Taj Mahal immersion—the next stage in closing the racial gap

A few days ago, Robert Weissberg in an e-mail mentioned the “Taj Mahal” schools that are built for blacks, and that within a few years are abandoned. The phrase struck me as an apt description of the charter schools cum stately pleasure domes that taxpayers have been funding over the last couple of decades. Then, a day or two after that exchange, by coincidence, a friend read to me on the phone the below amazing article from the May 1 New York Post. If you want a Taj Mahal for underprivileged blacks, here it is. It’s a total environment, costing $100 million, with every feature you can imagine, and with services and classes extending through the day into the evening, so that the only thing the little princes need to go home for is to sleep. Evidently the philosophy is that the background these young people come from is the source of their low intellectual performance, so that if they are removed from their usual surroundings almost entirely, their performance will improve. By that logic, why not just have every black child in America be moved in with a white family from the moment of birth? The concept is the same. And that way whites could really feel that they’re making up for the crime of white racism.

The $100 million school that could remake Harlem
May 1, 2011

At this school, they will fill your brain—and your cavities.

It’s a $100 million holistic Harlem complex meant to combine the latest research on how to provide the best education to kids in poor communities, which means going beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.

The state-of-the-art school—with 60% of construction costs shouldered by city taxpayers—will include a community center, recreation rooms and even a health clinic.

The Promise Academy Charter School, on the grounds of the St. Nicholas Houses, could change the lives not just of the 1,300 kids enrolled in K-12, but of a neighborhood where 42% of families live below the poverty line.

As envisioned by famed “Waiting for Superman” educator Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, the five-story building on West 129th Street will become a one-stop center for kid and community needs.

“It would be wrong to consider it just a school,” Canada told The Post. “Our mission is much larger. We’re trying to give all the support our kids are going to need in one place. That’s what makes it unique.”

The building will boast 52 classrooms equipped with Smart-boards and computers, three science labs, a library stretching two floors, a gym, an auditorium, a large cafeteria, a fitness room and a dance studio. Kids would get a longer school day, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and school year of 210 days instead of 180—extra time considered crucial for student success, studies have found.

But it won’t stop there. The after-school program, including homework help, would go until 6 p.m. Then kids could stick around until 9 p.m. for sports, music and other activities. And the community center will stay open on weekends.

All residents of the St. Nicholas housing development can use the gym or meeting space, and take night classes in salsa dancing, healthy cooking and other continuing education. Canada said he wants to wage a battle against obesity and other local epidemics: diabetes, asthma, hypertension.

“This is a school and center with a mission to rebuild the community of a housing project,” he said.

During the day, pupils could visit the in-house clinic for treatment by a medical doctor, psychologist or dentist. The school chef will whip up breakfast and lunch menus with low-fat entrees.

The ambitious project is a first for New York—and a national model eyed by the Obama administration.

“We know that a child coming from the most difficult circumstances, who goes to a great school, or has a caring teacher or mentor, can succeed at the highest possible levels,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at a Teachers College speech last month. “But we also know that very same child is at risk … if every day, he goes back to a neighborhood where violence and drugs and gangs exist and education isn’t valued.

“I can’t ignore a mother who tells me it’s hard for her son to do his homework when there is a rat running across the kitchen table. Or that he can’t keep up in class because she cannot afford the glasses he needs to see the blackboard.” [LA replies: a rat running on the kitchen table? A child who can’t afford glasses—in this age when every black youth has a BlackBerry? Whom does Schools Chancellor Walcott think he’s kidding? But this is the way liberals seek to justify the never-ending privileges given to blacks, by portraying them as mired in fictional depths of squalor and oppression.]

The city Department of Education has pledged $60 million for the 135,000-square-foot building. That’s the biggest single sum awarded under the 2010-14 capital plan, said spokeswoman Barbara Morgan. Four other charters since last year have received grants of $22 million to $32.5 million each to build schools.

To get the taxpayer money, Promise Academy has to put up another $40 million in private funding. So far, it has raised $20 million from Goldman Sachs, $6 million from Google, and $5 million in services from its developer, Civic Builders.

