New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.
An Op-ed for The New York Times Editorial Board:
Despite its polychromatic diversity, New York City has one of most deeply segregated school systems in the nation. When asked about this last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio dodged by saying that the schools are a reflection of historical housing patterns, and, “We cannot change the basic reality of housing in New York City.”
Segregation in the city’s schools cannot be dismissed as an unsolvable problem. And though housing plays a role, decades-old educational policies have reinforced inequality and placed many low-income black and brown children on the road to second-class citizenship.
The Times’s Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden made that clear last week in “The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools,” an investigation of how a school choice initiative actually traps many low-income children in an inferior system-within-a-system.
The choice system was constructed not for the poor, but to keep white middle-class families invested in the public schools. Even some who supported the strategy 20 years ago, though, now recognize that it promotes class segregation and presents enormous obstacles to vulnerable families. As The Times article points out, the racial isolation of black and Hispanic students is just as great in high school as in elementary schools, evidence that the choice system is failing.
A Little History
On February 3, 1964, the Rev. Milton Galamison led the largest student boycott in the history of the New York City public school system, with 464,361 students staying home to fight for the end of school segregation.
Galamison, a pastor at Siloam Presbyterian Church and a member of the Brooklyn NAACP, had a lengthy history of civil disobedience, primarily relating to education issues and pushing for blacks and Puerto Ricans to be hired for city construction projects. Fed up with the slow rate of school integration ten years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Galamison teamed up with Annie Stein, a white communist PTA leader, to organize a single-day boycott. The coalition enlisted legendary organizer Bayard Rustin, who had just organized the March on Washington, to run point for the boycott.
After hearing no response to his demands from the Board of Education, Galamison called for another boycott on March 16. The rhetoric around this boycott reflected the increasingly nationalistic position of the activists like Malcolm X, who favored separate schools for blacks celebrating black heritage rather than integration, and was opposed by mainstream groups like the NAACP. Nevertheless, 267,459 students participated in the second boycott.
The second boycott was also support by Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and the United States Congressman representing Harlem and the chairman of the Education and Labor Committee. At the time, Abyssinian Baptist Church was the largest African-American church in New York City, and the largest Baptist congregation in the world.
Despite the enormity of the boycotts, the Board of Education was unmoved for the remainder of the Wagner administration. Racial tensions were already high in the City; according to a New York Times poll taken in September of 1964, 54% of New York City whites thought “civil rights was moving too fast.”
Currently great wealth is being amassed by technology companies, yet women, Hispanics and African Americans make up only 30%, 6% and 3% of employees in the top 75 Silicon Valley tech companies, respectively, according to a report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Let’s examine this problem as a pipeline problem. The New York City Department of Education educates more black and Hispanic student than any other school district. In March 2017, a select group of eighth graders in New York City found out that they were being offered a spot at some of the nation’s best high schools, the eight “specialized” city public high schools that include Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science. About 28,000 students took the multiple-choice test required for admission, and 5,078 did well enough to secure a place.
Even though black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of public high school students in the city, they routinely represent only 10 percent of those offered admission to the specialized high schools. In 2017, the city offered admission to only 524 black and Latino students.
The numbers are even lower at some of the most desired schools, such as Stuyvesant, which has space for nearly 1,000 freshmen and offered admission to only 13 black students. Stuyvesant is about 74 percent Asian, 18 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic, 1 percent black, with 4 percent multiracial or other.
While there is a great deal of merit to the fact that what is going on in Silicon Valley and New York City is unfair, let’s contrast it with the 2017 NBA All-Star game. It is far more difficult to become a starter in a NBA All-Star game than it is to get a job at Google or Facebook, or a seat at Stuyvesant High School. Yet all the NBA All-Star starters were Black.
And all but one of Forbes’ 2016 Hip-Hop Cash Kings were Black.
Are the NBA and the hip-hop industry unfair to White people? By no means, most NBA owners and label executives are White.
Is contemporary Black culture is more optimized to produce basketball player, football players, rappers, singers, and preachers than it is optimized to produce computer programmers, Fortune 500 CEOs, doctors, and high-earning trade people?
According to Forbes, Robert Smith overtook Oprah Winfrey to become the wealthiest African-American
Robert Smith is the second wealthiest African-American and is number 268 on the Forbes 400 list. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, one of the best performing private equity firms of the last 15 years, yet certain people refuse to invest in his funds because he is Black.
