City Council Passes “School Diversity Accountability Act”

City Council Passes “School Diversity Accountability Act”

New law will require NYC Department of Education to provide detailed demographic data & steps it is taking to advance diversity in NYC schools, Seen as strong tool for advocates confronting school segregation.

NEW YORK – Today, the New York City Council voted to pass new policies designed to confront segregation and increase diversity in NYC public schools. The School Diversity Accountability Act consists of:

Intro 511 (introduced by Council Member Brad Lander) will require the Department of Education to issue an annual report on diversity (or the lack thereof) in NYC schools. The report will include extensive school-by-school data, down to the grade level (and within specialized programs like gifted and talented programs), as well as the Department’s specific efforts and initiatives to strengthen diversity. 

Resolution 453 (introduced by Council Member Ritchie Torres) calls on NYC DOE to establish diversity as a priority in admissions, zoning, and other decision-making processes

Today’s bill passage builds upon an extensive City Council hearing in December 2014, in which Council Members heard testimony from parents, educators, and civil rights advocates, frequently citing both the 60-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and a study released by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA which found New York's schools to be amongst the most segregated in the nation.

The bill’s supporters believe that taken together these two pieces of legislation are a creative and important step forward that will keep a spotlight on the issue not only this year, but every year when the report comes out. By providing both detailed data and an accounting of the concrete steps that DOE is taking to confront segregation and promote diversity, the new report will provide a strong platform for educator, parents, and advocates working at the school, district, and citywide levels.

“New York City’s remarkable diversity is one of our greatest strengths, but we are failing woefully to bring that diversity into our schools,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Sixty years after the Supreme Court ruled that ‘separate but equal is inherently unequal,’ it is shameful to have a school system that is among the most segregated in the country. There are strategies out there, being advanced by parents, educators, and advocates, to take us in the right direction. With the detailed data and strategic reporting that this bill will provide, NYC will have a meaningful framework to promote inclusion and advance diversity in our public schools and districts -- and to evaluate whether or not we are moving in the right direction. Thanks to Speaker Mark-Viverito, Chair Dromm, Council Member Torres, Council Member Barron, and my colleagues for supporting this bill today, and to the NYC Department of Education for working with us. When these efforts succeed, all students benefit – we end up with more inclusive schools, a wider range of experience and perspective, and a diverse environment more like the world we live in and the democracy we want.”

“To celebrate the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education on its 60th anniversary, I am proud we are calling upon the NYC Department of Education to officially recognize the importance of diversity in schools, and to set classroom diversity as a priority,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres. “It is no secret that students who learn in diverse environments are better equipped to become fully engaged members of our diverse democracy. New York City has an obligation to provide our students with the tools, skills, and experiences they need to succeed in a pluralistic society.”

Council members were joined by leaders from across New York’s school communities and civil rights organizations in praising passage of the bill.

“Diverse school environments are critical to the well-being of all our students.  We applaud the City Council for keeping an eye on the increasing segregation in our school system,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society. “We look forward to the Council and the Mayor using the data developed in these efforts to examine and address the racial disparities at our most elite public high schools.”

“As a CEC member from District 1 that has been asking DoE and City Hall for a more equitable admissions plan for 10 years we are grateful to Council Members Lander and Torres for their leadership on this issue,” said Lisa Donlan, President of District 1 Community Education Council (CEC). “As a district that spends a lot of time, energy and financial resources gathering data and analyzing the disparities among our community schools, we strongly support a bill that will help community stakeholders to clearly see where inequities lie among their community schools and address them with better assignment policies. D1 parents, teachers community members and students want to see a strong commitment of support from this administration to collaborate with stakeholders (Task Forces, grass roots parent and community groups, and CECs), in different districts to design, implement and evaluate local proposals for addressing growing school segregation. NYC DoE can no longer ignore the fact that New York State, due in large part to our school assignment policies here in NYC, is home to the most segregated schools system in the US. We must do better and we can, together.”

