Government Watch / Politics

New York City to Pay $1.8 Billion to Former Teachers as Students Continue to Struggle

AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer


Thousands of former Black and Latino teachers in New York City stand to collect an astonishing $1.8 billion in damages after the city stopped fighting a decades-long discrimination lawsuit which alleged that a licensing test that teachers were formerly required to pass was biased. But while the evidence of such discrimination remains dubious, students in New York City schools have continued to underachieve at an alarming rate, even as many flee the public school system entirely.

Between 1990 and 2014, New York State required all public school teachers to pass a Liberal Arts and Sciences Test in order to maintain their teaching license. In 1996, a group of minority teachers and prospective educators filed a lawsuit to abolish the testing requirement, citing a disparity in passage rates between white and minority test-takers. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “at times, over 90% of white test takers passed, compared with fewer than 62% of Black test takers and 55% of Latinos.”

A turning point for those bringing the lawsuit was a 2012 ruling by Judge Kimba Wood (who had once achieved celebrity as one of President Bill Clinton’s failed nominees for Attorney General). Wood found that the licensing test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act since city officials failed to demonstrate a direct correlation between performance on the test and classroom performance, as measured by “concrete metrics.” In other words, Wood argued, requiring teachers to know the information asked about on the test – much of which, it can be safely assumed, high school graduates are expected to know themselves – is not necessary for teachers to perform their duties in the classroom. Therefore, the disparity in performance on the test amounted to arbitrary racial discrimination against minority teachers who did not pass it.

While the state subsequently scrapped the original test in favor of a simpler one (the legality of which may now also be open to challenge), Wood’s judgment paved the way for thousands of minority teachers who previously failed the test, in some cases multiple times, to sue for damages from New York City.

Under the settlement just reached, the city has already given payouts totaling $835 million, with up to another billion potentially in play. One teacher cited by the Journal was Sylvia Alvarez, who will receive $1.1 million after failing the test ten times and ultimately losing her job. Another former teacher, Theodore Regis, who lost his teaching job after failing the test five times, “earned” himself a payout of $1.2 million.

What to make of this outcome? First of all, as the standard axiom of social science holds, correlation does not necessarily entail causation.” And this principle is surely relevant here. The mere fact that white teachers passed at a higher rate than minority teachers does not in itself prove that the city was discriminating against the latter. Objective observers might also note that it hardly seems arbitrary to expect those charged with educating youngsters in our public schools to demonstrate a basic knowledge of essential academic subjects.  

But above all, what this outcome indicates is an utter disregard for what should be the foremost, in fact the sole, priority of a public school system: the academic achievement of students themselves.

By this standard, New York City public schools have been failing miserably for decades. As far back as the 2018-19 academic year, per-pupil spending in the city was $28,004, by far the highest among the nation’s 100 largest school systems. By 2022, according to the New York Post, it had risen to $34,900 per pupil, a growth rate of more than twice the inflation figure from 2000-2021. Yet parents have been pulling their kids from the city’s public schools in droves, and not only because some are emigrating to other states like Florida that offer lower taxes and a reduction of the excessive masking and lockdown requirements that the city imposed at the behest of the teachers’ unions. While Mayor Eric Adams has remarked that city schools are suffering from “a massive hemorrhaging of students,” with an anticipated drop in enrollment of 28,000 this fall, the teachers’ unions are firmly opposing even a modest reduction in the education budget – meaning that per pupil spending is expected to go even higher.

As an example of the waste to which New York City’s education budget is prone, New York Post columnist Karol Marokowicz cites the recent attendance by Schools Chancellor David Banks and more than 50 other staffers at a conference “at a swanky hotel near Universal Studios in Orlando.” In contrast to public school students, who had to Zoom for their education for over a year, “the grownups need to meet up near theme parks to discuss their education plan.”

Meanwhile, however, students in another form of public schools – charter schools – are often flourishing, despite receiving much less government funding. As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently observed, not only do charters average higher math and reading scores than “traditional” public schools, “research has found that the benefits are especially pronounced for Black, Latino, and low-income students.” Eighth graders in New York’s largest charter-school network, Success Academy, recently excelled in four of the five Regent exams that are required for graduation from high school. The students’ overall pass rates on all the exams were a stunning 93% or higher.

