integration lessons

Study finds explosion in the number of school districts working on integration

A new report by the Century Foundation found that 100 school districts and charter schools are currently pursuing socioeconomic integration plans. (Image by the Century Foundation)

School integration can be politically treacherous, tricky to define and hard to achieve. But more and more school districts are willing to give it a try.

A study released Friday by the Century Foundation, a think tank focused on inequity, found that 100 school districts and charter schools across the country are currently pursuing socioeconomic diversity plans — a number that has more than doubled since 2007.

Among the districts profiled is New York City, one of the most segregated school systems in the country but also home to a growing number of advocates pushing for more diverse schools.

“There’s been a big growth in the number of school districts that are pursuing socioeconomic diversity,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation and a contributor to the report. “New York has made an important and good start in this effort.”

The report highlights some recent strides: The city has factored student diversity into recent rezoning proposals, allowed schools to implement their own admissions plans to enroll more disadvantaged students, and now requires annual reporting of demographics and integration efforts.

Still, the report says: “Systemic progress has been slow.”

“Despite this mounting pressure from community organizations and local leaders, Department of Education leadership has largely resisted any commitment to the politically contentious work of systematically revamping neighborhood school zones or the admissions policies that have contributed to citywide school segregation,” the report notes.

In an emailed statement, department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the city is “focused on increasing diversity at our schools through both systemic and localized approaches.”

She highlighted more than 80 new bilingual programs started under the current administration, and an increase in the number of students with disabilities in general education settings and in screened high schools. She also echoed comments by Mayor Bill de Blasio that the city is working on a larger diversity plan — but, like the mayor, provided no details.

“Across the city, there is a range of meaningful conversations and real steps forward around different approaches to increasing diversity,” Kaye wrote. “As we’ve already stated, we’re going to put forward a larger plan on increasing diversity in our schools – something we believe in.”

The Century Foundation report was released ahead of a national conference in Washington, D.C. — hosted by the foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Coalition on School Diversity — where education leaders will share best practices for integration.

“Like math, reading, science, social studies, and the arts, diversity is essential for helping our students get ready for the world they will encounter throughout their lives,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King said in a statement. “The school districts and charters pursuing socioeconomic integration highlighted in this report demonstrate what is possible when we embrace the richness of our diversity.”

The report includes case studies from across the country that offer potentially valuable lessons to New York.

One takeaway, for instance: Setting system-wide integration goals and ensuring diversity at the individual classroom level are essential.

The report also notes that policies that encourage choice over compulsory integration, an approach that New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has favored, have proven successful and even popular.

Take Louisville, for example. In the 1970s, 98 percent of suburbanites opposed busing plans for integration, the study reports. Now, Louisville uses a choice system that includes consideration of student diversity — and 89 percent think the school district should “ensure that students learn with students from different races and economic backgrounds.”

A close look at districts in Cambridge and Hartford found that magnet schools, which offer instruction around specialized themes, can lead to an uptick in public school enrollment and more diverse student bodies.

“Many districts are able to marry choice and integration quite successfully,” the report notes.

on the move

City panel approves controversial move of P.S. 452, part of Upper West Side rezoning

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Parents attend a previous District 3 meeting.

The Panel for Educational Policy voted Wednesday to approve the move of P.S. 452, an Upper West Side school whose planned relocation helped fuel a debate over school segregation.

The move is just one part of a larger plan, already approved by the local Community Education Council, to rezone a number of schools in Manhattan’s District 3. CEC members and the city Department of Education say the changes are needed to relieve overcrowding and improve student diversity.

Along with the move, the attendance zone around P.S. 452 was changed to include more students who are low-income, black and Latino. Currently, P.S 452 is made up largely of white and wealthier students.

Parents of students at P.S. 452 have been split over the move, which would put the school about 16 blocks south of its current location and across the street from public housing. Some opponents say the distance will be burdensome and that they have been wrongly branded as not wanting a more diverse school. Supporters of the move say the new location will give P.S. 452 — which currently shares its campus — much-needed space, along with a more racially and economically integrated student body.

support group

NYU’s David Kirkland explains the ‘transformation’ needed to integrate the city’s schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
David E. Kirkland, executive director of NYU's Metropolitan Center, in his office.

Even as calls for school integration grow louder across New York City, there has been no single place for advocates to turn for guidance and support. But that is about to change.

The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University recently landed a $50,000 grant from the New York City Council to launch a resource center to support grassroots organizers, interested school administrators and elected leaders.

