Bebeto Matthews/AP

Report: New York schools the most segregated in U.S.

Public schools in the state of New York are ‘severely segregated’ by race and class, says civil rights policy group

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, public schools in one of the most racially diverse states in the country — New York — are the most highly segregated, with minority and poor students increasingly isolated by race and class, according to a new report released Wednesday by a civil rights policy group at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The proportion of Latino and Asian students in the state of New York nearly doubled from 1989 to 2010, but their exposure to white students in public schools decreased during that time, the report said. And as minority student populations increased, the proportion of low-income students in those minority-majority public schools also rose, making the schools “severely segregated” in terms of both race and class, according to the report.

“The children who most depend on the public schools for any chance in life are concentrated in schools struggling with all the dimensions of family and neighborhood poverty and isolation,” Gary Orfield, co-director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles and professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, wrote in the report.

Orfield and Civil Rights Project senior researcher John Kucsera used Department of Education statistics to look at public school enrollment in New York City, its surrounding counties and upstate New York between 1989 and 2010.

They found that while nearly 50 percent of public school students in New York state are considered low-income, black and Latino students tend to enroll at schools where about 70 percent of students are low-income, while white students attend schools where 30 percent of students are low-income.

What’s more, the proportion of black students attending public schools considered “intensely segregated” — which the authors define as having a student body that’s less than 10 percent white — is on the rise. For example, in New York City, the country’s largest school system, 60 percent of the state’s black public school students attend school in the five boroughs, along with two-thirds of the state’s Asian and Latino students — but only 10 percent of New York state’s white students.

New York City’s charter schools are particularly segregated. Among the city’s 123 charter schools, nearly all of them had less than 10 percent white enrollment in 2010, largely based on segregated housing patterns. Some 73 percent of charter schools were what the authors called “apartheid schools,” meaning they had less than 1 percent white enrollment.

The authors told reporters in a conference call that changing demographics in the state paired with a lack of diversity-focused policies — which include subpar transportation systems for students and restrictive admissions standards — had caused the increasing segregation of public school students.

“If you don’t have an intention to create diverse schools, they rarely happen,” Orfield said.

Following the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision to desegregate schools, Southern states created strong public school desegregation efforts during the civil-rights era. But in Northern states, where the problem wasn’t considered as dire, legislators weren’t able to create similar efforts until the mid-1970s, a more conservative political era, the authors said.

In New York, schools have, for several decades, been more segregated for blacks than in any Southern state, "though the South has a much higher percent of African American students,” the report said.

The city of Buffalo was a pioneer in the creation of magnet schools, the report said, but it was an exception in the state. New York City broke into 32 schools districts with the hope that local control would bring more racial integration, but more fragmented school districts haven’t fostered more diversity.

Instead of districts focusing on equitable resources at schools, as they have been for the past two decades, they ought to create voluntary desegregation plans and change school choice plans to target the recruitment of minority students, the authors of the report said.

“Having something that’s really compelling and educationally outreaching to parents, welcoming them, making sure their students aren’t extremely isolated … and having something that’s really worth choosing, and providing transportation for students that can’t provide their own, those are the key elements," Orfield said.

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