After months of anticipation, New York City will soon get its first glimpse at a plan to address school segregation — starting with the youngest learners.
As part of a larger plan to be released Tuesday, some details of which were shared with Chalkbeat, the education department will allow privately run preschools to join its Diversity in Admissions initiative. Schools that apply to that program are allowed to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, learning English, or meet other criteria.
Another element of the long-awaited plan, according to education officials: allowing middle schools to open up enrollment borough-wide. The changes would apply in the 2017-18 application cycle.
Whether either proposal will lead to significant integration is an open question.
While schools in the Diversity in Admissions program have mostly met their targets for admissions offers, it’s not yet clear whether the schools have successfully changed or maintained the diversity of their student bodies.
And while opening middle school enrollment could encourage students to leave segregated neighborhoods, it won’t necessarily change the makeup of schools. The city already allows open enrollment at the high school level, yet those schools remain starkly segregated by race, class and academic achievement level.
Met with growing demands for school integration, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in August to release a “bigger vision” to address the problem. The city’s full proposal is being called “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools.”
Until now, only public pre-Ks have been able to apply for set-asides under Diversity in Admissions. But a majority of seats in the city’s Pre-K for All program — 60 percent — are provided through community-based organizations.
“Increasing the diversity of classrooms from pre-K through 12th grade is a priority,” Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said in an emailed statement.
Opening up the process could be especially significant since a recent study found that pre-K classrooms are more segregated than kindergartens. Halley Potter, who completed the study for the progressive think tank The Century Foundation, said that integration in pre-K is important because students are just beginning to develop awareness around race and class.
Research has shown that diverse pre-Ks have cognitive benefits and can help combat prejudice.
Potter had not seen the city’s Diversity in Admissions plan. But, speaking broadly about ways to integrate pre-Ks, she called that initiative a “great first step.”
“We need to think about efforts like the pilot diversity program as really important to help move some schools communities forward,” she said. “But in order to really move the needle in a much wider range of schools, those lessons needs to be applied in a broader way.”
As one example, she suggested offering transportation for families to widen their pre-K options.
Some have criticized the set-aside approach as piecemeal and say the education department hasn’t studied the potential impact of the initiative on other area schools. Only 21 schools so far have joined the initiative, out of about 1,800 across the city.
The city did not provide specifics on its plans for opening up middle school admissions. Parents in multiple districts have already been discussing ways to make the process more fair and less stressful for parents. Among them: District 2, which includes much of lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side; District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and part of Harlem; and District 15 in Brooklyn.