The New York City Housing Authority is involved as well. In a first-of-its-kind deal, the Harlem Children’s Zone will pay NYCHA $7 million to build on its land, but the city will own the building.

The building will house kids from the existing Promise Academy I, which opened in 2004 and now serves more than 900 kids in two separate Harlem buildings running out of space to grow. Another 600 kids in K-7 attend Promise Academy II, also in Harlem. About 200 kids applied for the first 100 open seats when the school opens in 2012, so many families were left in the cold, recalling wrenching scenes from the “Waiting for Superman.” documentary.

“Geoff has described it as one of the only days of the year he does not look forward to coming to work,” Harlem Children’s Zone spokesman Marty Lipp said. “It’s a real roller coaster of emotions. It starts off celebratory, with parents shouting and beaming that their kids have gotten in. As we get to the waiting list and the room empties, it gets terribly sad. The parents’ hopes for their kids’ future just crash, and you can see the sadness etched in their faces.”

The Promise Academies outperform regular DOE schools. Last year, on state math tests, District 5 schools had 37.8% of kids in grades 3-8 score at or above grade level, while Promise I had 60% and Promise II 81%. In English language arts, District 5 had 28.5% at or above grade level; Promise I had 38% and Promise II 62%.

Taxpayer money is used to operate charter schools—the DOE pays about $13,500 per student a year. Harlem Children’s Zone shells out another $3,000 per kid from its private endowment for the longer day and year, Lipp said. It has a partnership with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and the Children’s Health Fund to staff the clinic. And it raises donations for extras like the after-school program and its “Baby College” parenting classes.

James Merriman, CEO of the NYC Charter School Center, praised the DOE matching-grant program as a way to “leverage huge private dollars to create high-quality public schools seats.

“This represents, far and away, the most comprehensive effort ever taken to provide wrap-around social services to complement a school.”

- end of initial entry -

Robert Weissberg writes:

If you really want to stir the pot, suggest that black children from dysfunctional families be placed in orphanages. They would be safe and well-fed, receive decent medical attention and acquire the discipline needed for success. But, this would destroy the black grandmother industry—those grandmothers taking care of the children of their children. This is a huge industry (social workers, case workers etc included) and helps explain why blacks do not stigmatize illegitimacy—it puts bread on the table. Big bucks in pathology.

Here’s my Taj essay at American Thinker.

N. writes:

First of all, it’s interesting to note that the failure of Head Start has not led anyone in the welfare/school establishment to raise serious questions. Because this school is basically Head Start raised to some exponential power.

It is evident from the article you cite that the intent of this school is to supplant family and peer influences as much as possible. As you note, the children can be there all the time, except to sleep. But will that be enough? It certainly wasn’t/isn’t enough in the case of Head Start; the effects of that program universally are gone by early elementary school.

Doesn’t that suggest that ultimately someone will call for boarding schools, where poor children will live totally away from their parents, except for short term visits? Of course, that would take away a lot of case load from social workers, welfare office workers, and other people who would be unlikely to qualify for jobs in the new boarding schools.

The black American family has been in a slow motion disaster since the late 1960s. Everything that Moynihan observed back in 1971 regarding the effects of “Great Society” programs on poor and working black families has come true. I find myself wondering how many decades of failure it takes before a social policy is finally discredited; 40 years is clearly not enough.

Rhona N. writes:

Below is what I posted following Robert Weissberg’s article at American Thinker:

None of you have mentioned the only important fact—clearly documented group differences in areas of both intelligence and sensibility. There is nothing anyone can do to raise achievement by NAMs despite all attempts. Chinese can work in a basement full of roaches and still work hard and get high grades. See a pattern here? The more people go around hiding their heads in the sand about reality, the more damage will be done to our pocketbooks, not to mention respect for the truth.

Paul, the author of the Stuff Black People Don’t Like blog, writes:

So much news is coming so fast that you might have missed this Newsweek story that says billionaires are realizing all their money to close the racial gap has failed. [LA replies: Are they really? If that happened, it would be the greatest thing. But I doubt it’s really happening.]

You wonder what liberals will do next to close the racial gap in learning?

