Home > Uncategorized > de Blasio’s Desegregation Plan: Disappointing but Do-able

de Blasio’s Desegregation Plan: Disappointing but Do-able

June 7, 2017

As readers of this blog realize, I am dismayed at the re-segregation of public schools across the country, including those in NYC for several reasons:

  • It reflects the racism inherent in housing choices many parents make, choices that result in neighborhood schools whose composition reflects the racial demographics of neighborhoods and school districts.
  • It reflects the economic divisions that persist, divisions that are exacerbated by policies set by town and city governments and by lending institutions.
  • It prevents public education from accomplishing its two of its inter-related aspirational goals:to afford each and every child in our country the same opportunity for success; and to ensure that our country is a melting pot where every child learns tolerance and respect for children of all backgrounds and races.

For the past several years, in part because of the choice program instituted under Mayor Bloomberg designed to retain affluent and white students in the NYC schools, the schools in NYC have become increasingly segregated. When he ran for office, now Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to reverse that trend and many in the city hoped to see dramatic policy changes that would compel more integration.

The mayor released his desegregation plan this week, and, as Kate Taylor reported in today’s NYTimes, for those looking for a dramatic change in direction, the plan is a disappointment.

For months, New York City had promised to deliver what Mayor Bill de Blasio called a “bigger vision” for integrating the city’s racially divided public schools. Activists pressed their ideas. Students rallied on the steps of City Hall to demand a voice.

But when the plan landed on Tuesday, it was with a whimper. The mayor did not appear in public to talk about it. Neither did the schools chancellor. Instead, the city’s Education Department emailed out a news release, which did not even use the word “segregation.”

The release said the department was “committed to supporting learning environments that reflect the diversity of New York City” and laid out a dozen policies — many of them small-bore, some of them already in place — designed to increase diversity, which was defined as encompassing not only racial background but also traits like disability status and gender expression.

The plan sidesteps the most contentious issues associated with the trend toward resegregation, which deal with residential housing patterns that result in highly segregated elementary schools and the so-called “screened schools” that base admissions in large measure on test scores, a factor that increases the probability of racial and economic segregation in secondary schools.

Because the plan is modest at best, it received a tepid response from all quarters. Matt Gonzales, director of the School Diversity Project at New York Appleseed, an advocacy organization, while “pleased by the diversity goals the department set out, as well as the commitment to talking with local communities“, found the specific policy proposals “concerning and disappointing.” Ms. Taylor writes:

(Gonzales) noted that the city was not getting rid of screened schools that require certain test scores or a high grade point average. “It seems like the D.O.E. is kind of doubling down on maintenance of screened schools, which are going to ultimately create stratified education environments…” 

Jill Bloomberg, the principal of Park Slope Collegiate, a middle and high school in Brooklyn, who was characterized as “…a sharp critic of the Education Department on segregation“, reacted by noting that

…integration would require more aggressive policies and could not rely on using choice as a lever. But, she said, “I think they’re worried that if they don’t use the public schools to create enclaves for middle-class families, that those families will pull out of public education.

Superintendent Carmen Farina thought that “steps like putting middle and high school applications online and allowing private prekindergarten providers that contract with the city to set aside seats for low-income students would help” but acknowledged that “There’s a lot more work ahead.” And the mayor’s reaction:

The mayor did not comment on the plan on Tuesday. At an education event last month, he had seemed to lower expectations for it, saying, “We’re not going to put forward a plan that says we’re going to instantly wipe away 400 years of American history.”

Given the scope of the Mayor’s plan, 400 years might be needed to reverse the re-segregation in the city. His plan is do-able and will enable him to say he is doing something to address the issue of segregation, but it seems that he could have followed his heart instead of his political pragmatism. My sense is that the mayor probably feels that bold action at this point would alienate a base of voters who vocally support his perspective on race but might protest the consequences of abandoning the status quo. Many parents who support integration in the abstract would bridle at the thought that their child who scored highly on standardized tests would be denied entry at a screened school in favor of a minority or poor student who is “undeservingly” placed in that school, just as many parents who move into recently gentrified neighborhoods protested when boundary lines at the elementary level were redrawn in a way that increased the racial and economic integration. Until all parents in the city— white and minority, rich and poor— believe their children will be able to “succeed” in an “unscreened” secondary school and all parents have confidence that their “neighborhood” elementary school can offer the same level of support for children and teachers as the “neighborhood school” a few blocks away serving affluent parents, segregation will persist. To achieve that goal, the Mayor will need to pour substantially more resources into the schools serving children in poverty so that those schools are more appealing to middle class families. Such an investment might avoid the current gentrification trends that lead to the “middle class enclaves” cited by Ms. Bloomberg and that might help middle class parents realize that their children can get a good education in a school serving poor and minority children.

A substantial investment in schools serving children raised in poverty would do a lot more for those children than “…putting middle and high school applications online and allowing private prekindergarten providers that contract with the city to set aside seats for low-income students“.


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