Tag Archives: NYC Human Rights Commission

 Is de Blasio’s Integration Plan a Political Ploy? Pitfalls Before and After School Integration

In the 1980’s and 90’s votes on the death penalty in Albany became a ritual, the bill would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate and stall in the Assembly; slowly the supporters gained votes in both houses and a death penalty law passed, and vetoed by Governor Mario Cuomo, it happened year after year for a decade. With the defeat of Cuomo and the election of George Pataki a death penalty law was inevitable and became law..

A few years later a Republican old timer bemoaned how passing a death penalty law was politically foolish; it removed a great election issue.

Is school integration the current day death penalty debate?

Tip O’Neill, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, is famous for a simple quip: all politics is local.

The school integration struggle in New York City reminds us of the death penalty debate. For progressive voters in New York City and across the nation school integration is gospel. In the sixty-four years since the Brown v Board of Education decision cities and states have struggled with school integration; the courts have backed away from forcing integration plans, municipalities have found ways to avoid integration efforts, white parents have fled public schools, housing patterns and gentrification all combined to create more not fewer segregated schools.

In 2014 a report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project pointed to New York as having the most segregated schools in the nation.

Of all the attempts to improve outcomes for children of color school integration is one of the few that has been successful.

The evidence is overwhelming: students of color have better outcomes in integrated classrooms.

Electeds in New York City have jumped on the school integration train, up to a point. There has been no discussion of what happens when students of color appear in their new schools. Will the classes also be integrated? Do the teachers have experience in teaching heterogeneous classrooms? Do the schools have teachers of color on the staffs?

Chalkbeat reports,

… city officials approved a plan that will ban selective admissions at all middle schools in a swath of Brooklyn. But as the dust settles, even parents who agree with the plan are nervous about how it will play out.

Are schools equipped to serve a wide range of learners? Will classrooms themselves be diverse? Can the reforms help combat systemic inequalities that exist well before middle school? 

James Madison High School was carefully selected as the first high school in south Brooklyn to be integrated in the early sixties, a swath of Brownsville was zoned to Madison – ten years later the school was 65% white/35% black, and was hailed as a successfully integrated school, until December, 1973, when, as described by the media, a “race riot” erupted. The NYC Human Right Commission investigated the incident and issued a detailed report (unfortunately no longer online).

Read a detailed NY Times article here (“It was a good school to integrate”), recollections by a former Madison student here (“Prisoners of Class”) and a discussion in a previous blog post here.

My wife was one of six Afro-American students at Vassar College, blatant racism, intended and unintended was commonplace; it took more than a decade for the college to confront their failings.

Chancellor Carranza jumped on board the integration train; however, aside from middle school blind choice plans in two school districts nothing else seems to be in the works, and, the Mayor/Chancellor have declared plans must emanate locally, with some financial support from central.

The Chancellor’s Advisory Task Force on Diversity, a fifty member blue ribbon group will issue their report in December.

Can local Community Education Councils (CEC), bodies made up of self-selected active parents, councils across the city that have vacancies, meetings poorly attended, actually create plans?

In the late 70’s/early 80’s a decentralized school in Brooklyn, District 22 (Flatbush, Midwood, Madison, Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay, Mill Basin), created and implemented an integration plan; over 1,000 Afro-American students were bused from overcrowded schools in the northern end of the district to underutilized white schools in the southern end of the district. No newspaper articles, no tweets, contentious packed school board meetings and scores of smaller meetings resulting in years of integrated schools.

Did the Afro-American students who were bused achieve at higher levels than students in segregated schools? I would like to think so, in those days data was not as available and I don’t believe anyone ever investigated.

Why did the District Decide to Create and Implement the Plan (Carrot and Stick)?

 The school board was concerned that a possible lawsuit, or the feds, would impose an integration plan, better to design a locally created plan; additionally, the feds had competitive grant programs to provide incentive dollars to districts to create programs that “reduce racial isolation.”

 An Intelligent and Well-Constructed Plan

The plan, called the “frozen zone,” was created by the district and circulated to stakeholders for comment; it was an intelligent plan; adjacent addresses in the sending area were assigned to the same school. Kids would be traveling and attending classes with their friends, neighbors and siblings. The receiving schools could hold parent meetings in community rooms in the sending buildings. The superintendent made it clear: he did not want to see segregated classrooms in the receiving schools.

The Importance of Elected School Boards

School board members were elected in highly competitive elections; in the first school board election in the district over 30,000 votes were cast. The winners had constituencies: political clubs, civic and community organizations, churches and synagogues, unions, cooperative building boards; the current Community Education Councils are parents who volunteered to serve on CEC’s.  The nine elected school board members in the decentralized districts had political weight in the community.

