Study: NY schools most segregated in the US, labeling some 'apartheid schools'

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Minorities are likely to become the majority population in America in less than three decades – and yet, with this soon-to-be expected reality, schools in America still face staggering segregation rates.

A recent study reveals that some states face a deeper racial divide in public schools than others – listing New York as the leading state with the most segregated schools in the country.

The comprehensive study, conducted by the UCLA Civil Rights Group, measures integration – or the lack thereof – and explores trends in enrollment and segregation patterns across the state’s public school system on state, metropolitan and city levels from 1989 to 2010.

A previous report by the CRP shows that public school students in the state are increasingly isolated by race and class despite the growing minority and poor populations in the state – and this latest study proves that the same racial imbalance continues to be a significant issue.

Over 20 years of in-depth research by professionals at UCLA revealed that there is a high rate of increased diversity across New York with a growing Latino and Asian population that has almost doubled since 1990, while the exposure of these groups to white students has decreased.

The changing demographics have led to a further racial inequality in schools across the state resulting in uneven distribution of black and white students in the state’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

State’s history of desegregation 

The state’s history of school desegregation is largely at play for the overwhelming present-day statistics.

The study notes that it was during President Reagan’s administration when the state began to move away from desegregation efforts in schools and placed heavy focus on other practices like accountability systems, school choice and charter schools, which have contributed to the ongoing racial imbalance.

In New York City alone – which, according to research is home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation – school choice programs and policies have exacerbated segregation amid ongoing demographic changes.

Statistics show that across the 32 community school districts in the city, 19 had 10 or less percent white students in 2010.

“One of the stunning things things about it is that the city, which has over 1 million students, has created new systems of choice done in a way that has increased inequality and have ignored civil rights provisions to make choice equitable,” said Dr. Gary Orfield, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project. “In some cases, it is virtually as segregated as the schools in the south before the Brown vs. Board of education decision.”

The northern areas of the country are also much more fragmented due to extreme residential segregation, school policy reversals and lack of commitment, which combine to make the ongoing racial imbalance more significant in cities like New York compared to areas in the South.

The debate and desegregation of schools of choice

In regards to the state’s charter schools, 73 percent are considered “apartheid schools” where less than 1 percent of the school’s population are white students while 90 percent were intensely segregated in 2010.

These schools — which are independently run public schools that allow families to choose them for their children — also reflect what Orfield called “double segregation” between race and class as most charter schools operate primarily in low-income neighborhoods.

In terms of poverty concentration, the study cites that schools become more low income as their enrollment becomes majority minority.

“Charter schools were created without the basic civil rights requirements,” Orfield said. “Choice without civil right provisions stratifies the populations. Charter schools have been explicitly created to serve specific racial group[s], which exacerbates the problem.”

The debate over the expansion of some of the state’s charter schools has rocked the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio after he proposed to close down three Harlem charter schools this fall.

Students, teachers and parents have staunchly fought against this by launching attack ads and rallies arguing against the negative effects these school closings would have primarily on minority students.

However, the mayor recently shared a more conciliatory message, reassuring that his primary focus rests on the students of the city and the quality of education they receive.

“Our mission is to create a city in which, regardless of zip code, your neighborhood public school is a great option for your child,” de Blasio said Sunday. “I will reach out to all of the children in traditional public schools, in charter schools, in religious schools. They are all our children, they all deserve a solution,”

Still, despite the fight over the expansion of the state’s charter schools, Orfield says the charter school population in the state is relatively small (less than 10 percent) and closing a few schools wouldn’t have a significant impact in the larger fight for increased integration.

In fact, he says that magnet schools in the state are a bigger system of choice than charter schools – citing that a number of civil rights groups are currently pressing President Obama to provide more resources to such schools that offer specialized courses.

According to their research, magnet schools in the New York City district had the highest proportion of multiracial schools standing at 47 percent and the lowest proportion of segregated schools at 56 percent.

Can separate but equal schools exist?

The staggering segregation rates across the state prove that schools can still operate on being separate but equal – but the goal of this study is to prove that they shouldn’t, says senior researcher Dr. John Kucsera.

The study sites several positive outcomes of making integration a goal worth pursuing with benefits proving that such educational establishments show higher performances on test scores, greater future earnings and improved heath outcomes.

In addition, the studies sites the invaluable “social benefits resulting from intergroup contact for all students – like the possible reduction in prejudice and greater interracial communication skills.”

However, in order to decrease the levels of segregation in schools across the state, Orfield offers immediate and long-term practices that should be employed.

Among the suggested plans of action are changing the rules of operation of open-choice school systems, where more plans for diversity are implemented along with accommodating transportation strategies and fewer screening mechanisms. More planning should also be required to consciously create integrated schools in many gentrifying communities throughout the state.

“Can separate be equal, yes,” Orfield and Kuscera write. “But even if equality can be reached between racially isolated schools, students may never achieve the skills and abilities required to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.”

To view the full report, click here.

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