significant criticism during his first five years in office, though the mayor is still facing heat for his tepid approach to what is a civil rights and education issue with major socioeconomic and racial implications.

Carranza has implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for all teachers, lobbied state lawmakers to drop the single entrance exam for the city’s specialized high schools where few black and Hispanic students are enrolled, and eliminated the use of “limited unscreened” enrollment policies in high schools, which gave priority to applicants who attended admissions fairs to show interest and were thought to favor students with more engaged and wealthier parents. 

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 had created a modest diversity plan and established the School Diversity Advisory Group, which came up with the recently-released recommendations. But, de Blasio’s agenda had lacked plans on school integration until recent years. Council members as well as student and teacher advocates increasingly pressured the mayor in the years after the UCLA report. Then he appointed Carranza, who has been outspoken, at times ruffling feathers de Blasio had been loathe to disrupt, to push conversation and action around school integration.

“The chancellor’s coming and embracing that advocacy and working together to build it...has been essential,” said Lander, who co-sponsored a package of legislation passed in 2015 that intended to bring attention to segregation in public schools, “because we had all that organizing going on, but we did not yet have much progress.” 

Preliminary Movement: 62 Recommendations
The 2014 UCLA report found that of the city’s 32 school districts, 19 included 10 percent or fewer white students. Additionally, it said the combination of “double segregation” by both race and socioeconomic status created more inequalities. 

An updated 2019 report found that while some progress had been made, the city’s schools remained largely segregated. From 2001 to 2015, the number of “intensely segregated” elementary schools in gentrifying areas declined by about 10 percent (from 91 percent in 2001 to 83 percent in 2015), those in non-gentrifying areas increased by 15 percent. Intensely segregated schools are defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white. 

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and now senior vice president for social justice at the New School and a co-chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group, said in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that school integration benefits all students. She said dropout rates go down while graduate rates go up, and students do better in college.

Wiley said that the recommendation adding diversity metrics is a “game changer.” She said having numbers on diversity and providing the public with the reports will help keep the city accountable. 

She added that one of the recommendations, creating diversity targets in middle school admissions, is an expansion on the mayor’s 2017 Diversity in Admissions program that planned for 50,000 more students to attend racially representative schools. Because some researchers noted that the goal could be met by demographic shifts alone, Wiley said the SDAG wanted to be more aggressive. 

“In the short term we said schools, meaning zero to three years, schools should look like their districts. Then over five years they should look like the borough. In 10 years they should look like the city,” Wiley said on WNYC. “The link to the metrics is how do you know if you’re getting that done if you’re not reporting?”

Two-thirds of the students in the city’s school system are black and Hispanic, 15 percent are white, and 16 percent are Asian, according to DOE data. In the city overall, 33 percent are white, 26 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Asian.

Clara Hemphill, the director of education policy and editor at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs’ project InsideSchools, said the recommendations serve as a guide for how the city can move forward with integration on the district level.

The recommendations encourage districts to develop their own diversity plans similar to the one in Brooklyn’s District 15, part of Lander’s Council district, which eliminated the use of screens in middle school admissions and committed 52 percent of seats to students who are low-income, learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The city announced that five districts will receive $200,000 in grants to increase their schools’ diversity, and one recommendation from the advisory group encourages nine more districts to develop integration plans. Another recommendation outlines that the DOE will “support and encourage” districts to examine new middle school admissions policies, while another urges districts to be transparent about their integration processes to ensure progress.

However, Hemphill said for a borough like the Bronx, whose population is largely black and Latino, there is not going to be integration of different races and income levels at most schools in those districts. She added, though, that the recommendations do layout an answer to help those schools: providing more and encouraging the recruitment of diverse faculty create ways to improve the schools’ quality.

“At neighborhoods where you can’t have racial integration of students, you can still make schools that have plenty of resources and represent the kids,” Hemphill said.

The mayor’s approach to school desegregation so far has been to encourage districts to pursue their own integration plans with assistance from the DOE, which has happened with success through parent-led efforts in Districts 15 and 3. De Blasio regularly says he believes it must be a bottom-up, not top-down effort to integrate city schools.

City Council Member Daneek Miller said at a June 19 press conference that there is a consensus from the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus that the recommendations are necessary to address school segregation problems. He added, though, that “these 62 points don’t necessarily address everything.”

Perceived Shortcomings
Critics have said the recommendations lack specific timelines for implementation and fail to address greater issues of enrollment screens and district segregation.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said because the recommendations focus on district plans rather than a city-wide plan, not much progress can be made on desegregating schools. The district lines are ethnically and racially drawn, so desegregation efforts need to happen across districts rather than within districts, he said.

Bloomfield added that one of the rejected recommendations, the creation of a Chief Integration Officer, was a “major mistake” because someone in that position could have focused on the city as a whole rather than the individual districts.

“[A city-wide plan] does require imagination and professional staff,” Bloomfield said. “That seems to be lacking in how the mayor sees desegregation efforts. In some ways it’s a plan for a plan, and it’s too late to be going so slow.”

Carranza has said that in his role as chancellor, he is the Chief Integration Officer.