Stunt white kids intellectual development at an early age through some malevolent new drug?

LA replies:

In a conversation I had with Jared Taylor in 1992, we arrived at the point you just made: that the logical end point of all the racial egalitarian efforts in education would be to lower the intelligence and knowledge of whites to the level of blacks. I said something like, “If whites know nothing, then they can’t be smarter than the blacks.”

Jonathan Silber writes:

Another Taj Mahal folly—school-district wide—was built from scratch in Kansas City, Missouri, for the benefit of black students and under the coercion of a single federal judge, and run directly into the ground, without results.

The scope of the undertaking, the scale of the extravagance, the extent of the corruption, and the staggering cost of the boondoggle, makes the planned Taj in Harlem look like the brainchild of prudential pikers seeking only to raise a little red schoolhouse with dirt floor.

Amenities in Kansas City’s Taj Mahal included a zoo, wildlife sanctuary, Olympic swimming pools, arboretum, planetarium, art gallery, mock courtroom with judge’s chamber and deliberation rooms for jury, rides in taxi to and from school, field trips to Africa and Mexico for the fencing team, and on and on ad nauseam.

And yet—surprise!—the test scores of black students have never improved, the usual gap between the scores of blacks and whites remains, and the rate of dropout by blacks has been as high as seventy percent or more.

The entire disgraceful episode is described in an “Analysis” publication from the Cato Institute, entitled “Money and School Performance: Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment.”

Nowhere in the analysis, unless I’m mistaken, does the author so much as suggest that the reason for the failure of results might lie with the black students themselves and their low intelligence.

LA replies:

Thanks for jogging my memory on the infamous boondoggle in Kansas City.

What reason did Cato give for the school’s failure to raise black performance?

Jonathan Silber replies:

As for reasons given in the Cato publication for the failure, here they are, reproduced verbatim from its conclusion:

All the money spent in Kansas City brought about neither integration nor higher levels of achievement. The lessons of the Kansas City experiment should stand as a warning to those who would use massive funding and gold-plated buildings to encourage integration and improve education:

The political realities of inner-city Kansas City made it impossible to fire incompetent teachers and principals and hire good ones.

Because the community regarded the school system as much as an employment opportunity as an educational institution, less than half the education budget ever made it to the classroom.

School superintendents found it hard to function because every decision was second-guessed by the court-appointed monitoring committee; the attorney for the plaintiffs; and the state of Missouri, which was paying most of the bills.

Because the designers of the Kansas City plan assumed that inner-city blacks couldn’t learn unless they sat in classrooms with middle-class whites, the district wasted exorbitant amounts of time and money on expensive facilities and elaborate programs intended to attract suburban whites instead of focusing its attention on the needs of inner-city blacks.

By turning virtually every school in the district into a magnet school, the Kansas City plan destroyed schools as essential parts of neighborhoods, fractured neighborhoods’ sense of community, and alienated parents.

The mechanism used to fund improvements to the school system (a federal desegregation lawsuit) deflected attention from the real problem—the need to raise black achievement.

The ideological biases of local educators and politicians, and the federal court, made them reject solutions that might have worked, such as merit pay, charter schools, or offers by private schools to educate students in return for vouchers.

Because the district had no way to evaluate the performance of teachers and administrators, promotions couldn’t be based on merit.

The desegregation plan created inverse achievement incentives—the district got hundreds of millions of extra dollars in court-ordered funding each year but only if student test scores failed to meet national norms.

LA replies:

Interesting. It seems that what happened in Kansas City was a pre-charter school era experiment. The idea of charter schools is to free schools from the bureaucratic rules that affect ordinary public schools. But the magnet schools in Kansas City appear to have been far more bureaucratized than ordinary public schools. Plus the obsessive focus on having a sufficient set of white homunculi for every black classroom prevented the schools from even getting to the starting gate as far as focusing on black education was concerned. These problems in Kansas City make it unnecessary for the Cato article even to approach the problem of black ability.