Unfortunately, entry into charter schools in New York City, as in many other cities and states across the country, is limited: applicants need to win a lottery to gain admission. (As of 2019, over 50,000 children were on wait lists seeking admission to charter schools in the city.) New York State, at the behest of teachers’ unions, has imposed a cap prohibiting the opening of new charters. Despite the cap, charter school enrollment has grown by 9 per cent since the start of the pandemic, while private Catholic school enrollment is rising as well.

Those who defend the invalidation of the teacher test because of the differing success rates achieved by different demographics purport to be acting in the pursuit of social justice. But isn’t the real social-justice issue that of getting the best qualified teachers into public school classrooms? For anyone genuinely concerned with advancing the fortunes of every student, including racial and ethnic minorities, surely providing them the highest quality education possible should be the utmost concern.

If public schools are prohibited by judges and union contracts from achieving that goal, the only remedies lie in empowering parents and students with more choice in their children’s education. As any parent knows, it doesn’t matter what gender, race, or religion a teacher is. It just matters how well they prepare their students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed – knowledge and skills teachers themselves need to possess in order to impart them to students. That, and that alone, should be the most important measuring stick for educators.

David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.

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3 months ago

Why is the answer always lower the bar for quality and standards? Black or white should not matter; if the teacher cannot demonstrate educational proficiency and pass the tests the solution should be to improve the performance of the teacher. I have no problem with failing, getting more educational training to raise their skills and knowledge and then being allowed to retest.
There also needs to be alignment between the testing and the teacher’s subject.
For example, I would see more of legitimate argument of unfair testing if the same test being given to a science teacher and an art teacher. Tests should be in-sync with the merit and needed skills of a person versus race.
Still somebody should be able to question why we should keep any person who fails the tests 10 times. Maybe they are just not capable and it is clear they do not have what it takes to teach.

4 months ago

Most teachers are excellent but the Union they belong to needs to either disappear or be taken down a peg or twi and not be so powerful. In the past unions were created to support their members but these days they often work against the members. Let the teachers “teach” as intended; stop making them adhere to political agendas.

Susan Miller
4 months ago

Wow! Stupid privilege pays a lot better than white privilege.

4 months ago

It’s time to abandon NYC because we already pay taxes for teachers and now will have to pay more for sub-par performance achieving nothing but higher cost to live in NYC. This is an outrageous award for teachers that still can’t teach.

4 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

New York City is becoming slum city in the same fashion as Chicago, Los Angelus, thr whole state of California……….too bad……Ny was once a great town….the folks who live and vote there are certainly to blame

4 months ago

Tells you something about who the smarter teachers are. 90%, Hell Yeah.

4 months ago

Keep voting demorat, this is what you deserve, maby some day you will wise up

4 months ago

Paying out because someone failed a test and they are part of a special social class is absolutely wrong. A person is a person. Created in the Image of GOD. Race and social class are a distant second. It comes down to the individual.

4 months ago

Billions paid to former teachers does nothing for students, current or past. Yet another expensive debacle for New Yorkers.

4 months ago

Good for you, New York voters, you can afford it. After alll it is what you wanted!

4 months ago

New York is a joke and so is anyone still living in that POS state!

4 months ago

They didn’t pass after so many times because they are stupid!

4 months ago

The teachers didn’t show up to work, because they didn’t want to show up to WORK. They do NOT care about the children. They should find a different vocation.

4 months ago

If you cannot pass a test after numerous times, why weren’t outside resources sought to help with a better test score? Let’s get back to basics with reading, writing, and math. With what is going on in today’s educational system, we need to make our schools better or there won’t be many left!!!!!

4 months ago

It is as common as a “rooster crowing at sunup” for minorities to use the “racist” complaint to try to explain why he/she didn’t pass the test.

4 months ago

Just the fact that you have to have a different test for blacks, latinos, etc. shows racism. All teachers that teach our children should be held at the same level of intellect, should they not? This is ridiculous.