Of the other of two recommendations the city did not adopt, that of moving the supervision of the School Safety Agents to the DOE from the NYPD, would have been beneficial in decreasing police presence in schools and students getting caught up in the criminal justice system as opposed to having more issues handled at their schools. Not long after the de Blasio administration announced it was accepting the 62 of 67 recommendations from the advisory group, it announced a new school discipline code and new agreement between the NYPD and DOE to lighten how students are policed in schools — the first update to that memorandum of understanding in about 20 years.

Given the lack of timelines for implementation, the advisory group recommendations form a “roadmap” for what the city wants to do rather than a plan with deadlines, Hemphill said. 

The recommendations also did not take on high schools and screened admissions policies.

Lander said while some of the recommendations are significant and are an overall positive step, they tackle the “lower hanging fruit.” He said there is room for the city to make changes in the admissions processes of high schools that use academic screens, which does not require changes in state law and is a “more thoughtful” approach to integration. 

The student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, which held a rally at the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, home to the DOE, calling for a high school integration plan four days before de Blasio announced the adoption of the recommendations, echoed Lander’s sentiment.

Soknadiarra Ndiaye, the chief operations officer of Teens Take Charge, said the group hopes the next set of recommendations due next month will deal with enrollment processes and high schools. The group set a June 26 deadline, the last day of school, for de Blasio to announce a comprehensive high school integration plan, and held a sit-in at City Hall when no such plan was announced. 

The Teens Take Charge campaign calls for the city to promote academic, racial, and socioeconomic integration at high schools by setting diversity thresholds in the admissions process that all high schools would have to meet. 

“When it comes to high school, one of the reasons why our high school system is so segregated is because of enrollment,” Ndiaye said. “So we’re hoping that [the city] will either adopt our policy or something similar to it.” 

City Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Council’s education committee, said making changes to admissions processes is one way for the Department of Education to take steps forward on school integration without needing state lawmakers to change state law, which is necessary for tackling issues related to the three (of the eight) marquee specialized high schools and the SHSAT used for admissions (the state legislative session just ended with no movement on reforming the specialized schools’ admissions).

De Blasio has said he does not think it is wise to change the process at the five specialized high schools the city controls, pushing for state law changes to scrap the test in favor of multiple measures and criteria that would diversify the schools, home to high percentages of white and Asian students.

Treyger said he is “pleased” that the recommendations signal the city is moving forward on the issue, but added that “time is of the essence.”

“Every school year delayed is justice delayed and these are precious years that our students can never get back,” Treyger said. “There needs to be a real effort underway, not just to simply form another working group or have another study, but to really find ways to implement strategies right now that we know work.” 

Matt Gonzales, school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed and also a member of the city’s SDAG, said SDAG is writing the second report, which he said will take on high school policy and enrollment issues. He added that the group did not design the first set of recommendations to be the only plan they propose.

“I guess there’s a distrust that the advisory group isn’t going to follow through,” Gonzales said. “There was never an intention just to lay out this first report and wipe our hands.” 

The City’s Slow Progression
School integration was not on de Blasio’s platform when he ran for mayor in 2013, nor was it included in his “Equity and Excellence” education speech in 2015, though he discussed a number of education initiatives. Those programs, like Algebra for All and Computer Science for All and AP for All, are virtually all aimed at enhancing schools as they are currently constituted, while ignoring racial segregation, an approach some have called de Blasio’s version of ‘separate but equal.’

Pushed on not moving to desegregate city schools, de Blasio repeatedly said he had put a great deal in motion to improve schools. He also pointed to the historical constructs and sources of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and to the fact that many New Yorkers had made major life decisions, like buying homes, with the current school districts in mind. Those comments received significant criticism. 

Bloomfield said de Blaiso started to tackle the issue after years of increasing pressure from the public, advocates, and other city leaders. He added that the timing of the city moving forward also coincides with the arrival of Carranza, who prioritized the issue, as well as de Blasio’s reelection.

“He felt that he could risk some political capital on this initiative,” Bloomfield said of the Democratic mayor, now in his second and final term (and running for president).

The City Council, however, began to address school segregation issues in 2014, just after the UCLA report. In October of that year, Council Members Lander, Ritchie Torres, and Inez Barron introduced a package of legislation to draw attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The Council has no power to change admissions processes or school district lines, policies that are set by the mayoral-controlled Department of Education, technically a state entity, local parent education councils, and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is mostly run by mayoral appointees.

Lander’s portion of the legislation included requiring the Department of Education to publicly report diversity metrics. Torres and Barron both introduced nonbinding resolutions that sought to officially declare diversity one of the Department of Education’s goals and to rewrite the law requiring the city’s specialized high schools to admit students based on an entrance exam. 

The Council passed the legislation, and in 2015 passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the Department of Education to annually report on steps they are taking to address school segregation. The Council has also held several hearings on the issue, including one in May. 

“We have been pushing for integration efforts for quite some time,” Treyger said. “And the City Council is limited in terms of its legislative authority in terms of DOE policies, but we do have oversight power. We’ve used it and we’ll use it again to hold the DOE accountable.”

Districts themselves have also implemented their own integration plans, with District 15 in Brooklyn and District 3 in Manhattan both enacting more inclusive admissions practices in their middle schools. 