That avoidance becomes less possible with the charter schools. The charter schools’ very purpose is to be free of the bureaucratic obstacles and other unproductive goals complained of above, and the charter schools do boast improvement in black performance. But, as I’ve written before, these improvements are vastly over hyped. For example, it is frequently said that charter schools have “closed the gap,” which makes it sound as though the gap between white and black abilities has been, uh, closed, when in reality what is meant by “closed” is that the gap has been closed from a four year gap between white and black abilities to a three year gap, or at best a two and two-thirds year gap. In other words, the best they can do is raise the average black 12th grader from eighth grade reading and math ability to ninth grade reading and math ability. At this point, the remaining differences between white and black become ineluctable, and only pure dishonesty (calling itself hope and optimism and a refusal to give in) can go on denying them.

May 19

Matthew H. writes:

You write:

In a conversation I had with Jared Taylor in 1992, we arrived at the point you just made: that the logical end point of all the racial egalitarian efforts in education would be to lower the intelligence and knowledge of whites to the level of blacks. I said something like, “If whites know nothing, then they can’t be smarter than the blacks.”

This is not hypothetical. Consider:

In our local public elementary schools (reputed to be among the best in the state) the kids no longer get graded A, B, C, etc. as we did. They get 1, 2, 3 or 4, with 4 being the highest. But, unlike the old system, these designations are not assigned based on a 7 or 10 point scale where everything below a certain point gets an F indicating failure to master the material.

This new system gives a 4 to anyone who, as we used to say, really “aces” the class. That way the really top performers at least get some of the recognition they deserve. This represents about the top five percent. Below that is a huge group down to about 60 percent that get 3s. These are the “proficient” performers. Below that is another group of roughly equal size, i.e., from about 60 percent mastery down to somewhere in the 20s consisting of those deemed to be in need of some extra help. Then come the 1s, those in urgent need of intervention.

This way massive numbers of kids are passed along as being “good enough.” “Hey, my kid’s a 3 student! That’s pretty much the same as a B, right?”

Well, not exactly.

Combine this with the fact that these designations are based on astonishingly slack scoring methods by which, for instance, a sheet of math problems with half incorrect might earn a “Very Good!” and a smiley face and one sees that these “grades” are so plastic as to be utterly meaningless.

By such methods our “educational” wizards make F students equal to low A students. Sure there are huge differences in capabilities, but until they take their SATs (which, like all standardized tests, have been under sustained attack for years) the kids will have little in their transcripts to demonstrate the fact.

Presto, we’re all equal!

LA replies:

If I understand correctly, the system you describe is catastrophic. How do pupils strive for a good grade when the “3” grade encompasses everything between 95 percent and 60 percent, that is, between an A and a D or even an F?

Alex K. writes:

The plan to take black kids away from their own culture and immerse them in a Taj Mahal academic environment for the entire day is missing one key element: the peer group. Peers are the most important influence on a person, so as long as the black kids are with each other in the Taj Mahal they will not be getting the transformative environmental experience that the Taj is intended to provide.

The only solution, the ultimate solution, is to provide each black student with an entire positive peer group of his own.

We need an entire school of white students for each black kid.

Of course, that will require more white kids. So a politically correct, pro-minority excuse for higher white fertility!

LA replies:

That’s creative thinking all right. The problem is that it returns us to the one of the problems in the failed Kansas City magnet school experiment discussed above: that all the effort by the system goes into attracting enough whites to be in the same classrooms with the blacks, instead of into actual education for the blacks.

But maybe what you’re talking about is not attracting whites to a magnet school, but rather mathematically scattering the black kids among the white population so that blacks are spread out to the maximum possible extent all across America and in each community and school in the land there were just a few blacks surrounded by whites.

James P. writes:

You wrote,

The logical end point of all the racial egalitarian efforts in education would be to lower the intelligence and knowledge of whites to the level of blacks. I said something like, “If whites know nothing, then they can’t be smarter than the blacks.”

Don’t forget the cultural / behavioral component. If we degrade the overall culture and refuse to hold anybody to a decent, civilized standard of behavior, then whites become barbaric and nobody can say they are better behaved or more culturally refined than blacks.

Alex K. wrote,

The only solution, the ultimate solution, is to provide each black student with an entire positive peer group of his own.

