When renowned economist and education innovator Roland Fryer served at the School Board of Massachusetts and attended a public meeting to close a failing school, a black mother walked up to him and told him that the school was a good school.
“No, ma’am,” said Fryer, who is also black, “it’s not.”
The mother pulled out her child’s report card from her purse; it was all A’s.
The mother insisted, “This is a good school!”
Fryer had to tell her: “Ma’am….They have lied to you.”
“Potemkin villages” refer to the magnificent facades that Crimean governor Grigory Potemkin supposedly built in front of decrepit villages to impress Catherine the Great on her grand tour of the region. Today, there’s no better term than “Potemkin schools” to describe how educrats run public education in New York City.
Recently, teachers at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens complained that administrators forced them to pass failing students. Last year, a long-stalled investigation revealed that Maspeth High School in Queens repeatedly faked passing grades. In 2020, at Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill High School where more than 70% of the students were failing, the principal was secretly recorded instructing teachers to just pass kids. This happens not just at isolated failing schools; data on middle schools show widespread grade fraud in New York City public schools, and the worst often occur in predominantly black communities.
One such school is the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem, where in 8th grade, 95% of students failed Math proficiency according to New York State standardized testing, but the school passed 93.9% of them in that subject. The founder and former head of the Eagle Academy network, David Banks, is now Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. He quickly banished standardized tests from large swathes of NYC’s education landscape.
Grades aren’t the only thing that’s phony at our Potemkin schools. G&T programs, originally tailored to academically advanced students selected by standardized testing, now accept anyone; they are Potemkin G&Ts.
Acclaimed middle and high schools that offered rigorous academics to carefully matched students — selected in part by standardized testing — must dumb down because they now admit by lottery. And families who drew poorly in the admissions lottery are in tears as their children are assigned schools they’ve never heard of before, hours away from home. But educrats erect fancy facades in front of these train wrecks, calling them something they aren’t, trying to fool us.
The cures are all too obvious: standardized testing and school choice.
We need standardized testing, attacked by Potemkin school defenders, because it so indisputably exposes their academic dumbing-down. We need school choice, so families can vote with their feet as educrats continue to lie while robbing their children of an education.
Except for a minority of courageous Democrats, it is impossible to dodge the reality that the fight to dismantle Potemkin schools is a partisan fight, with the Democratic mainstream on the wrong side of the issue. ˆ
The big question for parents in this deep blue city in this deep blue state is: dare parents cast off their deep-seated voting habits and translate their anger against Potemkin schools into issue-driven voting in November? Parents did it in Virginia. We shall see about New York.
Wai Wah Chin is the founding president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York.