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.”

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.