 The Art of Building Consensus

The school board reached out to the community power brokers: elected officials and political activists, faith-based leaders, heads of neighborhood and community organizations, parent associations and the teachers’ union. Three schools rebelled and left the District Parent Council and formed their own council. There were numerous meetings, school board meetings, civic associations, parent association meetings, to spread the gospel and field questions.

The leader of a powerful political club was on board from the beginning, and when anyone whispered, “What does Tony think?” a nod, “He’s on board,” was enough for many community activists.

Competent Leadership and Effective Management

Parents in the sending schools were nervous, putting their “little ones” on a school bus sending them to a school that might not want them. The district provided Creole speakers at the meetings, local pastors were briefed and invited to meetings; parents in the receiving schools were welcoming. The superintendent made sure the “little things” went well: the buses arrived on time, the lunch rooms were also integrated, no black tables and white tables, no collecting of funds to supplement instruction that would burden the bused families.

The school district totally committed to school-based decision-making, extensive training for school leadership teams, the school district lobbied in Albany, and lobbied successfully, all schools had state-funded pre-k programs, the lotteries for slots in the pre-k included the frozen zone families.

No Special Education kids were bused; schools had to provide “appropriate instruction” at the home school.

The district acted as if it was apart from the city, and in the nineties the district asked then Chancellor Rudi Crew if they could become a “Charter District;” we’d stay within union contracts and state law, otherwise, leave us alone. Crew demurred.

The middle schools became choice schools, each had a theme and fifth graders could apply to any of the six middle schools or attend their zoned school.

Upon his election Mayor Bloomberg immediately moved to end decentralized, locally elected boards and created the current mayoral control system.

Unfortunately the good was washed away with the bad, sort of an education Gresham’s Law..

Low performing districts under decentralization, and there were many, were allowed to fester, and some became patronage pools for the political establishment. A few districts, too few, were high functioning and innovative, sadly, all the “good” slid away with the end of decentralization.

Fifteen years into mayoral control some applaud and others bemoan the lack of progress.

Samuel Becket’s play “Waiting for Godot,” is a discussion about waiting for a salvation that is unlikely to ever come.  Sometimes I feel that our schools are also waiting for salvation, and, we know that salvation comes from within us.

I don’t believe that Bill Gates or Mayors or Chancellors will snap their fingers and create higher achieving schools. Leadership can create fertile grounds and provide tools, school leaders and teachers make the difference.

Racial Isolation in Public Schools: While School Integration is a Worthy Goal Improving All Schools Must Be Our Primary Goal

In an editorial (“Racial Isolation in Public Schools) the NY Times writes,

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away … Minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy.

The editorial board makes an incredibly bad assumption: that by moving minority children into primarily white, middle class schools the ills of generations of segregation and racism will be wiped away.

Kudos to Merryl Tisch and the members of the Board of Regents for not jumping onboard the simple solution bandwagon.

High poverty schools are plagued with problems beyond the classroom; at the December, 2014 Regents meeting the issue of “chronic absenteeism” was highlighted. The Center for New York City Affairs, in a recent report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” spotlighted the insidious impact of children not attending school as part of a wider pattern,

Tisch and her colleagues have spent months crafting new English language learner regulations to both remove obstacles to better instructional strategies as well providing clearer guidance to school districts

The Times’ “solution,” is an example of deja vu, again,

… the state cannot just throw up its hands. It has a moral obligation to ensure that as many children as possible escape failing schools for ones that give them a fighting chance. And history has shown that districts can dramatically improve educational opportunities for minority children — and reduce racial isolation — with voluntary transfer plans and especially with high-quality magnet schools that attract middle-class families.

Running away from the problems of high poverty neighborhoods, running away from what the Center for NYC Affairs called “risk load,” running away from in increasing numbers of English language learners is foolhardy.

To blame inner city schools for the “problem” is just plain wrong, The Times claims that the “lack of teaching talent, course offerings and resources” can be cured by moving kids to whiter, middle class schools. If the inner city and suburban school swapped teachers student achievement would be unchanged. When kids enter kindergarten well behind middle class kids in all academic skills teaching and learning becomes “catchup” from day 1. The requirement of passing five Regents exams results in double periods of English and Mathematics, remedial and tutorial classes, the lack of course offerings is determined by the skill level of the students.

Fifty years ago New York City embarked upon an effort to integrate schools. James Madison High School, a high-achieving large high school in a lovely neighborhood of private homes was “integrated;” within a few years the school moved from all-white to 70% White and 30% Black. The new principal, Henry Hillson, was a shining light among high school principals, the UFT Chapter Leader, Chet Fulmer, sent his kids to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of a reverse busing program, and, although white, served as an elder in Milton Galamaison’s Siloam Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The young Madison staff members enthusiastically supported the “experiment” in school integration. The end of January staff development days focused on the “new” student body and “new” methods of instruction and integrating students within the building. The “old timers” were unenthusiastic about school integration, the school was “ruined,” the new young teachers, and I was one of them, were totally engaged in creating a new school, a new racially integrated school, a model for a new school system.