“The persistent problem of segregation throughout New York City’s educational system is open and notorious. This results in many pupils with limited socio-educational opportunities and lost benefits of true diversity. As a Latino civil rights law organization, we endorse the City Council’s resolutions to overcome barriers to diversity and to require that the City’s Education Department timely produce analysis and publicly report on pupil demographic data to help tackle the issues of diminished diversity in the K-12 public schools”, stated Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“City Council is sending a clear message that diverse schools are critical to preparing our children for life, work, and citizenship in the 21st century,” said David Tipson, Executive Director of New York Appleseed. “The resolution and the bill remind us all that school segregation is a problem we can no longer ignore.

“We need to know the facts and figures about how diverse our schools are in order to make sure pockets of segregation are not allowed to continue,” said Education Committee Chairperson  Council Member Daniel Dromm. “New York City’s diversity is our greatest strength and we need to make sure our schools are building on that strength. I applaud my colleagues Council Members Lander and Torres for addressing this issue.”

“As one of the most diverse cities in our nation, ensuring our students learn in a diverse environment should be the highest priority for our city,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “As advocates for increased diversity in every sector of our city, the Council must arm itself with the information to target this issue and move our schools in the right direction. I praise Council member Lander for his attention to this and look forward to a more diverse school system in our great city.

"The Parent Leadership Project (PLP) which is part of the District 3 Equity in Education Task Force, believes that this bill is a critical step towards achieving educational equity and justice. At PLP, we work to build leadership, organizing, and power among low-income parents of color in one of New York City's most "diverse" yet segregated and unequal school districts. The inequality that plagues our schools, and impacts our children's futures, is a problem that everyone seems to know about and yet takes little action to change. PLP applauds the leadership that Council member Lander, Torres, and many others in the Council are taking on this issue, and we look forward to continuing our work together to desegregate our schools and truly invest in the future, promise, and potential of ALL young people,” said Marilyn Barnwell and Flor Donoso, representatives of PLP.

“The value of diversity is one that the Upper West Side understands and embraces,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “As we consider how to tackle this complicated issue within our schools, we need to know and understand the data district by district, school by school and program by program. This is the first step in truly being able to analyze the issue so that appropriate policy options can be utilized to best address each district's needs.” 

Segregation in New York City Schools:

In 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Project released “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction, and a Damaged Future,” which found that the schools in New York, and especially in the NYC metropolitan area, were among the most segregated in the country. The report also found that by numerous measures, school segregation had worsened in recent years, even as residential segregation has modestly declined. These results have been corroborated by data from the New York Times, and DNAInfo. Key findings include:

·         The typical black student attended school with 29% white students in 1970 and 23% in 1980. By 2010, that number had declined to 17%. Similarly, Latinos' exposure to white students declined from 22% in 1989 to 20% in 2010 (UCLA).

·         Black and Latino students attend schools segregated not only by race, but also by class. The typical black and Latino student attends school where nearly 70% of the students are low-income, whereas only 29% of the typical white student's classmates are low-income (UCLA).

·         In more than half of the city's 1,600 public schools, black and Latino students make up 90 percent or more of the student population. Meanwhile, half of the city's white students are concentrated in just 7 percent of the schools, and half of the city's Asian students are concentrated in just 6 percent of schools (DNAInfo, New York Times)

·         In the New York metro area, only 6% of schools were considered diverse, i.e. not racially or economically isolated, in 2010 (UCLA).

As the UCLA report points out, "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.”

