Inching Towards Integrating New York City launches reforms to put an end to the vicious cycle of educational inequality

A pattern is predictable. The next step in a cycle can easily be anticipated. The effect of an action is often expected. Our lives our filled with a myriad of patterns, cycles and causes and effects. We get used so used to them that we never stop to pause and think. Why does orange directly follow red in the rainbow? Why does the sun rise each morning and set each evening? Why do I feel full after I eat dinner? While these cycles are positive or at least trivial, oftentimes we fail to stop and question negative cycles and detrimental patterns that control society.

Educational inequality stems from a never-ending cycle, known as the poverty cycle. The segregated school system dictates that students from lower income families will attend lower income schools. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center did a study that reported that only 18% of students from high poverty schools will complete college within six years of completing high school whereas the statistic is almost triple, at 52%, for students from low poverty schools. The U.S. Department of Education blames this gap on inadequate academic preparation from the lower income schools, among other financial and social reasons. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics has proven that “education matters”, according to research from 2016. As education attainment rises, within the range of less than a high school diploma to a doctoral degree, weekly earnings increase and unemployment decreases. And thus, we have come full circle. Lower income families send their children to lower income schools and so the likelihood of received further education is less than students from higher income schools, and thus their income will be low. Children from poor families will remain poor. Without having the opportunity to receive education in a school that will prepare them for college, their likelihood of forging their own path with a better and more financially comfortable life than they grew up with is slim.

College Completion Rates Six Years after High School Graduation, Class of 2009, Public Non-Charter Schools –

Where does New York City stand in all of this? We like to think of ourselves as open-minded people living in a hub of densely populated racial and economic diversity, all blending together as a whole to form the city as we know it…yeah, right. A 2012 analysis of New York City schools revealed the extreme racial isolations within the system. More than half of the over 1,800 public schools were found to have hyper-segregated Hispanic and black enrollments of 90 percent or more. In 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Project branded the New York City school system as one of the most segregated in the nation. Specifically, the elite specialized high schools of New York City have the lowest percentages of blacks and Hispanics.

The research is discouraging. Even as racial diversification within neighborhoods has recently been increasing, a 2016 New School report indicated that school segregation has not declined. But, perhaps, there is hope. Following recent community advocates that have raised awareness on the issue, there has been reforms put in place to begin the process of integration. In 2016, Chancellor Carmen Farina listed school diversity as one of her top priorities. In June 2017, Farina formally announced the Department of Education’s plan for change, “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools.” The goals for the next five years include increasing the number of students in a school that is racially representative of New York City by 50,000, decreasing the number of schools that are economically stratified by 150 schools, and increasing the number of schools which served English Language Learners and children with disabilities. The new plan has created alongside itself a Schoolwide Diversity and Advisory Group to evaluate goals, policies, and progress and also add various reforms as they see fit. 

These lofty goals have practical means of implementation. The first step is, appropriately, also the first step to get into schools; admissions. The admissions process is especially difficult for low income and non-English speaking families. The obstacles include attending open houses and information sessions that are only catered towards English speakers, understanding how to strategically rank schools on an application, and tackling the long and complicated school directories. The process is time consuming and simply not feasible for parents who need to work multiple jobs or have significant caretaking responsibilities. The Equity and Excellence plan has strategized ways to streamline these formal mechanisms and make the admissions process more inclusive. First, an online application for middle and high school students will be created and ready for the school year of 2019. An online application will save time, personalize the process, and allow easy access to individualized online support. The NYC School Finder, which is an interactive way to learn about all NYC schools will be expanded and refined. School tours and open houses will be streamlined and more accommodating. Within the acceptance process, Diversity in Admission pilots, which target specific student groups, will be expanded.

Aside from admissions, there are other plans in way. The Department of Education partnered with the Department of Homeless Services and Human Resource Administration to increase the enrollment of Students in Temporary Housing. As mentioned, the most extreme school segregation is within Specialized High Schools and so the Specialized High School Admissions test will now be administered on a school day in more schools and there will be more afterschool and summer programs created to prepare students for the test. The Department of Education has included in its proposals plans to ensure diversity in rezoning, funding and rigorous courses, such as STEM.

Life as we know it has not changed. School segregation will not vanish within a year or two. It’s a slow process. But what’s important is that we have begun. New York City is one of the first major cities in America to adopt a diversity plan and hopefully we can serve as a model for other cities to integrate, as well. Negative cycles need to be actively put an end to, or else they’ll just keep spinning.


For an audio recap of the diversity proposal, listen to WNYC News here.