No action was taken to further school integration by either the Department of Education or the mayor’s office until 2017, when de Blasio established the SDAG and set goals for more diverse schools. 

The 2017 diversity plan outlined diversity as a priority for the Department of Education and included short-term goals such as decreasing the number of economically stratified schools by 10 percent and increasing the number of schools that serve English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

“It was very weak tea,” Lander said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but the goals were very modest. And there was no reason to believe that the School Diversity Advisory Group would be real, would be meaningful would be independent with recommendations.” 

Lander said Carranza was key in giving the SDAG confidence to be bolder and move forward with proposing the recommendations in February 2019. 

Treyger said after some months had passed, he wanted to hold a hearing to find out where the administration stood on the recommendations. He said he, Speaker Corey Johnson, and other Council members were “frustrated” that the city was not ready to publicly weigh in yet. 

At the hearing held in May, Carranza testified that he needed to further discuss the recommendations with the SDAG before making a public announcement on which ones the DOE would adopt. A month later, the city announced the adoption of most of the recommendations.

Lander emphasized that this action comes after years of waiting, but the recommendations signal an intention that there will be more progress on the issue. 

“I’m glad we’re moving now,” Lander said. “I wish we started earlier.” 

Bloomfield said after the second report comes out in July, there could be months of waiting for the mayor to decide which portions of the proposal he wants to adopt. Though he said the progress that has been made now will make it more difficult for the city to stop the movement. 

“The significance is that it’s now squarely part of the city’s agenda,” Bloomfield said. “A new mayor will have a harder time putting the genie back in the bottle.”

‘A Witch Hunt’
Carranza has come under fire from some parents and City Council members following a lawsuit filed by three white veteran Department of Education administrators who claimed they were demoted because of their race, as well as anti-bias trainings that have become the subject of ire from some officials, the New York Post, and others.

A Post columnist, Bob McManus, wrote that Carranza’s agenda is all about “racial division” and that the anti-bias trainings are “white-bashing” sessions that have inflamed rather than eased race relations.” The Post editorial board has written several pieces critical of Carranza in recent months.

In a letter dated June 15, seven City Council members and two state Assembly members sent a letter to de Blasio saying if Carranza continues to “divide the city” then the mayor should replace him. Eight of the nine signers were white, and Council Member Robert Holden of Queens spearheaded the action. The other signator, Council Member Peter Koo, is Asian, and representative of a community that has taken issue with Carranza and de Blasio seeking to overhaul admissions to the specialized high schools, where Asian students are far overrepresented compared to their population in the city or larger school system.

For Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher and former chair of the Council’s education committee, the situation was “almost predictable.”

“As soon as you start to talk about implicit bias or culturally responsive education, you could’ve put money on it that you’re going to get this kind of backlash,” Dromm said during a June 19 press conference held by both the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and its Progressive Caucus. “Which is why no other chancellor would go near the issue to begin with.” 

In response to the letter, the Mayor de Blasio has said the chancellor is not going anywhere. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall that the Council members “should have known better.” 

“[Carranza] is doing a great job,” de Blasio said. “I think a lot of people in this city really look up to him and are depending on him.” 

Several other Council members also released statements of support for Carranza. Lander said the New York Post is leading a “witch hunt” against the chancellor. 

Others have echoed Dromm’s sentiment that much of the backlash Carranza has received is a nature of his progressive agenda. Gonzales said the New York Post is trying to “discredit” the chancellor as he pushes a progressive agenda.

“Everything that’s been happening in response, I don’t think now that any of this was a response to any particular one thing,” Gonzales said. ‘It’s just a response to who he is, and how bold he has been about identity, how that informs the work he does, and the prioritization of a racial justice agenda.” 

Carranza, who is of Mexican descent, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on June 11 that the letter is “just a distraction.” He said he will continue to work on making sure all students have access to the same opportunities, a goal outlined in the 62 recommendations the city accepted.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in a system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes divisive,” Carranza said on the show. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

***
by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8447-does-new-york-city-need-a-chief-diversity-officer https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8447-does-new-york-city-need-a-chief-diversity-officer mayor office city hall riders

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.

Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.

Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.

A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s 65 charter revision proposals.

The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.

Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.

“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”

The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.

“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.

“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”

Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)

The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."

Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a 2010 disparity study by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development Annual Report 2018.

The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.

Other Major Cities Have CDOs
Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.

There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.

If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.

In Philadelphia, the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”

Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.

Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”

Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.

Danielson Tavares, Chief Diversity Officer of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”

According to the first ever workforce report looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The December 2018 report showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.

Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.

It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.

The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, & the Charter Revision Commission
In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.

A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”

“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”

“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).

An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in its hearing was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.

Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.

“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”

A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.

Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.

If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.

It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)

When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.

The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s Making the Grade 2018 report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.

In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher.  

To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.

Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.

Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to a Reuters article from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.

But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.

On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.

According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: in 2013 the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; in 2017 the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.

In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.

Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.

“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.

