Home > Uncategorized > Economic and Racial Desegregation in NYC: One Area Where Incrementalism Makes Sense

Economic and Racial Desegregation in NYC: One Area Where Incrementalism Makes Sense

As one who believes that racial and socio-economic desegregation are needed for schools to succeed, and one who is extremely disappointed in the direction our schools are headed in this regard, I was heartened to read Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes on the small bore grassroots efforts underway in NYC to change the demographics in city schools. Ms. Harris’ article is not as derisive as it’s headline,”Small Steps But No Major Push to Integrate New York’s Schools”. Instead of decrying the lack of a “major push”, Ms. Harris offers a rationale for the way Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio are approaching the issue of economic and racial diversity. Given the hand they were both dealt, over a decade of school choice and zoning policies that promote gentrification and a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged children in public schools, Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are using small bore “controlled choice” and “affordable housing” initiatives. In an early paragraph Ms. Harris describes the “givens” in NYC public education:

In a system in which about 75 percent of students are poor and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic, these efforts depend on some degree of local socioeconomic diversity. In gentrifying sections of Brooklyn, rich and poor live near one another, as they do in parts of Manhattan where public housing projects are next to expensive apartment buildings. But in most city school districts, where poor children live near other poor children, no such diversity exists. There, meaningful integration would require major intervention. 

Some politicians, particularly those representing sections of town where gentrification has not occurred, want the kind of major intervention needed to ensure “meaningful integration”. But “major intervention, like bussing children from, say, Park Slope or the Upper East Side to the Bronx or unilaterally redrawing district attendance zones to force 75-25 splits in demographics, will not achieve the kind of “meaningful integration” desired by pragmatic progressives like Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio.

It took 12 years for Mayor Bloomberg to institute the convoluted school-choice system in place and he did it incrementally and persistently. If Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are given the same amount of time, it is conceivable that they can use “choice” and “affordable housing” to achieve “meaningful integration” to increase the opportunities for all children in the district, particularly if they receive the finding they need to provide wraparound services to the neediest children in the city.

And here is one point that Ms. Harris failed to acknowledge: unlike their predecessor, both Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio have identified diversity as necessary and good and both leaders are taking steps to increase diversity as a result. Instead of blaming teachers and unions for the “failure” of public schools, they are implicitly acknowledging that the environment of children plays a role in their success and improvement of schools requires an overall improvement in the quality of life for ALL children in the city. Here’s hoping Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio stay the course and get the funding they need to move forward.

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  1. Elyssa
    July 6, 2016 at 10:44 am

    I agree that we need to desegregate schools and it would not require anything radical like bussing kids between boroughs. A good first step would be for the parents on the UWS who are opposing integration with the kids in public housing (supposedly to protect their property values) to do the research and see that integration benefits everyone and harms no one. I am grateful that our public school experience has included diversity and this will continue the next three years. The parents who are avoiding this or fighting it are missing out on being part of a learning community that represents the true diversity of NYC.

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