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School Rezoning in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Tests Parents Values

September 25, 2015

I read a column by Kate Taylor in yesterday’s NYTimes describing an emerging parent protest regarding the need to move some children in one overcrowded school in a nearby neighborhood into a school in another nearby neighborhood that has additional space. Why the protest? Well the overcrowded school is located in an affluent neighborhood where housing values are congruent with those in the area of affected and affluent parents. The under crowded school is located adjacent to a housing project and serves black and Hispanic students.

Reihan Salam, a writer for the National Review saw this protest as an example of inconsistency on the part of Brooklyn’s famously liberal residents and wrote an article titled “Brooklyn – The Capital of Liberal Hypocrisy”. Despite it’s inflammatory titled, the article does a good job of describing the conflicted feelings of residents in a gentrified neighborhood that is compelled to change schools because of overcrowding. He notes that it is the difference in behavioral norms as much as the difference in academics that matters to parents, and describes the importance of providing more support for those children who enter school with learning gaps and behavioral challenges.

Salam, however, conveniently neglects the real factor that makes it difficult for NYC schools to succeed, which is the need for more money. He glibly writes that “New York city spends $20,331 per pupil, almost twice as much as the national average of $10,700, and that much of this money is spent very inefficiently”. 

There is one major problem with Salam’s per pupil spending analysis: the NY State median for last year was $22,552… so NYC spends $2,000+ LESS than the per pupil midpoint in NYS. Oh… and nearby affluent suburb Scarsdale spent over $30,000 per student. Salam mentions the need for more support in classrooms housing students with troubled backgrounds but fails to note that $2,200,000,000— the amount of money needed to achieve the State’s median figure— would provide a wealth of personnel to help classroom teachers. He could have also noted that NYC would need another $8,250,000,000 to catch up with the spending levels in Scarsdale. As for “inefficiency”… either ALL NYS schools are all extraordinarily inefficient or NYC schools are no worse.

Given the entrenched attitudes of parents regarding class and race, the solution to disparities in schools might not be to force racial and/or economic integration but rather to spend large sums of money to provide support services to neighborhoods and schools serving children with learning and behavioral challenges. If the blocks surrounding the housing project resembled the blocks surrounding the pricy high-rise and the children from the housing projects had the same preschool enrichment and learning opportunities as the children in the pricy high rise the notion of sharing classroom space might be easier to accept for both parties.

  1. Elyssa
    September 26, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve been following this story about DUMBO vs. the Navy Yard and it really does expose the hypocrisy of supposedly ‘liberal’ Brooklynites who purport to value diversity until it appears in their backyard or public school.

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