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Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? Sun, 14 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Answer to More Diversity at Specialized High Schools is Tutoring Programs Like Ours https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8383-more-diversity-at-specialized-high-schools-is-tutoring-programs-shsat https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8383-more-diversity-at-specialized-high-schools-is-tutoring-programs-shsat student tutor reading

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Last week, 27,000 eighth-graders and their parents opened exam results, hoping they had won a coveted seat at one of New York City’s eight specialized high schools. Unsurprisingly, this year’s offers followed trends of past years, with only 10.5 percent of offers going to black and Hispanic students, who comprise 68 percent of the overall public school system. At Stuyvesant High School, a mere seven black students and 33 Hispanic students were offered one of the 895 seats.

These disparities have long prompted debate about how to create more racial and ethnic equity in the specialized high schools while maintaining their quality. Although the test is open to all, few students in lower-income areas are able to afford test preparation, or even know about the exam. Those who do sit for it often can’t compete due to subpar educations in their poor neighborhoods.

Mayor de Blasio wants to abandon the test in favor of holistic assessments based on student grades, test scores, and class rankings. Over the course of a three-year phase-out of the test, his plan would have the number of students admitted based on class rank increase incrementally until 90 percent of offers go to the top 7 percent of students at each middle school. The remaining 10 percent of seats would be subject to a lottery open only to those with a minimum grade average of 93 percent. During the transition period, the Discovery Program, which offers admittance to low-income students who just missed the cutoff score on completion of a summer enrichment program, would expand to 20 percent of all seats.

Although diversity should be paramount to admissions, I fear that Mayor de Blasio’s proposal trades systems of exclusivity. In order to evaluate students based strictly on their scores, the test doesn’t compensate for inequities in early education. By contrast, assessments based on class rankings ignore the merit of individuals below the 7 percent line to overcompensate for inequities. Without the test, however, the student bodies of specialized high schools may be no different than others because the plan places unequal middle schools on an equal playing field.  

Moreover, students’ abilities set the pace in classrooms and determine the quality of discussions. An undistinguished student body removes the challenges meant to be integral to a specialized high school education.

Rather than reform the system to the advantage of all New Yorkers, Mayor de Blasio proposes to lower the bar. The substandard education that students of color often receive will remain in place in elementary and middle schools. Programs designed to prepare students for the entrance exam will disappear, and with them the enrichment opportunities offered to students regardless of the results.  

The diversity problem I’ve witnessed firsthand at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, a specialized high school in the Bronx where I’m a junior, persists. Some of my classmates are first-generation immigrants who overcame the disadvantage of a non-English speaking or low-income household to gain a seat. They’re the exception. In fact, they’re often among a handful of students at their middle school to be admitted to a specialized high school. In contrast, the graduating class of my Upper West Side middle school received 150 offers from specialized high schools. I had a scholarship to a tutoring program for the test, but this isn’t an option for most students of color.

Recognizing this lack of resources, a new student-run tutoring program was created at my high school to prepare local Bronx middle school students for the SHSAT. A team of upperclassmen create and teach English and math lessons twice weekly to a class of seventh-graders. We plan activities, explain the high school process to ensure that the middle school students see admittance to our school as attainable, and provide snacks.

But teenagers can only tutor 30 kids at a time when thousands more deserve enrichment opportunities. All specialized high schools and other schools should host tutoring programs. These programs can and should reach more students and at a younger age, so that fairness and diversity are ensured long before incoming students walk through the door.

***
Jade Lozada is a junior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College and a second-generation Hispanic American. Through a student-run tutoring program, she teaches local Bronx middle-schoolers English Language Arts in preparation for the SHSAT exam.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Answer to More Diversity at Specialized High Schools is Tutoring Programs Like Ours Mon, 25 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Diversity Visa: A Ticket To A Better Life https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7479-the-diversity-visa-a-ticket-to-a-better-life https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7479-the-diversity-visa-a-ticket-to-a-better-life Diversity

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


This past October my mom passed the United States citizenship exam. On November 7, she became a U.S. citizen. And this past December my dad passed the United States citizenship exam. On January 31, he became a U.S. citizen. Soon, my sisters and I will become U.S. citizens as well. None of this was guaranteed to us, and it almost didn’t happen.

My family is from Bangladesh. We moved to the United States in July 2011 through the Diversity Visa process, which is currently being called into question at the federal level, especially after a recent terrorist attack in New York City. The experience of my family -- me, my parents, and my two younger sisters -- is a testament to what the Diversity Visa program can do for people, and for the United States, a country we are proud to call home.

Simply put, the Diversity Visa changed our lives. It gave us a second chance. It allowed me to be where I am today: 15 years old and a tenth-grader in a New York City high school.  

In Bangladesh, my dad was a businessman, running a company called Nicos Digital Color Lab. Armed with a bachelor’s degree, he was also a self-taught photographer, and sometimes taught computer lessons to high school students. My mom has a master’s degree, and helped to support our home.  

Back in Bangladesh, there was a lot of pressure on my parents: my grandparents, two cousins, two uncles, and an aunt all lived with us in the same house. My dad paid all of our family’s expenses, and my mom cooked and took care of everyone. The entire family depended on my parents, and it put an obvious strain on their marriage. Things began to fall apart between my mom and my dad. Since they were the caretakers, though, no one much noticed.

One day, when my dad was in his Color Lab staring at his computer screen, one of his friends stopped by and asked for a cigarette. He told my dad to apply for the Diversity Visa to the U.S.

