Wednesday, 30 November 2016 11:00

New report: Five steps to integrate schools

The City can do much more to foster economic integration of elementary schools than the small scale efforts it has made to date. That's the conclusion of our new report, Five Steps to Integrated Schools, based on our visits to 150 schools across the city over the past two years.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested that school segregation is intractable because it is largely a result of housing patterns, that is, that schools are segregated because housing is. And Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said she favors "organic" or voluntary school integration efforts.

There's no question that that persistent housing segregation makes school integration difficult in many neighborhoods; however, as our earlier report shows, the city has segregated, high-poverty schools even in many integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016 16:15

Event: How to make our schools more integrated

The Center for New York City Affairs and InsideSchools present a Nov. 30 panel discussion based on an upcoming report: "How to Make Our Schools More Integrated."

We will present our findings and recommendations for better socio-economic integration of the city's public elementary schools, with a particular focus on neighborhoods where integration is possible without busing—that is, economically integrated neighborhoods where the schools are segregated.

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After two years of contentious public meetings, the Community Education Council, an elected panel of parents, has come up with a courageous and long overdue plan to ease overcrowding and foster racial and economic integration of three elementary schools in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is a bold attempt to balance competing interests and to resolve one of the city’s most intractable social problems. City Hall and the City Department of Education (DOE) should back the plan, which the CEC devised only after it found every zoning plan the DOE offered to be unacceptable. City leaders should also take immediate, aggressive steps to address legitimate concerns raised by local residents.

After weighing multiple perspectives from often angry members of the public, the CEC, responsible for approving attendance zone lines, has taken the unusual step of coming up with its own plan.  This plan could end waitlists at the most popular schools and give hundreds of children better school facilities than they currently have.

If successful, the plan will also break up the high concentrations of poverty that have made it so difficult for one school, PS 191, to gain traction. In the past, most of the children from Amsterdam Houses, a public housing development, have been assigned to PS 191; under the CEC plan they would be assigned to three different schools, all a short walk from one another.

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New York City is one of the most segregated school systems in the country, but some schools buck the trend and enroll a mix of children of different races and income levels. How do they do it? And how can their success be replicated?

The staff of InsideSchools, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs, visited 80 elementary schools to find out how some formerly high-poverty schools have succeeding in attracting children from a range of races, ethnicities and income levels. We published our findings in a new report: "Integrated Schools in a Segregated City."

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It seems like every day I read another account of persistent segregation in public schools. They point to one conclusion: No political system or bureaucrat is going to integrate our schools for us. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee did not necessarily start out to solve that particular problem. Rather, beginning last year, a group of new parents simply got together to talk about what we perceived as a lack of acceptable public school options in our neighborhood. We started off angry about the state of our neighborhood schools, and we came to realize that we are just as responsible for them as anyone.

Our district—District 16—had the reputation of being one of the city's worst by several measures, and it lacked options such as gifted and talented or dual language programs. For decades, parents had been "trading up" to public and private alternatives in other neighborhoods, or to charter schools. Many of us were prepared to do the same—but, we wondered, was there another way?

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by Clara Hemphill and Nicole Mader

In multi-ethnic New York City, why are so many elementary schools segregated by race and class? For years, school officials and researchers have assumed that school segregation merely reflects segregated housing patterns—because most children attend their zoned neighborhood schools.

However, new research by The New School's Center for New York City Affairs demonstrates that school segregation is not always the result of housing patterns. In fact, as these interactive maps show, there are dozens of high-poverty elementary schools that serve mostly black and Latino children that are located in far more racially and economically mixed neighborhoods.

In Harlem, for example, the estimated household income of children enrolled at PS 125 is barely half that of all the households in the school zone, based on median household income estimates from the most recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. PS 125's pupils are 84 percent black and Latino; the proportion of black and Latino people living in the school's attendance zone is just 37 percent.

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A multiracial group of parents in Harlem is working to reinvent their neighborhood school — with none of the rancor that has pitted newcomers and longtime residents against one another in other parts of the city. If you want to see the school for yourself, go to an open house Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 9 am, at 425 W. 123rd Street.

The work by Black, Latino, Asian and White parents at PS 125 shows that integration is possible — and that parents working together can improve a school, even in a district with few good options. Insideschools spoke to three parents about the changes at their school.

“For a long time, it was all Black children here — nothing else,” said Kim Clinton, whose grandson is in the 2nd grade and whose children attended the school. “Then all of a sudden, the whole neighborhood is changing. We have White neighbors, we have Chinese, Japanese. I like it! It’s good to know about other people, other cultures.”

