New York Schools Are the Most Segregated in the Nation: Are There Remedies? Is There the Political Will to Implement Remedies? And, Does School Integration Matter without Economic Equality?

n May, 2014 the UCLA Civil Rights Project issued a deeply disturbing report: Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future , the nation was slowly but surely moving away from integration to increasingly segregated schools.

In the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education (1954), the court ruled that “separate is inherently unequal,” and, the nation, albeit slowly, moved toward ending segregated schools. In reluctant states the courts ordered desegregation plans that were monitored by the courts. As court-ordered and court -enforced integration spread throughout the South the demographics in the nation continued to change, white populations declined, black populations rose and Latino populations skyrocketed.

Six decades of “separate but equal” as the law of the land have now been followed by six decades of “separate is inherently unequal” as our basic law. The Brown decision set large changes and political conflicts in motion and those struggles continue today.

In little more than four decades, enrollment trends in the nation’s schools (between 1968 and 2011) show a 28% decline in white enrollment, a 19% increase in the black enrollment, and an almost unbelievable 495% percent increase in the number of Latino students.

At the peak, 44% of black … students were in majority-white schools, the kind of schools that provided strong potential opportunities for diverse learning experiences. By 2011, that number had declined to 23%, a drop by nearly half, and the decline has accelerated in recent

The most striking element in the report, the state with the most segregated schools: New York State.

How could a state that prides itself as the most progressive state in the nation, one of the first states to pass a marriage equality law, a massive and progressive Medicaid system, both a governor and a mayor with deep progressive roots, also house the most segregated school system in the nation?

How can the state and the city begin to remedy the issue?

And, perhaps a deeper discussion, should the goal be to racially integrate schools? Is the goal of a racially integrated society still relevant sixty years after the Brown decision?

After page after page, chart after chart the report makes a series of recommendations:

* We recommend substantial expansion of magnet school funding,
strong civil rights policies for charter schools, serious incentives for regional collaboration, and teacher training for diverse and racially changing schools.

Are these recommendations the responsibility of the states or the federal government? What does the report mean by “strong civil rights policies for charter schools”? Does the report support federal funds for creating integrated charter schools? With a Republican Congress the recommendations are illusory.

* We … recommend that the Administration create a joint HUD, Justice Department, and Education Department staff assigned to work with experts outside government in devising a plan to support durable integration in communities and schools in the many racially changing suburbs, in gentrifying city neighborhoods, and in other locations.

Why would states accept the advice of “experts” to devise a plan to “support durable integration”? States look upon the federal government as intrusive, for example, the last seven years of the Obama investigation.

* We recommend that regional educators, researchers, urban planners and civil rights groups examine the results of various forms of regional cooperation in order to devise plans for regional magnets and student and faculty transfers. State officials could consider incentives or requirements for regional collaboration.

Once again the responsibility to “reduce racial isolation” lies with the states. Independent school districts are deeply entrenched in our history – school boards have not ignored “regional collaboration,” school boards have set up walls to continue racial isolation.

* We recommend that researchers, education writers, educational officials and leaders, education associations, teachers and teachers organizations begin to very actively communicate with the larger society about the vast opportunity gaps that exist and the costs of isolating disadvantaged children from middle class students and from students of other races in schools often overwhelmed by problems they did not cause and cannot completely overcome by themselves.

Asking the professional education community to “very actively communicate with the larger community” is beyond the scope of the role of educators. Barriers to integration are complex and in many cases did not happen by accident.

* [Educators] need to recommend systems of assessment and rewards that would keep good teachers in low-income minority schools rather than drive them out. They need to work very hard on broadening the diversity in their own ranks, which would entail a comprehensive effort of colleges of education, state education agencies, and teachers’ unions examining the ways in which the teaching preparation pipeline may lose teaching candidates of color. And they need, right now, to demand a voice in decisions which have been too often made in recent decades by politicians, foundation leaders, and others without any knowledge of the actual challenges facing schools segregated by race, poverty and language.

The New York City school system supports an “open market” transfer system, any teacher can transfer to any school and thousands of teachers avail themselves of the plan – a plan that encourages teachers to move from “low-income minority schools” to higher achieving schools. The current required pre-service teacher certification exams have resulted in significantly higher failure rates among applicants of color. These policies are the antithesis of the recommendation supra. To recommend that educators
“demand a voice” to counter decisions made by “politicians, foundation leaders, and others without a knowledge of the actual challenges” is an incredible burden in the era of Arne Duncan and the reformers’

The report concludes,

But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about
why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools. It is time to stop celebrating a version of history that ignores our last quarter century of retreat and to begin make new history by finding ways to apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his brilliant and deeply troubling book, Between the World and Me (August, 2015) would disagree with the goal of racial integration of schools; he would abjure the “vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society ….” For Coates, “White America is a syndicate arrayed to protect exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies. Sometimes this power is direct (lynching) and sometimes it insidious (redlining). But however it appears, the power of domination and exclusion is central to the belief in being white, and without it “white people” would cease to exist for want of reasons.”

For Coates the concept of integration is a sham.

The New York City Council is strongly advocating that the Department of Education pursue integration policies. The School Diversity Accountability Act requires, “…[a report that] will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity.” that is due in December, 2015.

Over the remainder of the school year school the issue of school integration will move to the forefront: expect a major and wide ranging debate.


5 responses to “New York Schools Are the Most Segregated in the Nation: Are There Remedies? Is There the Political Will to Implement Remedies? And, Does School Integration Matter without Economic Equality?

  1. The remedy for NYC school desegregation has always been available. Over the last several years we have begun to see signs of that remedy begin to become reality. That remedy can be found in recent gentrification of such previously ghettoized communities as Harlem and Bed Stuy.As a result of this gentrification, we see the beginnings of true integration.Reversed in this case from traditional integration of blacks moving into white communities, but rather that whites have moved into black communities. Not into hovels or slums, but into high rise buildings with doormen. These whites will have children and their children will attend Harlem’s public schools, in small numbers at first but ever increasing ones. This same pattern is emerging in Bed Stuy. As communities become integrated, their schools become integrated. Its as simple as all that!


    • But I thought a problem with gentrification was that the original residents get priced out of their neighborhood.


      • Gentrification has an upside, more integrated higher quality schools, and, a downside, original resident getting pushed out …a solution is assuring the creation of neighborhoods with a wide range of housing, market rate housing and lower fixed rents it possible? Complex and crucial to solve issue.


  2. Zina burton-myrick

    Unfortunately, as communities like Harlem begin to gentrify, we should not lose generations of kids waiting for integration to take place. It’s evident in the Charter school movement that separate and unequal still exist on an entirely different level. There’s 1 Talented and Gifted school in Harlem-1! There are No magnet schools and No bilingual schools. The number of teachers of color have declined in Harlem and white teachers come and go in a flash!
    The signs of a remedy is not swift enough, and we can’t continue to wait!


  3. Since I retired from teaching in 2005 after thirty years in the classroom, this is also happening at the high school where I taught. When I left, about 8% of the student population was white. When I recently went on-line to check the school report card, that number was down to less than 1%. Where did they all go? Did they move out or did corporate charters move in to suck up all the whites in that part of town where the minority population has always been the majority?


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