Public Schools

New York City's Segregated School System Starts to Shift


Earlier this season, NPQ looked in the recommendations that emerged in the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) appointed by New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio. Because integration has shown so desperately to attain, we wondered if the report would be “presented with great fanfare [but] never to be learned about again? Or will it become the spark for real and sustained change?”

At the time, we said we’d think back each year and see the results, but according to a recent New York Times report, signs of significant change might be evident much sooner: “Several schools in districts in Manhattan and Brooklyn will be more racially and socioeconomically diverse around the first day of school this fall compared to what they are today as a result of these new measures.”

Unlike other efforts, these changes did not come from top-down, citywide processes. In fact, the mayor and also the school board played a restricted role. Based on the Times, “Parents who have been frustrated with the segregated state of their local schools—and with the city’s desire not to adopt measures to integrate the system as a whole—took matters into their own hands this past year by drafting proposals that City Hall eventually approved.” These proposals included “setting new enrollment rules and eliminating using academic screens to sort students for admission.”

For years, the district used an aggressive admissions process that ranked students based on test scores and attendance rates, giving rise to segregated schools even just in a racially and socioeconomically mixed district.

The new rules for school assignment happen to be projected to offer significant results.

  • “Some local middle schools which have consistently shouldered the biggest quantity of vulnerable students will have more diverse student populations starting this fall: 91 percent of students admitted to I.S. 136 in Sunset Park last year were poor, homeless or learning English. This year, that number will drop to 67 percent.”
  • “At M.S. 51 in Park Slope, the most popular junior high school where Mayor Bill de Blasio sent his two children, the proportion of students who're poor, learning English or homeless will jump from 33 percent to 57 percent this fall.”

The success from the plan beyond this fall will rest on the ability of the newly integrated schools to satisfy families’ educational aspirations and overcome the fears of white affluent parents that their children are affected. As one parent put it in a meeting discussing the new enrollment system, “You’re referring to telling an 11-year-old, ‘You worked your butt off and also you didn’t get that, that which you needed and wanted.’ You’re telling them ‘You’re going to go to a school that is not likely to educate you in the same way that you’ve been educated. Life sucks!’ Is the fact that what the [Department of Education] really wants to say?”

Research shows that better integrated schools will benefit a lot of students. A hundred years Foundation overview of the study literature found that “on average, students in socioeconomically and racially diverse schools—regardless of a student’s own economic status—have stronger academic outcomes than students in schools with concentrated poverty.”

  • “Students in integrated schools have higher average test scores.”
  • “Students in integrated schools may enroll in college.”
  • “Students in integrated schools are less likely to decrease out.”
  • “Integrated schools help to reduce racial achievement gaps.”

One from the parents involved in developing the program, recognizing the necessity to bear out these research findings, told the Times, “The jobs are not done. We know it’s not only about admissions, it’s concerning the students’ experience of the schools.”

The secret ingredients with this plan’s promise to be fulfilled are some time and courage. The city’s political leadership will need the bravery to pass through the growing pains and resist answering squeaky wheels.

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