By the numbers

New analysis shows New York state has the country's most segregated schools

New York’s schools are the nation’s most segregated, largely due to school segregation in New York City, according to a new analysis of federal education data that rekindles the longstanding debate over whether creating school diversity should be an explicit goal of the city’s school system.

Though 60 percent of white and Asian students in New York City in 2010-11 attended schools that the researchers call “multiracial,” only 25 percent of black and Latino students did, according to the report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

The report also shows that between 1989 and 2010, the percentage of black and Latino students attending “intensely segregated” schools increased. In 2010-11, 85 percent of the city’s black students attended schools where white students made up 10 percent or less of the student population, up from 78 percent in the 1989-90 school year. Latino students also attended those intensely segregated schools in greater numbers than before: three quarters of them did in 2010-11, up from 66 percent in 1989-90.

While the report includes new data from the 2010-11 school year, its findings about the makeup of city schools aren’t new. Two years ago, the New York Times found that more than half of city schools are 90 percent black or Hispanic—the “intensely segregated” threshold. And another recent Civil Rights Project analysis showed that New York City was one of the most segregated cities for black students.

Researcher Gary Orfield said the numbers illustrate how desegregation has receded as an explicit goal of school districts and city governments. He also took special aim at New York City’s school choice policies as “exacerbating racial isolation.”

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

Other experts have said that it’s more important to improve the quality of individual schools than to ensure each school has a racial and or socioeconomic mix. The Department of Education’s efforts to boost student performance under Mayor Bloomberg centered on creating new schools, improving other schools individually, and giving students and parents more choices about which schools to attend.

More recently, Chancellor Carmen Fariña indicated that she was supportive of individual schools’ efforts to draw students from different areas to create more diverse schools, like is happening at P.S. 133, but she hasn’t talked about larger enrollment policy changes. De Blasio has also said little about whether he want to see changes to enrollment policies, though he has expressed concern about the relative homogeneity of the city’s nine specialized high schools.

Expanding early education and lengthening the middle school day have been the primary engines he has said the city is using to address the socioeconomic and racial achievement gap.

“When students can integrate the experiences of others into their own personal development, we celebrate. We believe in diverse classrooms in which students interact and grow through personal relationships with those of different backgrounds,” Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said in response to the report.

The racial makeup of the city schools has also changed over the period examined in the report. White students make up just 14 percent of the city’s students overall, down from 25 percent in 1989-90, and black students now make up almost 30 percent, down from almost 37 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Latino students has jumped significantly, from 29 percent to 40 percent, as has the proportion of Asian students, from almost 9 percent to 15 percent of students.

In Brooklyn’s District 13, a task force has been developing ways for schools to maintain diversity as those proportions change in neighborhoods like Fort Greene. Using weighted student lotteries that would give preference to certain students is a form of “controlled choice,” which the report’s authors say is necessary to make the city’s choice system more equitable.

There are a number of challenges to those efforts, though. One is that they are more easily accomplished in districts like 13, with a racial and socioeconomic mix that doesn’t exist in some parts of the city. The Civil Rights Project’s report notes that white students make up 10 percent or less of students in 19 of the city’s 32 school districts. (That includes District 13, though its residential population is more mixed.)

The report also attributes some of the increase in segregation to the city’s charter schools, many of which often operate in low-income neighborhoods that are among the city’s least diverse. But charter advocates point out that those schools were created explicitly to serve low-income students and are often bound to accept students from specific geographic areas.

“Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. He said that charter schools that open in mixed-income neighborhoods are often accused of “abandoning their mission” to serve students in low-income areas.

“And when they do serve children in low income areas — neighborhoods which are historically segregated and which have district lines that charters must honor and that were drawn in some instances precisely to segregate,” he added, “they are accused of being too narrow in focus.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.