New York’s schools are the nation’s most segregated, largely due to school segregation in New York City, according to a new analysis of federal education data that rekindles the longstanding debate over whether creating school diversity should be an explicit goal of the city’s school system.
Though 60 percent of white and Asian students in New York City in 2010-11 attended schools that the researchers call “multiracial,” only 25 percent of black and Latino students did, according to the report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
The report also shows that between 1989 and 2010, the percentage of black and Latino students attending “intensely segregated” schools increased. In 2010-11, 85 percent of the city’s black students attended schools where white students made up 10 percent or less of the student population, up from 78 percent in the 1989-90 school year. Latino students also attended those intensely segregated schools in greater numbers than before: three quarters of them did in 2010-11, up from 66 percent in 1989-90.
While the report includes new data from the 2010-11 school year, its findings about the makeup of city schools aren’t new. Two years ago, the New York Times found that more than half of city schools are 90 percent black or Hispanic—the “intensely segregated” threshold. And another recent Civil Rights Project analysis showed that New York City was one of the most segregated cities for black students.
Researcher Gary Orfield said the numbers illustrate how desegregation has receded as an explicit goal of school districts and city governments. He also took special aim at New York City’s school choice policies as “exacerbating racial isolation.”
“If you don’t have an intention to create diverse schools, they rarely happen,” Orfield said.
Other experts have said that it’s more important to improve the quality of individual schools than to ensure each school has a racial and or socioeconomic mix. The Department of Education’s efforts to boost student performance under Mayor Bloomberg centered on creating new schools, improving other schools individually, and giving students and parents more choices about which schools to attend.
More recently, Chancellor Carmen Fariña indicated that she was supportive of individual schools’ efforts to draw students from different areas to create more diverse schools, like is happening at P.S. 133, but she hasn’t talked about larger enrollment policy changes. De Blasio has also said little about whether he want to see changes to enrollment policies, though he has expressed concern about the relative homogeneity of the city’s nine specialized high schools.
Expanding early education and lengthening the middle school day have been the primary engines he has said the city is using to address the socioeconomic and racial achievement gap.
“When students can integrate the experiences of others into their own personal development, we celebrate. We believe in diverse classrooms in which students interact and grow through personal relationships with those of different backgrounds,” Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said in response to the report.
The racial makeup of the city schools has also changed over the period examined in the report. White students make up just 14 percent of the city’s students overall, down from 25 percent in 1989-90, and black students now make up almost 30 percent, down from almost 37 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Latino students has jumped significantly, from 29 percent to 40 percent, as has the proportion of Asian students, from almost 9 percent to 15 percent of students.
In Brooklyn’s District 13, a task force has been developing ways for schools to maintain diversity as those proportions change in neighborhoods like Fort Greene. Using weighted student lotteries that would give preference to certain students is a form of “controlled choice,” which the report’s authors say is necessary to make the city’s choice system more equitable.
There are a number of challenges to those efforts, though. One is that they are more easily accomplished in districts like 13, with a racial and socioeconomic mix that doesn’t exist in some parts of the city. The Civil Rights Project’s report notes that white students make up 10 percent or less of students in 19 of the city’s 32 school districts. (That includes District 13, though its residential population is more mixed.)
The report also attributes some of the increase in segregation to the city’s charter schools, many of which often operate in low-income neighborhoods that are among the city’s least diverse. But charter advocates point out that those schools were created explicitly to serve low-income students and are often bound to accept students from specific geographic areas.
“Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. He said that charter schools that open in mixed-income neighborhoods are often accused of “abandoning their mission” to serve students in low-income areas.
“And when they do serve children in low income areas — neighborhoods which are historically segregated and which have district lines that charters must honor and that were drawn in some instances precisely to segregate,” he added, “they are accused of being too narrow in focus.”