“We have some of the highest returns of any in private equity. I always laugh and look at the LPs that we don’t have, the limited partners, the investors, that we don’t have, versus those that have horrible returns who don’t look like us. Those LPs continue to re-up, in hundreds of millions, billions dollars. Our folks are scrapping at it thirty, forty, fifty million at a time to get there….
My job is to make sure that there are going to fifteen more Robert Smiths in the next ten years. In the next twenty years, one hundred and fifty more.
~ Robert Smith, Vista Equity Partners
Vista currently manages equity capital commitments of over $14 billion and oversees a portfolio of over 30 software companies that employ a combined approximately 30,000 employees worldwide. Mr. Smith has delivered investors a staggering 31 percent average annual rate of return since founding Vista in 2000. A consulting firm that tracks the industry, reports that Vista’s third fund returned $2.46 for every dollar invested, better than every other big fund raised between 2006 and 2010, the boom years for private equity.
The firm has acquired more than 110 companies and never lost money on an investment, according to people familiar with its performance. Yet despite Vista’s impeccable track record, Mr. Smith, one of the few Black private equity titans, says he has faced an uphill battle to get some investors on board. At times, he has felt the unspoken pressure to work twice as hard to get half the respect of his peers, especially in the clubby world of private equity. The issue, he believes after decades in finance, is his race.
Mr. Smith’s rise — from newly desegregated Colorado classrooms to the top of private equity rankings — is a little-known Wall Street success story, shaped by epochal changes in civil rights, technology and finance. And his success, in spite of long odds, has inspired him to take a counterintuitive approach to managing investments and hiring.
Instead of stripping out costs from the companies it acquires, Vista usually adds sales and engineering talent. And instead of searching for candidates with Ivy League degrees and prestigious internships, Vista looks for workers who have leadership potential and innate analytical abilities.
Using a personality test first developed by IBM that gauges technical and social skills, as well as a candidate’s interest in the arts and humanities, Vista assembles a decidedly unusual work force. The firm used the test to pare down more than 125,000 job applicants and offered just 6,000 jobs, often to unlikely candidates.
One of Vista’s best software salesmen used to be a roofer. Another previously worked at a Verizon store, and went to making $240,000 a year, from $22,000. In Iowa, a pizza deliveryman took the Vista aptitude test, got an A, and was offered a job paying $43,000 annually. Not only are many of these workers less expensive than their better-credentialed peers, but to Mr. Smith, they are often more driven to succeed. And employing them, he believes, provides a social good.
“We find those kind of people and put them to highly productive use for decades,” Mr. Smith said. Vista says turnover at its companies is the lowest in the software business. After Vista acquires companies, Mr. Smith says, they release more reliable software more frequently, customer satisfaction rises and profitability improves. And most Vista companies have 25 percent to 60 percent margins, he adds.
And while many buyout shops strive for diverse portfolios, owning everything from energy companies to theme parks, Vista is content to specialize in software, and focus on a diverse work force. Black, Hispanic and Asian men and women occupy leadership roles across the firm and its portfolio companies. It is all part of Mr. Smith’s push to repair the damaged reputation of his industry.
“Everyone thinks that private equity is very transactional: Buy a company, do some financial engineering, and sell it,” he said. “We’re looking to transform the culture of that company, transform the way they think about themselves and the industry they serve.”
What Vista is doing is also very profitable. “Right now our returns are better than Warren Buffett’s,” said Mr. Smith, 51, without going into specifics because Vista was in the process of raising money for its next fund.
But when many people meet Mr. Smith for the first time, they find not a brash money manager, but an effusive intellectual with a passion for engineering. Bill Haack, founder of Zywave, first encountered Mr. Smith in 2008. Vista wanted to buy his firm, which provided insurance software. They met over dinner in San Francisco. Instead of discussing revenue projections, however, Mr. Smith wanted to talk science. “He started talking about quantum mechanics,” Mr. Haack remembered. “And everything he said made sense.”
When Mark Zuckerberg was about eleven, his parents hired a computer tutor, a software developer named David Newman, who came to the house once a week to work with Mark. “He was a prodigy,” Newman told The New Yorker writer Jose Antonio Vargasme. “Sometimes it was tough to stay ahead of him.” (Newman lost track of Zuckerberg and was stunned when he learned from the interview that his former pupil had built Facebook.) Soon thereafter, Mark started taking a graduate computer course every Thursday night at nearby Mercy College.