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.
It is true the top-down mandates often backfired. Nonetheless, through targeted funding, creative school enrollment policies, and more effective leadership at the district and school level the City can create the conditions in which more parents voluntarily choose integrated schools.
Here are five steps the City can take:
- Require the city's 32 school district superintendents to articulate plans to engage parents of diverse races, ethnicities, and income levels. The evidence is clear: Such district-level leadership makes a discernible difference in sustaining school integration–and, conversely, the lack of such leadership can unfortunately impede such efforts.
- Target funding, including magnet school grants, to foster integration. City leaders need to do a better job of directing such funds to schools, and principals, committed to and capable of fostering diversity in their student enrollments.
- Remove barriers to economic integration in pre-kindergarten. The Century Foundation found 74 pre-k programs where children are divided according to how much money their parents earn. The City should make sure that children in subsidized child care programs can share classrooms with other children.
- Ensure that the neediest children, including homeless kids, aren't concentrated in any one school. Administrative actions can relieve schools now over-burdened with such students and assign them more equitably to well-regarded schools capable of absorbing them.
- Experiment with "controlled choice" on the Lower East Side. A program that assigns students to elementary schools that takes into account both parent preferences and family income holds out promise for increasing integration across an entire school district.
In addition to these practical steps, we believe that City leaders, who have until now promoted integration with small-scale measures at the individual school level, need to make the case for system-wide school integration more forcefully and with greater conviction. Because the research evidence is clear. The classroom education benefits of integrated schools are pronounced, especially for children from low-income households. And the life lessons gained from going to school with students from diverse social and economic backgrounds can be significant for every student.