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Let’s say you’re in charge of a big city public school system and you know that students are way under-performing in basics like reading and math. You’d focus like the proverbial laser beam on improving their performance in basics like reading and math, right?

Not, evidently, if you’re in charge of the New York City public school system. Facing these circumstances, the City, reported The New York Times last Thursday, decided to “launch a new Black studies curriculum next fall that could eventually be used across hundreds of schools, part of a local effort to embrace lessons on race and culture that have sharply divided school districts around the country along political lines.”

The Times continued, “The Black studies curriculum in social studies will launch in a handful of classrooms in September, before expanding across grades pre-K to 12. An Asian American and Pacific Islander curriculum, which was taught in about a dozen schools this fall, will also expand across the system in 2024.”

As The Times account noted, it’s not as if these subjects have been absent from New York City public schools. Instead, teaching efforts along these lines are being expanded.

But even if the system never mentioned these identity groups in class (which I would consider a huge mistake), would they really deserve such priority attention now? If you think that mastering basics like reading and math are much more important building blocks of progress for disadvantaged groups, you may well  answer “No,” especially when you consider how poorly New York City students have performed in these subjects compared with their peers in other big city school systems and especially nation-wide.

The evidence is clear from the latest edition of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

As this gold standard evaluation effort makes clear (but aforementioned Times article never mentioned), for fourth and eighth grade reading and math (not the only results it presents, but representative enough), in 2019 (a good starting point since it was the final pre-pandemic year), New York City students almost always lagged their big city and national public school school counterparts in shares of students proficient in these subjects. And in 2022, they kept lagging.

Even worse, in no instance did any of these sets of U.S. students, for either year, remotely approach fifty percent. So it’s not like the bar was high. Indeed, by far the best proficiency rate recorded by any of these groups was the 40 percent of national fourth grade math public school students achieving this level in 2019.

New York City students’ highest score during these two years? Thirty two percent proficiency for fourth grade math students in 2019.

It should be noted, however, that New York City educators may not be solely responsible for choosing their cockeyed priorities. A poll last fall showed that 92 percent of black City voters supported introducing a black studies curriculum in the public schools starting in pre-kindergarten classes, and 92 percent “ voiced support for prioritizing Black studies as a means to improve the education delivered to students in the nation’s largest public school system.”

Here’s hoping these survey results don’t confirm Oscar Wilde’s famous observation that “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”