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In report, advocates paint grim picture of city school inequities

Critics of school closures were not the only ones taking aim at the Bloomberg administration’s education policies today. A Massachusetts-based education foundation declared that the city’s schools systematically shortchange poor students and students of color.

Those students, who make up the vast majority of city enrollment, are less likely to attend top-performing schools as a result of educational “redlining,” according to a report released today by the Schott Foundation. The foundation gives grants to education advocacy groups across the country, including New York’s Alliance for Quality Education, a lobbying group formed to help win extra funds for city schools through the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

The term “redlining,” coined in the 1960s, refers to the practice of discriminating against people in certain neighborhoods or of certain races when deciding who should receive loans or other services. Writes New York University professor Pedro Noguera in a foreword,

While the term “redlining” might seem strong given that it implies a deliberate attempt to deny certain communities access to educational opportunities, this report will show that evidence of blatant disparities amount to Apartheid-like separations that have been accepted in New York for far too long. Rather than being angered by the language used, my hope is that readers of this report will be outraged by the fact that education in New York City is more likely to reproduce and reinforce existing patterns of inequality than to serve as a pathway to opportunity.

Using a methodology it has applied to other cities and research questions, the foundation assigned each of the city’s 32 school districts an “Opportunity to Learn Index” based on how likely it is that middle school students in the district attend schools in the top quarter citywide. It found that students in districts with many black and Hispanic students had a lower chance of attending top-performing schools.

The report also argues that black and Hispanic students have, on average, less experienced and educated teachers, resulting in lower total education expenditures in some poor districts because teacher salaries total a smaller amount. And it concludes that black and Hispanic students are far less frequently screened for gifted programs — a charge that gained another year’s evidence when the city revealed last week that several low-income districts again had so few students pass a screening test that gifted programs would not open there.

In its conclusion, the foundation echoes language in a recent report by a group that ex-city schools chancellor Joel Klein headed that argued that America’s lagging school performance would induce a national security threat. “The fact that New York has consistently promoted policies that systemically lock out most of its student population from an opportunity to learn is tantamount to the U.S. allowing its national security, democracy and economic strength to rot away,” the Schott Foundation concludes.

The group’s recommendations include restoring extra state funding that has been cut in recent years; screening all incoming kindergarteners for giftedness; and limiting the proportion of inexperienced teachers at schools with low “Opportunity to Learn” indexes.

A Department of Education spokesman, Frank Thomas, suggested that some of the recommendations were impractical and others would undermine the city’s philosophy of funding schools based on students’ academic needs, not their demographics or family income. Plus, he said, the city is already on the right track when it comes to educating black and Hispanic students.

“While there is much more work to do, the reality is that black and Hispanic students in New York City are graduating at their highest rates ever, and continue to narrow the achievement gap year after year,” Thomas said in a statement. “A report that fails to acknowledge this progress is shortsighted and overlooks the gains made by thousands of students during that time.”

The Schott Foundation’s analysis came on the same day that a committee organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, a city advocacy group, released a report criticizing the Bloomberg administration’s approach to school closures and charging that the closures had concentrated poor students and students of color in low-performing schools. Noguera sat on a panel to discuss the committee’s recommendations this morning, and Zakiyah Ansari, an AQE organizer who emceed the event, urged attendees to examine the Schott report as well.

Asked about the charges of inequity this afternoon at a press event, Mayor Bloomberg said it is not fair to suggest that the city has shortchanged particular groups of students. With a schools budget of $22 billion, “to say that we aren’t devoting resources is ridiculous,” he said.

The full Schott Foundation report, “A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City,” is below.

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