“We conclude that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” —Chief Justice Earl Warren
In 1954 the Earl Warren Supreme Court unanimously reversed the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision, states could no longer, by statute, segregate public schools.
In the late fifties and into the sixties increasing numbers of Afro-American children entered the New York City school system. David Rogers, 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Bureaucracy in the New York City School System, 1968, chronicles the hesitant and conflicted efforts of the Board of Education: increasing political pressures to promote integration and vigorous community resistance characterized by the Parents and Taxpayers (PAT) organizations. Under the Lindsay mayoralty (1965-1973) the push to school integration waned and moved to support for school decentralization, empowering locally elected school boards with wide powers over hiring, curriculum and budget. Lindsay, a progressive Republican, chose not to antagonize his white voter base and appeal to liberal and black voters.
The Board of Education, at the high school level, successfully created and implemented integration efforts; and a number of school districts created integration plans within their districts (District 15, 22) while others (District 3) supported pockets of white schools within a primarily Afro-American district.
For three decades following Lindsay the school wars were over the power of school boards, not school integration: accusations of corruption, suspending school boards in the poorest and most politicized districts, battles over jobs and political influence.
Mayoral control under Mayor Bloomberg ended local control and placed decision-making back into the hands of a central authority. The Bloomberg administration closed and created hundreds of schools. Over two hundred of the newly created schools were “screened” schools, schools with entrance criteria, usually scores on state tests. To a large degree the screened schools have larger percentages of White/Asian students and lower percentages of Black/Hispanic students, having an impact of further segregating the remaining schools.
Sixty years after Brown v Board of Education the UCLA Diversity Project released a report sharply critical of New York City,
New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.
In this report, we provide a synthesis of over 60 years of research showing that school integration is still a goal worth pursuing. From the benefits of greater academic achievement, future earnings, and even better health outcomes for minority students, and the social benefits resulting from intergroup contact for all students – like the possible reduction in prejudice and greater interracial communication skills – we found that “real integration” is indeed an invaluable goal worth undertaking in growing multiracial societies. Can separate be equal, yes. If measured by test scores, a few resegregated schools show high performance. But even if equality can be reached between racially isolated schools, students may never achieve the skills and abilities required to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.
According to 2017 New York State data, the New York City schools are 14.6% White, 27.2% Black, 40.6% Hispanic and 15.6% Asian, if we subtract out Staten Island the citywide White school population declines to 11.8%.
The minority school population is heavily concentrated in a number of districts, District 23 (Brownsville: 75.6% Black, 21% Hispanic, 1% White) District 19 (East New York: 46% Black, 43% Hispanic, 7% Asian, 2% White), other districts have a wider range of races/ethnicities within the district (District 2 Mid-Manhattan: 24.2% White, 23% Asian, 37% Hispanic, 15.9% Black) while the highest achieving schools within the district, for example two of the high achieving middle schools, (IS 104: 28.2% White, 39.8% Asian, 20.9% Hispanic, 8.1% Black and IS 167: 41.9% White, 18.6% Hispanic 27.2% Asian, 8.3% Black) in no way reflect the district numbers.
Attempts to change school zoning lines, one of the few powers delegated to Community Education Councils (CEC), the local school boards, have created contentious battles. PS 191 and 199 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (District 3) are a few blocks apart, one school almost totally white and other school almost totally minority. For months the “white” school battled against any changes that would move white students into the minority school (Read NY Times article here)
Slowly, in the face of mounting pressures from advocates, research organizations and the City Council, the mayor and the department began to support “controlled choice ,” and, in June, 2017 released a widely criticized plan.
The plan impacts only a handful of schools and creates a task force that will make non-binding recommendations in 2018.
The loudest advocates on the City Council are Brad Lander and Richie Torres; the black council members have not been vocal on the issue. The traditional Afro-American organizations have also not aggressively supported school integration.
Absent from the discussions is what happens within newly integrated schools: what happens when small numbers of children of color are introduced into white classrooms, a parent muses,
“Just as it can be intimidating to be the only white child in a class, it can also be intimidating to be the only child of color in a class,” she said. “If this is going to work, both sides have to really think hard about how to make everybody feel welcome.”
A larger question: what are the academic data in the most and least diverse schools? David Kirkland, the Director of the Metro Center at NYC explores that very question in a recently released report,
Analysis of 2015-16 achievement data suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools. Third and eighth grade students attending the most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.
In addition, students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools (68.8 percent versus 66.5 percent); less economically advantaged students in particular seemed to benefit from attending the most diverse high schools. By contrast, White, Asian, and more economically advantaged students were much more likely to graduate in four years in the City’s least diverse schools than their peers.
“White and Asian students seem to benefit incongruently from segregated schooling, which means that school segregation may give some students an unfair and seemingly unhealthy advantage – thus, sanctioning uneven opportunities for success,” said Kirkland.
“The academic achievement and high school graduation evidence that we analyzed suggests that increasing diversity can increase equity in New York City schools and significantly decrease gaps in some student outcomes such as high school graduation,” Kirkland concluded. “Thus, plans to stimulate diversity in New York City schools can pay off for the City’s most vulnerable students.”
The report includes recommendations for stimulating diversity, expanding opportunity, and interrupting segregation in New York City schools, including challenging “opportunity monopolies,” such as specialized high schools, that only provide privileges to certain groups of students. The researchers also recommend recruiting and retaining teachers of color and hiring from the beginning culturally competent educators.
Two years ago at a Medgar Evers College symposium, “Improving Education Outcomes for Young Men of Color,” a high school student asked, “Why do I have to go to a white school to get a good education?”
The comment of the student has resonated in my mind, yes, school integration, societal integration, should be a goal. The dramatic rise in interracial marriages would indicate the without any externally imposed policies integration is occurring,
In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried
Race does not define class. There are middle class households that are black and Hispanic, their neighborhood schools are black and Hispanic and parents have no interest in busing their children to white schools.
Gentrification has converted traditional inner city neighborhoods to middle and upper class primarily white neighborhoods further concentrating high poverty families in fewer and fewer neighborhoods.
The goal of the UCLA Report is to encourage, “real integration” which the avers is a “invaluable goal worth undertaking in growing multiracial societies”
What we don’t know:
Who are the minority children in integrated schools? Do they live in segregated neighborhoods or in integrated neighborhoods? Is their family income equivalent to the incomes of the white families in the schools? Are the classrooms also integrated or are they in segregated classrooms for high needs children? Why have the minority parents chosen to move their children into primarily white schools?
And, a core question: are efforts to integrate schools diverting attention from improving the poorest and least academically effective schools?
For decades the city supported decentralization as a remedy for low achievement in high poverty, high minority schools, without any positive impact, in fact, a negative impact.
The #blacklivesmatter movement, a new generation of black scholars (Ta Nisi Coates, David Kirkland, Edward Fergus, Ibram Kendi), racially conscious black comedians (Dave Chappelle) and rappers – race is widely discussed across the nation, and, I believe, a positive element in our society. The discussion about improving schools must continue, Decentralization was a tragic distraction, I believe school choice is another distraction, and while school integration is a worthy goal we cannot ignore our most dire educational quandary – improving outcomes for our poorest children: regardless of race.