PS 125 has long had a popular pre-kindergarten program, but many parents chose other schools for kindergarten. That’s partly because the upper grades had a traditional approach to education, not the play-based or child-centered approach that many parents said they wanted. “There were so many parents looking for a progressive choice, but one didn’t exist in the district,” said Daiyu Suzuki the father of a 1st- and 3rd-grader.

“I remember parents would get together in the park and talk about ‘Where do we go?’’’ said Tomoi Zeimer, mother of a kindergartner. “Either it’s a super-expensive private school or a really low-rated public school. We thought, ‘Is there a way that we can go into a school and make it better?’”  

Over the past two years, parents lobbied the principal and superintendent to adopt a more progressive approach to teaching. The principal, Reginald Higgins, agreed, and enlisted Julie Zuckerman, the principal of Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights, to serve as a mentor. Higgins worked with Borough of Manhattan Community College to help revise curriculum and coach teachers. The new approaches seem to be working, and this year more pre-k parents opted to stay for kindergarten. Enrollment is inching up, from 193 in 2013–14 to 230 this fall.

The parents have succeeded in getting kids more access to the gym, and have reclaimed a community garden near the school. They are working to raise money to build a new library.  

“We haven’t seen a final product yet,” said Suzuki. “We’re a community in the making.”

“We have so many different people from different backgrounds. It’s nice to hear from the other side and try something different for a change,” said Clinton.

“You know, when we work on something together it becomes a really nice community,” said Zeimer.

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On paper, the rezoning plan makes a lot of sense: PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights (which is 60 percent white) is very overcrowded and nearby PS 307 (which is 90 percent black and Latino) has room to spare. So why not shrink the PS 8 zone—one of the largest in the city—and enlarge the PS 307 zone—now a tiny speck that includes the Farragut housing projects—to make room for future growth in the school-age population?

Unfortunately, the Department of Education has done a lousy job presenting the plan to the District 13 Community Education Council (the elected panel that must approve any zoning changes) and parents in both school zones worry about what the changes mean for their children. If the plan is going to be successful, officials must do a much better job at the next CEC meeting on September 30, explaining what the benefits might be for everyone involved. Just as important, the city must commit the staff and resources necessary to address parents’ legitimate fears.

Some PS 307 parents worry that a community institution that has long nurtured black and Latino families will be “taken over” by outsiders. Will the new PTA be dominated by wealthy whites who organize fancy auctions that current parents can’t afford to attend? Will the administration cater to the newcomers, neglecting the concerns of the neediest children?

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The New York Times recently ran the second piece in a series called A System Divided. The series aims to "...examine the changing racial distribution of students in New York City's public schools and its impact on their opportunities and achievements." The article, "Why Don't We Have Any White Kids?" is a great piece that among other things informs the reader that integration has been shown to have positive effects on young children. From my own personal experience, I believe that is true.

I grew up in a West Texas town with a large Mexican population. In 1977, when I was set to enter second grade, the state began a program of integration of public schools, and in this case it took the form of forced busing. In my neighborhood most of us walked to school, and I vividly recall the first day when a dusty yellow school bus pulled up and let out a group of children who quietly followed the principal into the cafeteria. After school, when my mother came home from work, the first thing I said to her was "Mommy today all the Mexicans came to school." My mother looked at me and replied, "What do you think you are?" Without speaking to the family pathology behind that exchange (it's a long story) what I can say is that I was raised in a home where Spanish was not spoken and race was rarely mentioned. My seven-year-old self received a good little shock. My curiosity about the group of children who came on the bus grew.

I ended up becoming friends with a few of the children, and I still remember them well. I went to their homes, homes where no English was spoken. I ate their food and played with them and through them and their families I found my Mexican heritage. I still remember their names: Ana, who had five older sisters. I loved to watch them brushing or fixing each other's hair or arguing with their grandmother about staying out late; Benny, a shy slight child whose father dropped him off in a beat up red Chevy pick truck. Once, there were chickens in the back, and Benny dragged us over to see them. Those moments stayed with me all these years.

In childhood identity can be a mutable thing. Through play, children take on and off roles in ways adults can't or won't. How do you instill acceptance of differences and pride of self? Get them while they're young. By not acknowledging a Mexican identity, my parents did me a disservice. Thanks to integration I cobbled together a greater sense of myself.

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