My dad laughed at first, “A common person like me, with no extraordinary talents, living in a small town in a country named Bangladesh, will get a visa to go to the United States?”

My dad’s friend smiled and told him to ask my mom to apply. “Your wife is your lucky charm. Her application will get accepted.” My parents quickly filled out an application under my mom’s name.

Soon after, we received a first letter notifying us that we had been selected, and then a second letter notifying us that we would be interviewed. After an extensive vetting process, we were approved. My mom, my sisters, and I were given a visa. A month later, my dad’s visa was approved as well. While the process may seem easy, it was not. It took time, preparation for the interviews, and anxiety until the visas were in hand.  

As we looked up airline tickets to go to the U.S., we realized we didn’t have enough money to get there. But, we soon found, miraculously, that our family was surrounded by supportive guardian angels. All my dad’s childhood best friends came to our rescue. They all contributed, not only helping to pay for our plane tickets, but providing extra money to survive in the U.S. as we started our new lives.  

After moving to the U.S. and gaining employment, my dad paid all their money back. But we will never be able to give back the generosity, kindness, and opportunity they gave us. I am forever grateful to my dad’s friends for helping to change our lives.

In the years since, we have established our lives in the U.S. It has not been easy. My father, a former businessman, works as a taxi driver. My mother, with her master’s degree, takes care of my sisters and me. We all go to school, studying for a better future for our family. But we feel so lucky to be living in the United States. It has changed our lives immeasurably.

If we were still in Bangladesh, I’m confident that my family would have fallen apart, and my parents might have separated. My sisters and I wouldn’t have been able to receive a proper education because education in Bangladesh costs so much. I wouldn’t be independent, navigating the subways of New York City on my own. I wouldn’t have my parents as close to me as they are to me right now, and they probably wouldn’t be able to give much time to my sisters and me as they do right now. My parents wouldn’t be able to financially support my grandparents and all their siblings as they do now.

Getting settled here in the United States was not easy; it still isn’t. Adjusting to the new environment around us, being away from our extended family, hearing threats because we are Muslims and people see us as foreigners. But life is better. And there is the possibility of an even better future. A future I work toward every day at school.

That is what the Diversity Visa has meant to me. A ticket to a better life.

The United States is my home. It always has been. I may not be born here, but I am an American. I love this country so much. The Diversity Visa changed my family’s life forever. For that for so many Americans to come, I pray we do not get rid of it.

***
Laila Dola is a high school student in Queens and a former member of the Generation Citizen Student Leadership Board.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Diversity Visa: A Ticket To A Better Life Thu, 15 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7416-now-pursuing-diversity-new-city-council-speaker-has-employed-mostly-white-men https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7416-now-pursuing-diversity-new-city-council-speaker-has-employed-mostly-white-men Speaker Corey Johnson

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Corey Johnson’s ascension to speaker of the New York City Council came amid concerns by elected officials and activists that yet another white man would be in a seat of leadership in a majority-minority city where the mayor and comptroller, two of three citywide elected officials, are also white men. During his pursuit of the position against several men of color and amid citywide outcry over the gender imbalance in the City Council, Johnson promised to ensure a diverse senior leadership team and central staff, and early indications are that he is following through on that pledge.

However, before rising to speaker, on his Council staff and his reelection campaign, Johnson has seemingly surrounded himself with almost exclusively other white men, in positions from communications to chief of staff.

Before Council Member Inez Barron made an eleventh hour bid, Johnson was one of eight men running for the speakership, raising a red flag for a City Council that had female speakers for 12 years -- Christine Quinn, who led the body for two terms, followed by Melissa Mark-Viverito for one. The new speaker would also be taking the reins of a 51-member legislative body with only 11 women, down from 18 a few years ago.

As speaker, Johnson will be overseeing about 300 central Council staffers, a big leap from a rank-and-file Council office with fewer than 10 employees. In the last four years, under Mark-Viverito, the entire Council staff, including members’ aides, has seen increasing representation for women and people of color. It has been clear that people expect Johnson to build on that progress.

In the lead up to the Council speaker election, Gotham Gazette sought staff member names, titles, and salaries for each of the speaker candidates -- including frontrunners Johnson, Mark Levine, and Robert Cornegy, Jr. -- but the freedom of information law request was not returned before Johnson was chosen, and has still not been fulfilled by the Council.

Of the seven people on Johnson’s Council staff identified by Gotham Gazette, five are white and male. These include his chief of staff Erik Bottcher, deputy chief of staff for legislation, planning and budget Louis Cholden-Brown, deputy chief of staff and district director Matt Green, director of communications David Moss, and community liaison and scheduler Sean Coughlin. (Johnson’s former chief of staff, Jeffrey LeFrancois, who served him for almost all of 2014, is also a white man.)

A sixth is legislative aide Pat Comerford, who is a woman; and the seventh Johnson aide known to Gotham Gazette is CeCe Scott, an African-American woman who has been chief of district operations for the Chelsea and West Village Council district Johnson represents. A Council spokesperson did not provide full details of Johnson’s government staff composition when repeatedly requested independent of the FOIL submission, which was also reiterated several times.

