This New York outrage snuck up on me. After reading about segregation in city schools, I asked city council member Ben Kallos about it. “Worse than before Brown vs the Board of Education,” he said, disgusted. I believe Ben’s still disgusted, but believe it or not, the situation’s gotten worse.
By David Stone
That was five years ago, and in spite of his disgust and Mayor de Blasio’s promises, school fairness remains nearly as far off as in 1938. That’s when New York City repealed a provision that it made it legal to “refuse admittance of a ‘colored child’ to a ‘white public school.'”
But as UCLA’s Civil Rights Projected noted, it was a false front because nothing much changed.
And as UCLA found, New York City schools are the most segregated in the entire nation. That should make headlines, but it doesn’t. I saw the story only in The Gothamist. The New York Times found front page space for “China’s bat woman” and the mystery of what lies beneath “Jupiter’s Pretty Clouds…”
But segregation in city schools. Nah, who cares about that?
School Segregation: A New York Outrage With Deep Roots
Educational problems linked to racially segregated schools, which are often intensified by poverty concentration, include a less-experienced and less-qualified teacher workforce, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and learning materials, high dropout rates, and less stable enrollments. Conversely, desegregated schools are linked to profound benefits for all students.UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2014
Common sense, however, seldom puts up much of a challenge for embedded racism.
While the latest report, released last week, includes a history of how whites kept segregation intact in New York City schools, the last decade’s the most shocking.
Redlining by banks framed the worst abuses, but Michael Bloomberg set them in concrete. After persuading the state legislature to give him control of the schools, he went full throttle for charter schools.
Many black parents, held back by poverty, could not afford sending their kids to expensive charter schools, especially with public schools free. That allowed the charters to drain white students out of public schools, making segregation inevitable.
Moreover, Bloomberg even arranged for the private schools using space within the public school buildings, enabling the separate but equal status the Supreme Court abolished — or so we thought — in Brown vs...
Succeeding Bloomberg as Mayor, Bill de Blasio tried keeping a campaign promise to cut down on charter schools, but his nemesis, Governor Andrew Cuomo, blocked him
Results tell the story…
From 1990 to 2019, while total enrollment was mostly unchanged, white student enrollment in public schools plummeted from 61.3% to 43.3%. The biggest drop came during the Bloomberg years. That’s when white students first fell under 50%.
“However, many of the schools that black and Latino students attend are poorly resourced, they have limited advanced coursework and consequently lack proper preparation for the stringent academic requirements,” the UCLA report found.
“The rise in competitive test preparation programs further disadvantages black and Latino students, many of whom have less means to prepare for the test.”
Conclusion: This New York Outrage Downstream
For more detailed information and analysis, read the UCLA report here. But I’ve always been more interested in reality on the ground than bloodless analytics, as much as they help.
Stats can’t tell you how brutally segregation damaged communities of color. How many talented youngsters never got a fair shot at excellence because their schools stunk?
When we think about gangs, violence and resentment, do we consider the impact of the denying kids a fair chance? Black and brown kids may be denied a fair education, but that doesn’t make them stupid.
It certainly makes a good number angry, believing that paths open for white will never be open for them.
In the end, how can a city boasting of being among the most liberal can so fully embrace segregation? That makes us worse than all the school districts in the Old South. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana — all do better than New York City does.
How many lives are lost, whole or in part, because of our institutional commitment to racism?
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