Statement of NYC Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres on the First NYC “School Diversity Accountability Act” Annual Report

Statement of NYC Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres on the First NYC “School Diversity Accountability Act” Annual Report

New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres, co-sponsors of the “School Diversity Accountability Act” (Local Law 59 of 2015 and City Council Resolution 453 of 2015), issued the following statement after the release of the first annual report by the NYC Department of Education:

Confronting segregation and advancing diversity in NYC’s public schools is an urgent moral, practical, and policy imperative. It will not be achieved quickly, but that cannot be an excuse for inaction.

Our goal in legislating the ‘School Diversity Accountability Act’ was to create an annual report to measure how we are doing, see what steps we are taking, and begin to measure progress — or lack thereof — each year.

The first report reveals a deeply segregated school system, as we knew it would. The 2014 UCLA report already showed us that New York has some of the most segregated schools in the nation, and that school segregation has actually worsened in recent years, even as residential segregation has modestly declined.

But this first annual, office report from the NYC Department of Education gives us a much more detailed picture. By breaking out demographics for each district, each school, and special programs (e.g. gifted & talented, dual language) within each school; by looking at a wide variety of types of diversity (race, ELLs, students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, students with disabilities, students in temporary housing); and cross-referencing diversity and state test scores, the report provides a clearer and far more detailed picture than we had before.

The data is provided in a format useful to researchers. One analysis has already shown substantial race and class disparities in gifted and talented programs. We are confident more insight will be provided as the report is analyzed in the coming weeks and months.

For the first time, the report also describes steps the DOE is taking to promote more diverse schools. Some of these steps hold real promise. We are glad to see them, and look forward to future reports to see what difference they make. If these are the first steps in a long journey, then this report will mark the beginning of real progress, and an important benchmark to measure future change.

But it is a long journey, and far more is needed. Despite the Council’s call in Resolution 453 to establish one, the DOE still lacks a formal policy, Chancellor’s regulation, guidelines, or comprehensive strategy for making diversity a priority in admissions, zoning, and other decision-making processes. There is no “silver bullet” solution; however, establishing a policy and strategy is important.

Moreover, most of the steps described in the report are for individual schools. As we wrote recently in a New York Times Op-Ed (“What Would It Take to Integrate Our Schools?”), the urgent next step is to engage in district-wide diversity planning.

Signs of Progress

We are encouraged by the following signs of progress in the report:

· Diversity admissions pilot at seven elementary schools: As the Chancellor announced in November, DOE worked with principals at 7 elementary schools to implement admissions approaches that give priority to Free/Reduced-Price Lunch students, English Language Learners, students with incarcerated parents, and students in the child welfare system. (This builds on an existing priority at PS 133, and will likely grow to include PS 307, both in Brooklyn, for a total of 9 schools).

· In three districts (7, 16, and 22), DOE’s Office of Student Enrollment worked with superintendents to remove academic screening admissions method from most middle school seats, which will promote academic diversity (and likely other types as well).

· DOE created 20 new “Educational Option” (or Ed-Opt) high schools, which serve a diverse mix of students based on academic achievement, increasing the number of Ed Opt schools from 126 to 146 (out of approximately 700 high schools). Ed-Opt schools had been reduced during the prior administration.

· The city expanded programs to integrate students with disabilities, creating additional “ASD Nest” programs that mix students with and without autism, added bilingual special education classes, and set enrollment targets for students with disabilities (however, the report does not indicate what share of schools hit those targets, which will be an important item on which to follow up in future years).

· DOE conducted more outreach, in more languages, to families about the availability of Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted & Talented, and Middle School programs.

Much More is Needed

While these are good first steps, much more is needed to confront the reality that New York’s schools are among the most segregated in the country. We call on the NYC Department of Education to adopt a much more far-reaching approach:

· Adopt a formal policy and strategy for making diversity a priority in admissions, zoning, and other decision-making processes. City Council Resolution 453 calls on the DOE to adopt such a policy. However, DOE current lacks a policy, Chancellor’s regulation, guidelines, or strategy for making diversity a priority. There is no “silver bullet” solution; however, a policy priority is important — especially given ambivalent statements from the Mayor and the Chancellor regarding the importance of confronting segregation in NYC public schools.

· Commit to district-wide diversity planning (considering a model of “controlled choice”) in interested districts. Parent leaders and education advocates in Districts 1, 3, 13, 15, and 17 are pushing for the opportunity to engage in district-wide planning for diversity, utilizing the model of “controlled choice” that has been successful in other localities. In Districts 1 and 13 in particular, the New York State Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP) grants include resources that the Community Education Councils programmed for this planning work. However, the SDAA report suggests that the DOE may intend to use those grants solely for magnet and single school initiatives, which would be a missed opportunity

· Adopt a more formal approach to diversity in high school admissions, including specialized (and screened) high schools. Much attention has been paid to the lack of diversity in NYC’s specialized high schools, but little has been done.

· Establish pilot programs to provide resources to diverse schools to meet the needs of diverse learners. It costs less to educate a homogenous group of students, and more to provide support to students who speak multiple languages, or have more diverse educational needs. Some programs (e.g. dual language, ASD/Nest) recognize these additional costs; pilot programs are needed to provide necessary supports.

We appreciate this first report from the Department of Education and look forward to working together to set forth a process that will integrate our schools and create a better learning environment for all.

We are especially grateful to the community of educators, parent leaders, CEC members, advocates, and students who have been working to confront segregation and promote diversity in our school for years, and who are currently redoubling their efforts.

Achieving more diverse schools is not only a matter of righting a moral wrong. Evidence shows that that students who learn in diverse environments do better at critical thinking and problem solving, get higher test scores, and are better equipped to become fully engaged members of our diverse democracy.

New York City has an obligation to provide all our students with the tools, skills, and experiences they need to succeed in a pluralistic society — traveling the challenging but urgent path to integrate our schools is one critical way of meeting that obligation.

For additional information, contact

John Schaefer (CM Lander), 718–499–1090, jschaefer [at] council [dot] nyc [dot] gov
Raymond Rodriguez (CM Torres), 646–477–9303,rrodriguez [at] council [dot] nyc [dot] gov

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