Alas, the result of this approach is always to debase the whites, not elevate the blacks.

Paul of Stuff Black People Don’t Like writes:

Reading about your conversation with Jared Taylor back in 1992, I actually have another idea how to close the racial gap in learning. I call it the Michael Oher Act (from the 2009 movie “The Blind Side”).

Recall that he was a 6’4, 310 pound black teenager living in Memphis. His mother—who had 11 other children—was hopelessly addicted to drugs. It wasn’t until a wealthy white family—Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy—who lived far away from black crime in an all-white suburb, plucked him off the streets that Oher was able to reach his potential.

He now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

So, the Michael Oher Act will remove all black children from their mothers and place them in the homes of white families where they can be properly reared.

LA replies:

In my mind, this goes back to conversations I had years ago about Head Start. Head Start, which gives black children an “enriched” enrivonment prior to starting school so that they will do better in school, hasn’t worked. Any improvement that occurs earlier in the child’s life, during and immediately after his involvement with the program, is lost in subsequent years. So Head Start has to keep being expanded, so that the person’s exposure to an enriched environment goes on through his entire life. Ultimately this means that he must be placed with a white family as soon as he is born, and must live with whites throughout his life. Thus the Michael Oher Act spells out the ultimate logic of Head Start.

But I also want to add, “The Blind Side” is a good movie. It doesn’t play the usual liberal, white-guilt games. It’s a human story. Also, it leaves no question that it is the goodness and competence of the white couple that saves this young man’s life and opens up great opportunities for him.

Matthew H. writes:

Some allowance is made for top students to earn high marks. I think this is a sop to high-standards parents who would raise hell if their kids were lumped in with the lumpen. But when you look at the field in which they are competing you see that even a 4 is no great achievement. Yes, that group will include the best and brightest but they’re hardly being taxed to earn that grade.

What I find most shocking is the fact that the scoring at the homework and quiz level is so subjective and not infrequently downright incompetent: Misspelled words are not marked wrong, answers to simple questions which are clearly incorrect are marked as right, sentences composed with atrocious grammar are passed over as if they were perfectly acceptable and on and on and on … All topped off with lots of big purple happy faces.

I have even seen glaring grammatical errors on printed worksheets from the teachers.

Again, this is in a supposedly top-performing district with a prosperous and overwhelmingly white (disproportionately Jewish), and Asian population. In other words, as far as public schools are concerned this is about as good as it gets.

It is a catastrophe.

Robert Weissberg writes:

There is a common element here with the empty black suit—literalization. Just as wearing a fancy suit, a nice tie, etc signifies “being accomplished,” the Taj Mahal school indicates a “commitment” to education. A black can thus point to the over-the-top-school and say that this “proves” that blacks love education. Just one more example of conflating outward appearances with the real thing. Black “intellectuals” also use fancy words they barely understand to show that they are “educated.”

At the biological level it is the inability to think abstractly that explains this pattern.

LA replies:

Mr. Weissberg is referring to VFR’s 2008 article, “The empty black suit.”

Alex K. writes:

You wrote:

“But maybe what you’re talking about is not attracting whites to a magnet school, but rather mathematically scattering the black kids among the white population so that blacks are spread out to the maximum possible extent all across America and in each community and school in the land there were just a few blacks surrounded by whites.”

That is what I meant, although I said literally one lone black student surrounded entirely by whites, with no chance of black culture seeping in. [LA replies: yes. If there were even two blacks in the same classroom, then the black culture would seep in, undoing all the ameliorative efforts.]

I’m not sure it’s clear so I should point out that I am being facetious. It just seems that’s the logical endpoint of the current trendy theory that the bad home environment is the cause of the racial gap. Of course even in my scenario the racial gap would not go away (though maybe it really would narrow). But what the environmental theory is essentially saying is that it would.

Anyway, another problem with it as a scheme to promote white fertility is that multiculturalists would just respond by saying we need more Asian immigration. We could supply all the good peers the black kids need by just importing some more of the billions of Asians they have waiting over in Asia.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 18, 2011 09:58 AM | Send

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