NYU Metro’s Equity Study and recommendations should be discarded
A s Westport residents and parents, we believe strongly in the value of diversity and inclusion, the need to teach history honestly (warts and all), the need to eradicate racism and discrimination of all kinds, and the need to maintain our schools and our town as a safe and welcoming place for all regardless of race, religion, gender, background or political persuasion. From the very beginning, however, the DEI survey led by NYU Metro appeared to be biased and result-driven, given NYU Metro’s stated intention of fundamentally "dismantling" and "transforming" public education in a way that focuses all subjects through the lens of race, and which seeks to explain all racial disparities as the result of systemic racism, white supremacy, oppression, or hidden or overt bias. We don't agree with this approach for many reasons.
The bias of NYU was apparent from the start. For example, Reed Swier, the lead facilitator of the Westport equity study from NYU Metro Center and presumably the primary author of the equity study report, has made many public statements that are overtly racist and anti-capitalist. He routinely characterizes and denigrates people based on the color of their skin if they are white, referring to them as white supremacists, colonizers, violent, oppressors, and anti-Black. He blames the “problem” with Black lives on “White children being raised from infancy to violate Black bodies,” cheered when New York City eliminated its nationally known gifted and talented program and supports socialist policies such as canceling rent and mortgages and “tax[ing] the hell out of the rich.” Here is a sampling of some of his public tweets and we urge you and your readers to see them for yourselves. Unfortunately, Mr. Swier is not alone in this regard; other members of NYU Metro have voiced similar opinions, and “anti-whiteness” is a common theme throughout NYU Metro's writings and philosophies, including its concept of “Culturally Responsive Sustaining Education” (CRSE), which the administration recommended be considered as it develops an action plan (see April 25 BOE meeting). The solutions it suggested and which we find detrimental to all students include training teachers in CRSE, of which Transformative SEL is the precursor, both of which are based in this kind of racist ideology. (See the dangers of Transformative SEL for all students, especially those marginalized )
We believe that it is morally repugnant to judge individuals by the color of their skin under any circumstances, and that history has proven that capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty and provide opportunity than any other system in history. If a Westport student or parent had made the same kind of racists statements as Mr. Swier and others at NYU they would be publicly denounced, and rightfully so. That Westport schools have failed to do so and continued to associate with NYU Metro is nothing less than shameful.
As to the equity study itself, parents have voiced many objections that we share. At the most basic level, we question the utility of grouping all students according to perceived race and heritage in the way NYU and Westport have done. Are students okay lumping together all students with a heritage as diverse as those from Japan, China, Korea, India, Thailand, the Philippines and other Asian countries as all “Asian”? Should all white students be lumped together as a group and viewed in that manner regardless of their individual backgrounds and experiences, whether economic, religious, political, or immigration status? Should all Black, Latino, or multi-racial students be lumped into convenient racial classifications in this manner?
We certainly believe in the value of diversity and the need for students to celebrate their cultures and backgrounds, and to ensure everyone is and feels welcome, as well as the need to combat discrimination. But focusing on outcomes that group individuals by race in this manner does not, in our view, achieve these goals and risks being counterproductive.
NYU insists that it applies an approach to each district based on the unique characteristics of the district. However, one can easily determine from its prior equity studies for other districts, that its conclusions are always the same and its solutions are the same regardless of differences among districts and their demographics. As we all knew from the beginning, the Equity Study was determined to find bias in education not on the basis on any substantive causes, but solely on the basis of disproportional outcomes among groups of students, regardless of individual differences and regardless of any factors other than race or ethnicity. When it promised to analyze root causes, we were fairly certain, based on its acknowledged ideological approach that the main root cause it would find was the one it was committed to finding, i.e., bias and structural racism. The DEI survey and report came in on target, with no analysis of any kind, except the pre-determined outcome for which NYU was hired: the determination that Westport schools suffered from “structural and institutional racism” and their resulting biases. In addition to its failure to engage in any meaningful analysis of root causes, the report itself is grossly misleading. For example, it finds that Black students were “6.83 times more likely to receive a disciplinary referral … in comparison to their peers,” without providing any sense of the small sample sizes, the actual number of incidents, or what they involved. The reader is left with a very disturbing picture of Westport school administrators. Yet, in 2019-20 (one of the years under study), only four Black students were subject of a disciplinary referral, with nearly ten times as many white students receiving them. As one parent commented at the April 25 meeting, no one is suggesting we ignore disparities but don't mislead students, teachers, parents, and others in the community by a misleading report that the school insists requires an action plan to systematically review and revise school policies or curriculum.