According to campaign finance records, Johnson’s 2017 reelection campaign paid five individuals, all white men, including campaign manager Kevin Groh, organizing director Wyatt Frank, treasurer Matthew Bergman and campaign workers Ryan O’Neill and Jake Kern. (Johnson’s 2013 campaign was managed by R.J. Jordan, who is also white and male.)

The Manhattan district Johnson represents was home to about 174,000 people in 2010, according to the demographic data from the Census. Of those, 67.2 percent were white non-hispanic, 12.8 percent were of Hispanic origin, 12.4 percent were Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 4.7 percent were black. Gender and race are not the only measures of diversity, of course. The district is known for its rich LGBTQ history. Johnson, who is gay and HIV-positive, was preceded in the Council by former Speaker Christine Quinn, the first openly gay person to lead the Council.

It is unclear how many of Johnson's governmnet or campaign aides identify as LGBTQ. Johnson made history being elected speaker while openly HIV-positive, and while he has also said that while he knows he has experienced privilege being white, he is also from difficult socioeconomic circumstances, having grown up in public housing in Massachusetts in a family that was led by a single mother.

It’s early in Johnson’s transition into the speakership and he has already announced that he will retain some of the top aides at the Council, including people of color, who served under Mark-Viverito.

At a news conference shortly after being elected speaker, when asked about his efforts to ensure diversity, Johnson said he would bring Scott, “an incredible African-American woman,” to City Hall. He will also be keeping Ramon Martinez, the powerful chief of staff to the Council speaker, who is Latino, in his current role. The Council’s finance division director Latonia McKinney, who is African-American, and land use division director Raju Mann, who is of South Asian descent, may also be staying on -- Johnson mentioned and praised each but did not discuss their continued employment in the same definitive terms. The Council's communications director Robin Levine, a white woman, informed Gotham Gazette that she will continue on in her role.

“So I think many of the top jobs are already represented by people of color and women,” Johnson said, while conceding that “we have to do a better job at all levels of government and we have to do a better job here in the Council.”

Over the course of running for speaker, Johnson has promised that he will commit to diversity in staff and leadership positions. At a speaker forum, he pledged that at least 50 percent of his senior team and central staff would be women, transgender and non-conforming individuals. The Council’s Women’s Caucus also extracted numerous promises from all the speaker candidates and intends on holding Johnson to account for his commitments, which include funding a full-time staff person for the caucus. Johnson appears set to name Council Member Laurie Cumbo, an African-American woman, as Majority Leader, and a diverse group of members to top committee chair posts, including Rafael Salamanca to lead the land use committee.

[Related: Women's Caucus Secures Commitments from City Council Speaker Candidates]

A spokesperson for the speaker emphasized that it was too soon to tell what the entire staff composition would look like. Johnson has yet to make any new hires and has just begun the process of meeting and interviewing candidates, the spokesperson said.  

“I think we need to look at our own staff,” Johnson said at the news conference. “It needs to be better, but I actually think that compared to other agencies and bodies in the city of New York, we’re actually more diverse, when it comes to staff positions, than other agencies in the city.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ latest city workforce report, through Fiscal Year 2016 which ended July 2017, showed promise as far as diversity is concerned. Of the 721 employees of the Council -- 318 full-time and 403 part-time -- 49 percent were female and 57 percent people of color. Members of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus praised that progress in December, crediting Mark-Viverito for putting in practices that prioritized diverse hiring.

“In order to build a democracy that accurately reflects our City’s diverse communities, we need reflective representation at all levels of government and all forms of public service,” said Council Member Margaret Chin, co-vice chair of the caucus, in a statement issued December 13. “While our work for a more inclusive democracy continues, especially in the efforts to increase language access for immigrant communities, we are more than ready to continue this legacy.”

The BLA Caucus also called in December for the next speaker to be a person of color, insisting that the city should “continue to be served by leaders who reflect our city's values, vision, and demographics.” But, the caucus did not rally around one candidate.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, a member of the BLAC who ran for speaker, did not want to prejudge Johnson’s dedication to diversity but is encouraged by conversations he’s had with the speaker about “equity in government” in the last week. “I’m assuming they’re gonna produce some good results, I have no reason to expect it won’t happen,” he said in a phone interview.

[Related: City Council Speaker Candidates, All Men, Promise Gender Equity if Victorious]

Williams was one of two speaker candidates, the other being Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., who initially refused to concede to Johnson when it became apparent that Johnson had the vote locked up. The two protested the county choice of a Council member who was not a person of color. Cornegy went on to concede days before the speaker vote, while Williams did so only the morning of. In the meantime, Council Member Barron jumped into the race, also arguing that it was time the Council had its first black speaker.

“If the City Council wants to be a beacon for progressive government, we obviously have to start here,” Williams said on Tuesday. “Any place there’s diversity, everybody benefits...Without diversity, resources don’t flow equitably to communities.”

Williams seemed reassured by Johnson’s promises to empower members and the body as a whole. “It’s easier to do that when everybody feels represented,” he said. And he had a simple word of caution should the speaker not follow through. “There are a lot of people watching,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Pat Comerford is a woman, not a man as originally stated. 