In many ways, the work is already underway. NYU and New York Appleseed, the local chapter of a national nonprofit network that focuses on social justice issues, have been organizing monthly meetings to allow advocates from across the city swap ideas and form action plans.

The Resource Center for School Diversity and Integration will build on that. It will be led by David E. Kirkland, executive director of the Metro Center, and Norm Fruchter, a former member of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

Chalkbeat sat down with Kirkland to discuss the new center and integration efforts in New York City schools, which are among the most segregated in the country.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do we already know about K-12 integration? What does the research tells us?

The research suggests, over and again, that people who are exposed to differences are more open-minded and more tolerant. They’re more compassionate. They think more complexly. They’re capable of working out difficult problems.

Forget college and career readiness. Here we have civic readiness, the ability to participate in a multicultural democracy with people who are different than you are, in ways that inspire not tension but community and collaboration.

What this is, is an idea of democracy of access, democracy of opportunity. If my friends’ parents are doctors, the dream of becoming a doctor becomes tangible. It becomes far more legible, as opposed to when I live in communities where nobody gets to be a doctor, or nobody gets to be a lawyer, or judge. The seedling of that imagination becomes within reach.

It seems like advocates have been asking for something like this center to be created. Why is it needed?

In the past, I think equity work has been limited because we work in silos. It’s been important under my leadership at Metro Center to break down silos and create partnerships, broad coalitions and relationships, to solve some vexing problems that we have in schools — particularly New York City schools.

One thing that we know: We know that schools and teachers can’t do it alone. But we also know that one-off, siloed organizations can’t either, that social inequity is a deeply complicated and deeply entangled thing, and it deserves our collective attention.

We haven’t had a dedicated space to deliberate on this idea of integration and what’s necessary to achieve it, and even to argue whether or not it’s something that we want to achieve. I think it’s worth achieving, but I do think we need to have a conversation, and we do need to have a conversation about how to achieve it. We also need to have a conversation about what it is.

How do you define integration?

Our notion of integration is different than desegregation … It is an equity cause, and not just a diversity one. Because diversity is like being asked to a dance, right? And it’s more than just inclusion, too. So if diversity is like being asked to a dance, inclusion is like being asked to dance. But equity, and integration as equity, is giving people an opportunity to dance to their own song in their own way. It’s transformation.

So would a school have an idea and brings it to the center, and you’d help them implement it? Or are you going to try to spur ideas in the first place?

All of the above. The resource network is figuring itself out. We have people who want to support schools in helping them become more integrated. We have people who want to create policy, both at the education level and beyond it. We have people who want to do other types of grassroots organizing to inform parents in communities around a set of ideas. It’s certainly all of the above, and I think we need a broad and bold solution to inspire integration in New York City.

There are also systems of ideas that have worked. We can begin to construct a blueprint based on the variety of ideas that seem to work, like controlled choice [which factors student diversity into admissions among schools in a certain area.] And all of those ideas need to be in conversation and they need to sit somewhere, a central site or organization for New York City, so we can think more deeply about integration and bring integration to fruition within the city.

We exist as a support group to multiple municipal players — the mayor, the chancellor, the City Council — in order to support the integration of New York City schools.

What kind of relationship do you plan to have with the chancellor and the mayor? They’ve both been criticized for not doing enough to help this issue along.

I’m not divisive, because our kids can’t afford for us to be divided … I’m willing to support a direction of diversity and integration that is evidence-based, that is scientific, that is conceptually, theoretically sound.

And I’m willing to work with anybody who is willing to work on those ideas.

I’m curious to hear from you about the challenges — but also maybe the opportunities — that gentrification presents, and how that plays out in schools. 

This conversation about gentrification, let’s be clear: It’s not integration. But it is a reality of cities like New York. I think as a community plan, New York City needs to think about how to protect people from being displaced, how to protect people against gentrification if they truly want to integrate. So one of the threats to integration, to be clear, is gentrification.

We [need to] have community and collaborative engagement around community and school development, so that parents who have more power don’t necessarily overpower parents and community members with less.

There actually are many diverse neighborhoods, and — at the middle and high school level — we have lots of school choice. What will the center’s role be in trying to harness that? Are there opportunities there?

New York city is this really interesting place where young people don’t necessarily get out of their neighborhoods. They may have a choice, but they don’t necessarily feel it. It’s the caged-bird effect. You can open the door to the cage and say ‘Hey, there’s a world out there, bird.’ But if that bird has been behind the cage forever, the bird is not going anywhere because its mind is caged.

People don’t perceive the choice, if there is a choice. And that perception is necessary in order for there to be a choice.