Another concern with the equity study and action plan is its focus on equal outcomes. Disparities in academic performance could be eliminated by giving all students the same grade, or simply eliminating AP, Honors, or other tracking. But students, like all of us, are individuals with vastly different abilities and interests. If discrimination or bias or some other systemic issue is the reason for disparities when students are grouped by race, gender, or other characteristic, they should be addressed. But achieving equal outcomes without understanding the causes doesn't make much sense. For example, Westport (to its credit) participates in the Open Choice program, which provides opportunities for students from less well-off school districts to get a potentially better education at Westport schools. It is in high demand by students in those communities and could be one of the reasons for disparities cited in the equity study report. But neither NYU nor the school did anything to investigate that issue. If it is a cause, disparities could be reduced simply by eliminating Westport's participation in Open Choice (as other towns have done), yet few would agree that this would benefit students in those towns or even those from Westport. More broadly, despite all the claims to the contrary at the April 25 meeting, there is a risk that classes and opportunities could be limited or eliminated in the name of "equity," just as New York City and many other schools have done at the urging of NYU Metro and groups like them.
There are many other problems with the equity study and recommendations — too many to detail here. But these are among the main concerns. However, we do not merely criticize. We care about educational outcomes and we also have concrete suggestions for improving them, most of which also have been articulated by Black educators who have successfully implemented them in their own communities:
- Encourage Critical thinking, which used to be a pillar of our district’s education policy. For example, the current DEI study has so many flaws that it could be used as a case study in the lack of application of critical thinking and the failure of making persuasive arguments.
- Instead of training teachers in CRSE as the NYU study suggests (proven to NOT improve academic outcomes for minorities, see Ian Rowe, “How Critical Race Theory Undermines Individual Agency”), our district could offer teacher trainings in how to teach critical thinking and diverse viewpoints such as that offered by the Mill Center.
- Refrain from “racializing” every issue and denigrating “whiteness” because not every subject should be viewed through a racial lens and doing so is very problematic on many levels. To this end, arguments must be rational and well-articulated, and opponents must refrain from denigrating opponents (no calling out the opposition as ignorant or fearmongers); no mischaracterizing the opposition’s positions as “they don’t want to have difficult conversations (TEAM’s claim) or they don’t want to teach the history of slavery (when we criticize the SERC curriculum), etc.
- Maintain an educational approach that stresses excellence and personal agency and provide help to students who need extra help; create opportunities for success for students who are not as academically gifted as others. The USA competes globally and we do not do well on the OECD PISA (International Student Assessment) measurements compared to Asian countries, especially China.
- Look to charter schools that have had success in closing the achievement gap and emulate their practices where applicable, especially with respect to behavioral issues and improvement in academic achievement. This is an area where policies are piloted independent of the politics of teachers’ unions and one can find measurable results for actual students.
- Acknowledge that behavioral issues must be dealt with based on an objective standard that has been proven to support learning. The classroom cannot be the place for dealing with behavioral issues; it must support the learning environment. (See Max Eden, “Critical Race Theory and School Discipline” which addresses the proven failure of Restorative Justice techniques in creating positive learning environments and delivering improvements in reading and math scores.)
- Refrain from teaching STEAM and other subjects through a cultural or racial lens and from requiring students to be social justice activists; require them instead to master reading and mathematics. The latter is the proven path to upward mobility, which is the purpose of all attempts at closing the education gap, which is what we are trying to do here. (See Evers & Wireman, “‘Critical Math’ Doesn’t Add up: Race Consciousness and Radical Egalitarianism in the Curriculum.”)
- Learn to “steel man” the opposition’s argument (“Steel manning” is the act of taking a view, or opinion, or argument and constructing the strongest possible version of it; it is the opposite of straw manning.) Steel manning an argument requires that you understand the strengths of the other’s position. You might learn something you hadn't considered, alter your own position, or make your own arguments more persuasive in the process. Again, this requires critical thinking.