Home > Uncategorized > When All Else Fails, Sue… and History Tells Us When Legislators and Policy Makers Fail to Support Integration, Courts Do

When All Else Fails, Sue… and History Tells Us When Legislators and Policy Makers Fail to Support Integration, Courts Do

March 12, 2021

I was a 7 year old child in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court and school districts across the nation were charged to integrate their schools “with all deliberate speed”. At the time, many civil rights activists were wary of that phrase, fearing— justifiably as it turns out— that without a specific date that school districts across the nation would drag their feet at integrating schools. Little did they know that in 67 years that nothing would fundamentally change in terms of school integration and, in some cases, things might even get worse. Arguably, NYC is one place where things DID get worse. Why? Because in an effort to retain the enrollment of white parents in public schools without spending the money needed to improve ALL schools, the NYC leaders decided to offer school choice and test-based academic tracking. The result is that schools in the city are as segregated today as they were in the 1950s. 

Eight years ago, voters elected Bill De Blasio as mayor with the hope that he would put an end to the practices that led to the resegregation of schools and the persistent inequality between schools serving children raised in affluence and those raised in poverty. It hasn’t happened… and out of frustration a group of civil rights activists and students are suing the city to put an end to the testing that underpins the sorting and selecting of students based on their “giftedness” beginning at age 5!

As readers of this blog realize, I am staunchly opposed to the test-and-punish regimen and all of it’s by products, especially the use of tests to identify “gifted and talented” children before they even set foot in school. In an article that appeared earlier this week, NYTimes reporter Eliza Shapiro does a good job of providing the background on the tests used to identify “gifted” students, and describing all of the elements in the suit. But, as Ms. Shapiro notes, the focal point of the lawsuit is the testing. 

But (the suit) focuses mainly on the issue that has thrust New York’s divided school district into the national spotlight: the sorting of students as young as 4 years old for selective classes. New York is more reliant on academic prerequisites like test scores, grades and attendance to place students in public schools than any other school district in America.

The city’s gifted and talented classes for elementary school students are about 75 percent white and Asian-American, and there are relatively few gifted programs located in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. White students, who make up just 15 percent of the overall district, are starkly overrepresented in selective middle and high schools.

About 40 percent of the city’s middle schools use academic screens like grades and test scores to determine which students to admit, and many high schools, including elite schools like Stuyvesant High School, sort students by ability or require students to take a high-stakes admissions exam for entry…

“Nearly every facet of the New York City public education system operates not only to prop up, but also to affirmatively reproduce, the artificial racial hierarchies that have subordinated people of color for centuries in the United States,” the complaint reads.

The plaintiff’s request for relief includes the elimination of selective admissions processes for all grade levels, which would amount to the most dramatic change to the city’s school system in decades.

“This would be the ugliest trial in New York history if the city and state insist on trying these practices,” Mr. Rosenbaum said, adding that he hopes the city will quickly change its admissions policies.

Though a top-to-bottom restructuring of the city’s selective admissions policies seems unlikely, a judge could require the city to alter some of its admissions protocols or find other ways to ensure that selective schools are more representative of the city’s student population.

I wish them well… but believe that by the time the court renders its decision… and history indicates that “with all deliberate speed” has the same meaning in NYS as it does in the nation: 

A New York judge ruled in 2001 that the state’s system for funding public schools was deficient, and violated students’ rights to a basic education. That ruling, delivered more than a decade after the suit was first filed, soon became a public awareness campaign about school funding issues. It is cited frequently by politicians and activists, but much of the money owed to schools has still not been distributed.

It’s only been 20 years! Two generations of students! What’s the hurry? 

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