Here’s a brand new article from the New York Times that nicely illustrates the theme of my Taki’s column about how the Eye of Sauron can only glare at a few instances of discrimination at a time. For example, the federal government is currently blithely rebuilding the civil service examination system, junked as discriminatory in 1981 due to disparate impact, but is also persecuting the very blue state of New York for trying to hire good teachers.
Questions of Bias Are Raised About a Teachers’ Exam in New York
By KATE TAYLOR APRIL 7, 2015
A federal judge is questioning whether a new exam for aspiring teachers in New York is discriminatory against minorities, a case that could derail the state’s efforts to create a more rigorous set of tests for entry into the profession.
Black and Hispanic applicants have been passing one of the exams, intended to measure reading and writing skills, at lower rates than white candidates, prompting concerns of decreased diversity in the teaching ranks.
I haven’t heard the name Judge Kimba Wood for a while. She was, briefly, a Playboy bunny while she was at the London School of Economics, then went to Harvard Law. She sentenced Mike Milken to 10 years in the pen, was going to be Bill Clinton’s Attorney General nominee but got hit with Nannygate, then was involved in a steamy 1995 divorce trial that was the talk of New York society.
The request came as part of a long-running case brought in 1996 by black and Hispanic teachers against New York City. In 2012, Judge Wood ruled that an older state-certification test, which was intended to measure teachers’ knowledge of the liberal arts and science, was racially discriminatory.
Although compensation has not yet been awarded, the city is expected to have to pay back wages to several thousand teachers who were demoted to being substitutes from the early 1990s to 2004, or were never hired as full-time teachers because they did not pass the older test.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Joshua Sohn, a partner at Mishcon de Reya New York, said that he did not know if the new test, the Academic Literacy Skills Test, was discriminatory. But, he said, given the fact that blacks and Hispanics are passing the test at lower levels than whites, “the court has an obligation to ensure that the historical discrimination is not continuing.”
The literacy test is the most challenging of four exams introduced in the 2013-14 school year, as part of an effort to raise the caliber of teachers and teacher training programs. Over all, the number of aspiring teachers passing the four required tests dropped by 20 percent from previous years. Students may retake tests they failed.
Under a provision in the new state budget, any graduate-level teacher training program that has fewer than 50 percent of its students pass each certification exam for three consecutive years will not be able to admit new students.
The earlier test that Judge Wood ruled was discriminatory, the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, was used until 2004. She said that because the minority candidates were failing that test in greater numbers, the burden was on public officials to prove the test served a valid purpose. In similar rulings, judges around the country have thrown out written exams for firefighters and police officers, ruling they were not relevant to the tasks they would perform.
Kimba Wood has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. As everybody knows, Harvard Law put a lot of effort into accurately measuring the bareminimum knowledge it takes to be a competent lawyer and then picks its admittees randomly from among all those who clear that hurdle. Harvard Law School would never think about admitting applicants from the top down based on a combination of the LSAT exam and college grades.
She is also expected to rule soon on whether a replacement test with the same name, which was in use from 2004 to 2013, was also discriminatory. If she decides that it was, thousands of additional people who failed the test during that time and thus were barred from full-time teaching positions could make claims against the city for back pay and other benefits. A testing expert appointed by the court submitted a report in February that concluded the state had not proved the test was relevant.
The new literacy test that is now under scrutiny by Judge Wood “requires the teacher to demonstrate an understanding of evidence found in texts and uses cogent reasoning to analyze and synthesize ideas,” according to the State Education Department. “The teacher produces complex and nuanced writing by choosing words, information, and structure deliberately for a given task, purpose, and audience.”
Sample questions provided by the state include a passage about Gertrude Stein’s life in Paris, followed by questions about the passage, and two passages about federal energy policy that the test-taker is asked to analyze in short written responses.
Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which advocates tougher certification requirements, said the judge’s questioning of the test was troubling. “I want to ask Judge Wood,” Ms. Walsh said, “would she be willing to have any of these teachers teach her own children or grandchildren, and I would bet my life she’d say no.”
I haven’t been able to find out where Kimba Wood sent her only child, the son of her second of three husbands, Time columnist Michael Kramer, to school. I found a high four-figure donation from her and her financier third husband to Ethical Culture Fieldston School (tuition $43,265), so that might be a guess.
The State Education Department on Tuesday would not release statistics showing passing rates by ethnicity, but officials have acknowledged that minority teaching candidates have not done as well as white candidates on the new test.
The racial makeup of the city’s teaching force has been a concern for years. While 41 percent of students in public schools are Hispanic and 25 percent are black, 60 percent of teachers are white, according to the city’s Education Department. Eighteen percent of teachers are black, and 15 percent are Hispanic.