A decade later Madison was torn apart by student racial clashes,

Outbreak at Madison High in Flatbush Involves 300 New Fights Threatened

White students at James Madison High School in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, armed with sticks, window poles, pipes, canes and chairs, attacked a group of black students there yesterday morning in a new outbreak of continuing racial tension at the school.

The riot was deeply disturbing, if racial integration stumbled at Madison, could it be expected to succeed anywhere? Madison had a socially liberal, welcoming staff; the school was located in a liberal community, what went wrong?

The NYC Human Rights Commission conducted an in depth study, spending weeks in the school interviewing scores of students, teachers, parents and community members. The report was prescient, forty years later we have failed to resolve the issues highlighted in the report. (A sobering read forty years later)

The 1974 report begins, “Even when integration has succeeded in becoming a major goal of education and urban planners, the means to attain this goal have seemed increasingly elusive” and goes on to admit, “In too many instances across the nation we have seen schools become integrated only to become resegregated … we know how to integrate …what we do not know is how to make integration work on a permanent basis.”

The commissioners praise the Madison staff, although they note the hostility of the old-timers.

The problem of integration, the Commission avers, goes well beyond the school,

“The relationship schools and neighborhoods is a close and reciprocal one but plans for integration almost never foresee the differences or strive to make the relationship between the newly integrated school and its neighborhood a healthy one.”

Perceptively, the report writes, “The Commission believes that the operative factor here is class, rather than race.” The better educated, liberal elements in the community supported the integration of the school, the more blue-collar, less educated elements in the community led the growing opposition, and, many of their children were involved in the physical confrontations.

While the school was technically integrated, classes in the school were largely segregated; classes were homogeneously organized, as were extra-curricular activities.

The report suggests 13 recommendations and admits “…little has been done anywhere in the country to develop practical strategies to cope with the daily challenges of integration to make integration work.”

In September, 1975 the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, 15,000 teachers were laid off and the city administration abandoned support for school integration.

Buffalo, as the Times editorial states, was deeply engaged in school integration,

As The Times reported in 1985, the city was viewed as a national model for racial integration; educators who wished to learn the lessons of Buffalo’s success flocked to the city from around the globe. Things went downhill in the 1990s, however, when court supervision ended and Buffalo experienced severe fiscal problems.

“Severe fiscal problems” escalated over the last twenty years, industry and population have fled, and white flight has turned Buffalo into an empty shell, a city without resources, a city surrounded by affluent suburbs, a city with a rapidly increasing school population of English language learners.

Just as the fiscal crisis of 1975 ended efforts to promote racial integration in New York City the collapse of the Buffalo economy turned Buffalo into a racially segregated, economically distressed city.

Inner city schools in St Louis, in Rochester, in Chicago, in city after city across the nation face the same issues. Working class union jobs are gone, jobs have scurried to Asia, and automation continues to shrink the work force. Charter schools have drained students with social capital out of neighborhood public schools, and, a closer look at charter schools is not encouraging; when you adjust for the absence of special education and English language learners in charter schools, when you adjust for the expulsion of “discipline problems;” charter schools are no better and in many instances lower achievers than public schools.

There are outliers, schools in poor neighborhoods that outperform neighboring schools; the answer is always school leadership and school staffs, not measured by a score on a principal-teacher evaluation, “measured” by the non-cognitive skills. School staffs that exhibit grit, persistence and humility, the same qualities that we find in successful students.

Black kids ask, “Why can’t we learn in schools with other black kids? Do we need white kids to learn?” The 1974 Commission report emphasizes the influence of class as well as the impact of race. Black families that move up the economic ladder are as likely to seek out better housing in lower crime neighborhoods as white families.

I was visiting classroom in an all-Black public high school in Harlem, a European History Advanced Placement class. The lesson was about the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the lesson was at the level of a lesson at the most prestigious schools in the city.

The race of the students in a school does not determine the level of instruction or the course offerings, the academic level of the students determines the direction of instruction.

While NYS law does not allow for the state taking over a school district, in the instance that a law was passed that allowed the state to take over the Roosevelt School District the results were not encouraging.

“Solutions” must include the community, the electeds, the union, the business and faith-based communities; all what we euphemistically call “the stakeholders.”

Unfortunately Governor Cuomo, rather than leading efforts to engage the Buffalo community has chosen a confrontational path, a path that will only drive the stakeholders further apart.

In the poorest county in the nation, McDowell County in West Virginia, the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia governor, the business community and fifty other organizations are organizing and working together.

All fights end, and it is essential that the current toxic climate between the governor and the educational community end, perhaps Chancellor Tisch and the Regents can take the lead.