Note: this article has been updated to note that Robin Levine will continue to serve as the Council communications director. 

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Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Officials Discuss Gender Equity, Sexism at ‘Diversity’ Conference https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6445-officials-discuss-gender-equity-sexism-at-diversity-conference https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6445-officials-discuss-gender-equity-sexism-at-diversity-conference on diversity panel

The "On Diversity" panel; photo via William Alatriste for the City Council


What are "women’s issues"? When should men recognize their privilege and stand down? Speak up? How do women in public life talk about everyday sexism and engage men in that dialogue?

These were just a few of the questions asked on Tuesday during one panel discussion at City & State NY’s annual “On Diversity” conference. Elected officials, business professionals, journalists, members of academia, and others gathered to discuss issues of race and gender in public life, especially related government and doing business with it.

City & State columnist Alexis Grenell moderated the panel discussion on gender equity, norms, and policies with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Assembly Member Nily Rozic, and Michael Kimmel, professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook College. The discussion revolved around gender equality both in the workplace and the home, as well as how gender issues are defined within government, the press, and the broader public.

Grenell started the conversation by quoting Professor Kimmel himself: “White men are the single greatest beneficiary of the [greatest] affirmative action of the history of the world. And that’s called the history of the world.”

Kimmel jumped in to discuss the traditional belief that men don’t have a say or a place in conversations on gender. “We think that gender - the word gender itself - is a woman’s issue," he said. "When you hear the word gender, the word, what comes into your mind usually is women. Most men don’t think that gender really matters to us.”

While the discussion addressed what is often a divide between men and women on certain political issues and how they are framed in public discourse, the dynamics of the discussion itself also reflected these issues. In a conversation fraught with potential landmines, the three elected officials on the panel spoke from differing personal experience, but all with a largely common perspective. Throughout, Garodnick and Kimmel - the two men on the stage - stressed the importance of redefining women’s issues as gender or family issues and the importance of recognizing men as stakeholders within the framework of these issues. The women - Grenell, Rozic, and Mark-Viverito - agreed.

Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito and Rozic also focused on the importance of having women in elected office and that of including women’s perspectives when discussing issues that directly affect women. Mark-Viverito is the first Latina to be Speaker of the City Council; Rozic was the youngest woman in the Assembly when she was elected.

“How do we include, get more women into politics - because our perspective is essential - but also...how do we give men the toolkit to understand when to back off a little bit of that privilege, right? So when do men have to stand down when a woman is speaking, perhaps? And also maybe when do we not include men enough when they should be stakeholders? So how do we walk that fine line?” she asked the panel at one point.

Kimmel discussed the role men have as stakeholders when it comes to what are traditionally referred to as women’s issues, such as paid parental leave, reproductive rights, and sexual assault on college campuses. He emphasized the need to redefine the issues to include men by saying that “we cannot fully empower women and girls unless we engage boys and men.”

Garodnick discussed his experiences with gendered expectations and stereotypes. He recalled the period in which he took paid parental leave, and despite being fully engaged in the parenting process during that time, he said he also felt pressure to project a certain image to his colleagues and peers while doing so, namely that he was still busy with work while on leave.

Agreeing with Kimmel, Garodnick emphasized the need to change the perception that certain issues are strictly women’s issues when, in fact, “they’re family issues, they’re societal issues, they’re economic development issues. These are big picture issues.”

Kimmel also called for the politicization of the familiar relationships men already have with women. “We don’t enter [the conversation on gender issues] as men,” he said. “We enter as sons and as fathers and as husbands and as partners...every man in this room knows what it feels like already to love a woman and want her to thrive. We need to just make that political, public.”

While Mark-Viverito and Rozic both acknowledged the importance of men recognizing their place as stakeholders on certain issues, they both maintained that having women in positions of power and continuing to challenge sexism present within government and the workplace in general are the most effective ways to achieve gender equity.

Rozic discussed the sexist assumptions that continue to pervade the culture in Albany, where the state Legislature she is a part of conducts its business. She recalled incidents of sexism, including an occasion when she was denied access to the Assembly floor during a roll call vote by a Sergeant in Arms who assumed, because of her gender in combination with her age, that she was not an Assembly member despite her having been in Albany for several months. Rozic also discussed multiple occasions of having been mistaken as male colleagues’ staff member, girlfriend, or wife when standing next to them during a conversation while in the workplace.

“Believe it or not, Albany is a little backwards,” Rozic said wryly early in the discussion.

“It is a very fine line maneuvering gender, in particular as a young woman, because I face...a dose of sexism but also ageism, which is a lethal combination at times,” Rozic said. “When I got elected, I was the youngest woman ever elected to the state Legislature, I get that. With that comes a lot of responsibility, but it also comes with a challenge of understanding what leadership looks like, and sort of, countering what leadership is supposed to look like.”

While Garodnick spoke from recent personal experience in taking parental leave, Mark-Viverito also discussed her personal life and choices.

“I am a 47-year-old woman who does not believe in traditional marriage...And I don’t have children," she said, framing her other comments. "I made a choice in my life that I wasn’t going to have children, and the expectations or the approach that I get as a woman, right, is that somehow I’m supposed to be in that box: 'You have children, right?' And when I say "no, I made a choice that I’m not"...So I never approach a woman from the assumption that she has children because I know my own experience...And you ask, 'do you have children?' You don’t assume that they have children."

