School Talk

Cynthia Nixon on Education: Look At What She Did, Not What She Says

By Alina Adams

Emmy-winning Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon threw her hat into the New York gubernatorial race two weeks ago and, since then, she been traversing the state, stumping for a variety of issues.

While the usual suspects parse her stance on subwaysminimum wage, and women’s/LGBTQ rights, I am going to focus (to the surprise of absolutely no one) on education.

But there’s a problem: As a neophyte candidate, Nixon has no track record. Politically, that is. She does, however, have a personal history with New York City education, which I’d like to review now, as a sneak peek at where she might really stand.

In her inaugural campaign video, Nixon describes herself as a “public school graduate” and a “public school parent.”

Nixon attended Hunter College High-School. It’s a school funded with public money, but not a public school, as it is not under the direction of the Department of Education. It’s closer to being a charter school. It exhibits all the characteristics of one. Except, unlike other charter schools, traditional public school advocates like those supporting Nixon are not calling for its closure. I speculate about the reason, why, here.

As commentators on Twitter confirmed:

It’s not fair to hold Nixon responsible for an education decision she made when she was 12 years old — or one that, in all likelihood, was made for her. It’s not fair to expect her to have held the same political opinions in 7th grade that she does now.

However, it is fair to judge the decisions Nixon made as a parent for her own children.

Nixon’s oldest child first attended a Gifted & Talented elementary school (not her zoned school), one which, in 2013, The New York Times highlighted as an example of schools which seem integrated when you look at the student body’s overall numbers. But, when you dig deeper, you realize that it’s completely segregated on the inside, with Black and Hispanic students in General Ed, and White and Asian students in G&T.

Next, Samantha Mozes went to The Center School, a middle school which accepts students in 5th grade, rather than NYC’s traditional 6th (or Hunter’s 7th), and thus does an end-run around the application process the majority of families must follow. The Center School has their own admissions rubric which they don’t need to share or justify to anyone. It’s basically a fiefdom on the Upper West Side, a near-private school being run with public money.

Interestingly enough, Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn is also allowed to choose its own students; it is exempt from the city’s placement algorithm. But now, the Mayor (Nixon was on stage for his January swearing in and her wife has worked for his administration) would like to change that. It’s not fair that they should have this exemption, he’s said.

He’s said nothing about The Center School.

Then again, Medgar Evers is 71 percent Free Lunch. And The Center School is… not. (six percent at last count.)

It was, in fact, The Center School, that first brought Nixon to the forefront of educational advocacy.

In 2008, the DOE announced that it would be moving The Center School from the building it shared with PS 199, a dozen or so blocks north, to co-locate with PS 9.

Nixon became the public face of the parents fighting to block the move. When their argument that it would be too traumatic for the children to switch buildings didn’t gain much sympathy (as one Urban Baby mom clucked, “The poor child, unable to navigate the Upper West Side!”), they switched tactics and passionately argued that moving The Center School out of PS 199’s space would make the building even whiter that it already was. (PS 199 is currently 62% White. The Center School is 60%.) The Center School, they insisted, contributed diversity!

No one dwelled on the fact that is was the same kind of segregation in the name of diversity that the New York Times called PS 163 out for. It’s what the 2017 Upper West Side rezoning continues to this day.

Still, I come not to bury Nixon, but to praise her.

One of the most important attributes politicians can possess is being able to get into bed with anyone, no matter how distasteful, as long it ultimately helps them to achieve their goal.

During The Great Center School battle, I sat next to Nixon,  as both of our children were being tutored at the now defunct Score Learning Center. (This was her middle child, Charlie, who while attending the public school which Nixon insisted could meet the needs of any child, so there was no reason for parents to explore other options, was also getting outside tutoring, like so many others, which makes assessing a school’s actual value add to their posted test scores a difficult proposition. Hey, remember when, at Nixon’’s urging, co-star Sarah Jessica Parker swore she’d send her son to public schoolShe didn’t.)

The reason that The Center School was being relocated was because PS 199 had grown unbearably overcrowded, thanks to a complex of new high-rises going up in their zone.

So, while our sons were being tutored, Nixon repeatedly worked her cell-phone, trying to get the complex’s developer on the line so she could persuade him to support her cause, and keep The Center School at its current location.

Donald Trump declined to take the call.

This piece first ran here at New York School Talk. 


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