'small steps'

In Brooklyn’s segregated District 15, a plan to boost diversity emerges

PHOTO: Sarah Darville
City Councilman Brad Lander, left, talking about Chancellor Carmen Fariña to a group of parent leaders in 2014.

A Brooklyn city councilman who is becoming a leading voice against segregation wants every middle school in his local school district to reserve some spots for poor students.

Under Councilman Brad Lander’s proposal, each middle school in District 15 would set aside a percentage of seats for students from low-income families — just like schools in the city’s new Diversity in Admissions initiative, which allows schools to change their enrollment policies to boost student diversity.

But parent leaders say more comprehensive reform is needed to take advantage of the district’s unusual potential for diversity. According to Lander’s own simulation, the proposal might increase the number of poor students at only three schools in the district, which is heavily stratified by race, class and academic achievement.

“It’s not going to achieve something like full integration in which every school would have demographics that would match the demographics of the district. What it is, in my opinion, is a meaningful step forward,” Lander said.

Lander called his proposal an “idea” rather than a concrete plan — and only one step towards broader changes.

It’s unclear how a district-wide set-aside would be implemented. So far, the Diversity in Admissions program has required individual schools to opt-in. The District 15 Community Education Council is expected to further debate the proposal at its next meeting.

In District 15, 16 percent of students are Asian, 15 percent are black, 38 percent are Hispanic and 28 percent are white. But 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective schools, according to an analysis by parents.

And while 66 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch, they are not distributed evenly throughout the district. Some schools serve virtually only poor students, while others have as little as a quarter of students from low-income families.

A group called Parents for Middle School Equity argues that the district’s admissions policy ultimately must change to make a real difference.

School segregation is often blamed on housing patterns and attendance boundaries. But District 15 has a “choice” policy for its middle schools, and each school sets its own admissions criteria. Reyhan Mehran, a member of the parent group, said the system favors plugged-in parents with the time and resources to navigate an opaque and complicated process.

“It ultimately sorts the kids in this district into two groups of schools: one that educates the majority of our higher-needs kids, and those schools happen to educate most of the Latino kids,” she said. “And another group of schools that educates most of our lower-needs kids. And those schools happen to educate most of the white kids in our district.”

Lander has said he also supports “broader reform” when it comes to the admissions process. Parents for Middle School Equity has not advocated for any particular solution, only saying that community input is needed to pinpoint the problems and come up with potential fixes.

Superintendent Anita Skop said the district has already taken steps to make the application process more fair, like making sure selective schools conduct outreach in both well-heeled and working-class communities. She has also started a diversity committee to start talking about district-wide issues.

Before making wide-scale changes, Skop said she wants to make sure she hears from a broad range of parents.

“I do not have the right to speak for people whose skin I don’t live in, whose shoes I don’t wear,” she said.

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”

student says

Here’s what New York City students told top state officials about school segregation

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Students discussed attending racially isolated schools at the Board of Regents meeting.

New York state’s top policymakers are wading into a heated debate about how to integrate the state’s schools. But before they pick a course of action, they wanted to hear from their main constituents: students.

At last week’s Board of Regents meeting, policymakers invited students from Epic Theatre Ensemble, who performed a short play, and from IntegrateNYC4Me, a youth activist group, to explain what it’s like to attend racially isolated schools. New York’s drive to integrate schools is, in part, a response to a widely reported study that named the state’s schools — including those in New York City — as the most segregated in the country.

The Board of Regents has expressed interest in using the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to address this issue and released a draft diversity statement in June.

Here’s what graduating seniors told the Board about what it’s like to attend school in a segregated school system. These stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

“I have never, ever had a white classmate.”

Throughout my years of schooling and going to school, I have never, ever had a white classmate. It’s something that now that I’m getting ready to go to college, it’s something to really think about, and I don’t think that we’re moving in the right direction. I went to the accepted student day at my college — I’m going to SUNY Purchase. I went there, and I’m being introduced into this whole new world that I never was exposed to.

It’s really a problem. I know I’m not the only one because I have family members and I spoke to some of my brothers and I’m like, “I have never encountered a white classmate in my whole life.” Just to show you how important [it is] to integrate the schools. Just so future kids don’t have to deal with that.

It wasn’t in my power for me to be able to have different classmates. I think in our school, we had one Asian girl, freshman year. She was there for literally like two days and she left so I have been limited in my school years to just African-Americans and Latinos.

So now that I’m getting ready to step out there, this is something I’ve never had to deal with. So the issue is something that’s really deep and near to my heart and now that I’m going to college I have to, you know, adapt. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game.

— Dantae Duwhite, 18, attended the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, going to SUNY Purchase in the fall

***

“I saw how much of a community that school had.”

I first became involved in IntegrateNYC4me my junior year when we were having a school exchange between my school in Brooklyn [Leon M. Goldstein] and Bronx Academy of Letters.

When I went into the [school] exchange, I was really excited to see how different the other school would be. But when I got there, I saw how much of a community that school had and personally, I didn’t feel that in my school. My school is majority white and it’s just very segregated within the school, so [I liked] coming into [a different] school and seeing how much community they had and how friendly they are. They just say hi to each other in the hallways and everybody knows each other and even us. We went in and we’re like strangers and they were so welcoming to us and I know they didn’t have the same experience at our school. That really interested me and that’s how I got into the work.

If it weren’t so segregated, it could be so easy for all of us to have a welcoming community like the Bronx Letters students did.

— Julisa Perez, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, a screened high school in Brooklyn and will attend Brooklyn college in the fall

***

“They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment.” 

I also went on the exchange my junior and senior year. The first time I did it was my junior year and when I went to Bronx Letters, the first thing I noticed was how resources were allocated unfairly between our schools.

Because, at my school, we have three lab rooms:, a science lab, a chemistry lab and a physics lab. And at Bronx Letters, they never even had a lab room, they just had lab equipment. And I think it’s important to see that all New York City students are expected to meet the same state requirements. They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment and they’re not given the same resources. So I think it’s unfair to expect the same of students when they’re not given equitable resources. That is what I took away from it.

— Aneth Naranjo, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, will attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the fall