James C Rutledge
4 months ago

Was this case settled out of court, or by another left leaning bureaucrat? It looks like another case of bypassing our system of justice to give taxpayers’ money to gain votes. And, BTW, anyone who can’t or won’t pass this simple test should not be teaching anyone and anyone who thinks they should be if that person is a “person of color,” is a racist.

4 months ago

It’s the marxist democrat party and their new ” equity” claims, which allow them to pick and choose what group gets rewarded with the taxpayers money.
More ABSURDITY from SWAMP politicians!

Michael Lewis
4 months ago

 It seems the skills that are needed to succeed are how to setup and scam the government for a fat, life changing settlement payment! This is what we are teaching our children.

4 months ago
Reply to  Michael Lewis

My guess is that it’s mostly democrats who take advantage of this scam because they know government offices, unions, and courts around cities and in blue states are occupied by mostly democrats and likely to vote in favor of their ilk. Conservatives don’t look for these easy ways to pay off the mortgage by taking money from fellow taxpayers because we know who pays for government services.

4 months ago

What about MERIT? I’m a retired (Sp.Ed) Teacher, certified in NY State. I had to pass the National Teacher exam, a test to teach Elementary School, a test to teach Special Ed., etc., and EARN 2 Masters’ degrees to get certified; So what? I’ve worked alongside MANY teachers of color who ALSO took and passed the same tests. All of this having been sad, I’ve also known many people who would have made great teachers but they either couldn’t afford college, or found it too demanding (either physically, financially, or emotionally) and found other careers. To say that the test(s) are somehow biased is ludicrous! The test(s) don’t care what gender or color one is.

4 months ago
Reply to  BOB M.

Merit….lol……the marxist democrat party knows nothing of merit!

Janice Valverde
4 months ago

It sounds like the author believes that white teachers should continue to ve the teachers in the majority although the public school population is mostly kids of color. This is not conducive to success in school for those kids. New research from several universities, including Johns Hopkins, shows that Black and Browm kids are more likely to get higher grades, e roll in advanced courses and attend college if they have had even one Black teacher in elementary school.

There is a cultural gap between kids of color and white women teachers. Imagine white kids having 77% of their teachers being Black. There may be no ill intent, but they don’t see teachers as role modelscunless they can relate to them culturally.

We just need more teachers of color in our large urban school districts where over 60% of the kids are kids of color now.

The problem is not whether teachers pass a culturally biased test. Not really. The problem is that the test, the teaching force, the school culture, the administrations, the textbooks, and everything we offer kids in these big city public schools is out of sync with their racial and ethnic identities.

4 months ago

If you could prove that these “children of color” would attain academic proficiency simply by having teachers that are “in sync with their racial and ethnic identities,” then I’d be all in for it.
Problem is, the demonstrated lack of academic proficiency by those teachers means your premise is baloney. Teachers need to know a subject to teach it.

4 months ago
Reply to  Stephan

The article clearly states that students that have the opportunity to either go to parochial school or an academy are learning more and testing better. No mention of the students color or race. Also no mention of the sex, race or color of those teachers at the parochial school or academy. If you can’t see past the color of it or lack of color is because you who think color matters in the outcome of things are the racists. The overwhelming point some you aren’t getting is public school run by bureaucrats, and staffed by unions is a confirmed recipe of failure. It happens every year, every where, every school no matter how much money is thrown at it. It’s not color, it’s not race and it’s not that stupid excuse of culture. Private school students succeed because everyone there has a vested interest in the students success. There is no incentive in public school. Put another way for some of you more challenged people, if there were no penalties for selling tainted meats to the public, would there be more tainted meats and sick customers? and eventually customers would not buy the tainted meat, but in this case you have the bureaucracy and the supplier telling you, you have keep buying the tainted meat. It’s not race or color folks, stop for min, take a breath and see the real problem.

4 months ago

The moment anyone brings color into the discussion, that’s when the conversation is over. Race has to stop being part of the discussion. It has to stop. Once race is brought in, it dominates all discussion from that point. Discussion and solutions without color.

Tim Toroian
4 months ago

Tests are to see who or what is capable, it is not the fault of the test if simpletons can’t pass it. If they aren’t insulted I failed. And if they aren’t my point would be proved. I say that because of the people online who do not comprehend sarcasm or hyperbole.

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