About Intro 511

Intro 511 will require that DOE submit to the City Council (and post on its website) an annual report on demographics (the first report is due 12/31/15 and will cover K – 12, after that reports will be due on November 1st of each year, and cover Pre-K – 12).  The report will break down the following demographic information for each community school district, school, and special program (e.g. gifted & talent programs) by: grad level, race or ethnicity, gender, and for students who are English language learners, primary home language

The report will further disaggregate these categories (to the extent permissible to protect student privacy) by the number and percentage of students who:receive special education services, are English language learners, receive free or reduced price school lunch, reside in temporary housing, are attending school out of the community school district in which the student resides, and for students in grades 3 – 8, the number of students who completed the NYS mathematics & ELA examinations, disaggregated by performance level

The law will also require DOE to report the admissions process used by each school or special program (such as whether admission to such school or special program is based on a lottery, a geographic zone, a screening of candidates for such school, or a standardized test), and whether other criteria or methods are used for admission, including but not limited to waitlists or a principal's discretion.

Finally, the law will require the DOE to report on any efforts during the preceding school year to encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs (e.g. school zoning, admissions policies, strategic site selection, outreach, special programs, etc). 

District- and School-Based Strategies for Confronting Segregation and Advancing Diversity

Advocates and educators are working to confront segregation and advance diversity in districts and schools around New York City, as highlighted in testimony at the Council’s hearing in December 2014. The School Diversity Accountability Act will provide them with a better framework and data to advance the goals of more diverse New York City schools:

·         District-widecontrolled choice:” In three districts in diverse parts of NYC (the Lower East Side, Upper West Side/Morningside Heights, and Fort Greene/Brooklyn Heights/Clinton Hill), parents, educators, and advocates are pushing for a district-wide approach to insuring more diverse schools. The “controlled choice” model (championed by Michael Alves, who spoke at the December hearing), allows parents or students to rank choices for schools, but applies filters to insure a diverse mix of students. In District 1 (Lower East Side) and District 13 (Fort Greene/Brooklyn Heights/Clinton Hill), these efforts are led by the Community Education Councils, who recently applied with DOE for grants to advance their efforts. In District 3, the effort is led by parents working with the Parent Leadership Project.

·         The “PS 133 model” of non-zoned elementary schools with (Constitutionally-sound) affirmative admissions policies: PS 133’s admissions model was adopted in 2012 (through advocacy the District 13 and 15 CECs, Council Members Steve Levin & Lander, Principal Heather Foster-Mann, and Appleseed). PS 133 is an “unzoned” school (which accepts students from both District 13 and 15), with a priority for students who are English Language Learners or eligible for free-and-reduced-price lunch, for 35% of its seats. The model is only in its third year, but it builds on other similar models (including the Brooklyn New School) and has promising results so far.  Several other schools (including the Brooklyn Children’s School, and Fort Greene’s Academy of Arts and Letters) would like to utilize this model, and Brooklyn’s District 15 has expressed interest in this being the model for new schools built in coming years.

·         Valuing diversity within zoning decisions: Often, residential segregation is so stark that any zoning lines will insure monochromatic schools. But in some cases, it is possible to achieve better results. Recent successful efforts at Brooklyn’s new PS/IS 437, which will be “split-sited” with PS 130, help point the way here. There are numerous other places around the city (e.g. the district line between the Upper East Side and East Harlem, around public housing developments in gentrifying neighborhoods) where stark lines of segregation could be blurred with thoughtful school zoning.

·         Middle school admissions: Middle-school choice was designed to enable students to choose schools that match their educational, geographic, talent, and other preferences. However, even in some districts that are much more diverse at the district level than the individual elementary schools, middle-school choice results in schools that remain much more segregated than the school district as a whole. Brooklyn’s District 15 – where some individual middle schools (e.g. Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, Park Slope Collegiate, New Voices, School for International Studies, MS 442, MS 88, and the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School) have been working to confront the problem – is considering options for increasing diversity through the middle-school admissions process.

·         Educational Option High Schools: One of NYC School’s unsung successes are “Educational Option High Schools,” which consciously aim for a diverse mix of students (based on middle school academic success). These were curtailed during the Bloomberg Administration, despite strong interest from students and a good track record of success. They may be a strategy for increasingly diverse schools at the middle- and high-school levels. 

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