Mark-Viverito said it is essential to break down normative expectations of women. It is "not only my responsibility," she said, "it’s also men, our allies.”

The Speaker expanded the conversation to sexism faced by women in positions of power by discussing the sexism she has experienced during her career, especially in that role leading the City Council, perhaps the second most powerful position in city government. She said that the media’s perception of her decision-making and independence is indicative.

“I feel that still when you talk about issues and decisions, I still get a little bit appalled at times at the perspective of the press, that there’s this assumption that when a tough decision has to be made, somehow I made a decision, I’m in the pocket of the mayor, right?” Mark-Viverito said, referring to how the media has portrayed her working relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio was influential in Mark-Viverito’s ascension to the position of speaker and there has been an ongoing narrative in news articles and political discourse that Mark-Viverito is not independent from the mayor. The speaker and her allies push back that her collaborative leadership style can be misinterpreted as weakness or a lack of independence.

“I couldn’t possibly have arrived at that decision on my own, right?” Mark-Viverito said Tuesday. “A controversial, difficult decision - somehow I had to be forced into that because I could not have made that decision on my own. That’s sexist...And when I say it’s sexist, what do I get back? ‘Oh you’re always throwing the sex card around’ or ‘the sexism card around.’ Right? ‘The women’s card,’ ‘the race card,’ whatever it is, and it’s usually men saying that.”

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by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Officials Discuss Gender Equity, Sexism at ‘Diversity’ Conference Wed, 20 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Eyeing Diversity, New Push for Demographic Data on Community Board Members https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6064-eyeing-diversity-new-push-for-demographic-data-on-community-board-members https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6064-eyeing-diversity-new-push-for-demographic-data-on-community-board-members torres alatriste

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: William Alatriste)


In an effort to ensure that local community boards are representative of their neighborhoods, New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres will introduce a bill on Wednesday requiring the city to publish demographic information about board members.

The bill, co-sponsored by Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos, is straightforward and reads much like a general population census. It would require the reporting of community board members’ names, neighborhoods, occupations, and employment, duration of board service, who they were appointed by, as well as aggregations by borough.

The bill also mandates the publishing of members’ attendance records and the number of vacancies on each community board.

The most important aspect of the bill, according to Torres, is the reporting of detailed demographic information -- obtained through a voluntary survey -- including race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, income, employment status, marital status, level of education, disability status, veteran status, language spoken at home or if they own or lease a car.

“The conventional wisdom is that community boards are the most local unit of government, the most local form of representation,” said Council Member Torres, in a phone conversation with Gotham Gazette. “We want to ensure that they are genuinely representative of the districts where they’re located.”

In the past few months, community boards across the city have shown the power they wield in influencing major city decisions. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which requires changes to the city zoning rules and the individual rezoning of several neighborhoods in the five boroughs, is under fire after more than two dozen community boards came out against the citywide rezoning plans. While the boards play a largely advisory role, the feedback has forced the mayor to take a step back, reconsider his approach, and acknowledge that changes will be made.

Taking this and other examples of community board influence into consideration, Torres, a Bronx Democrat, feels it is important to judge whether such opposition is representative of larger community preferences. His bill would provide the data to help do that, he says. Torres believes that community boards can be a “lagging indicator” indicative more of the past than present situation of a community so it’s necessary to ensure diversity in their composition.

“I would argue that the more diverse a community board, the greater its capacity for representation and broad-based community engagement,” he said.

Community board members are unpaid local representatives appointed by borough presidents and are often politically-connected, long-time local advocates. They have the most power relative to land use issues and can also be effective in terms of persuasion, especially in terms of influencing City Council members and borough presidents. City Council members often have experience on their local community board before being elected. There are no term limits for community board members.

Torres’ bill isn’t the first attempt at making community boards accountable, transparent, and diverse. In April 2014, Council Member Kallos sponsored a resolution calling for borough presidents to adopt best practices for recruiting and appointing community board members. The resolution was based on a report from earlier that year which came out of a hearing of the governmental operations committee, which Kallos chairs. The report recommended, among other measures, more inclusive outreach and recruitment methods and a standardized application process for board members. There has been some reform by borough presidents, but much still varies borough by borough.

Another bill, from December 2014, also attempted to establish term limits for community board members to ensure evolving memberships. (Torres opposes term limits saying that there is “no one-size-fits-all solution” for community boards in different boroughs.) That bill has not seen widespread support in the Council.

Torres’ bill will be introduced at Wednesday’s full-body Stated Meeting of the Council and will go before the governmental operations committee. Torres expects that there will be sufficient cooperation from community boards on the optional surveys and also from Council members and borough presidents. The idea is that more demographic data will help make it clear that more should be done to help diversify the boards where needed.

“My message to community boards is this: There’s nothing to fear from diversity,” said Torres. “The goal isn’t perfect proportionality but broad-based representation.”

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid    @GothamGazette

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Eyeing Diversity, New Push for Demographic Data on Community Board Members Wed, 06 Jan 2016 00:56:18 +0000