in the zone

De Blasio: City must respect families’ investments amid school diversity debates

A straightforward way to integrate some of New York City’s elementary schools would be to redraw zone lines so that schools pull students from a mix of neighborhoods.

But it is almost guaranteed that the city will not seek to boost school diversity that way, for a series of political and economic reasons Mayor Bill de Blasio spelled out on Friday.

“You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school,” de Blasio said when a reporter asked what is stopping the city from creating new zones to promote school integration.

Those families, he said, have “made massive life decisions and investments because of which school their kid would go to.”

School performance and property values are closely tied: Families who can afford to will pay a premium to live near a high-performing public school, which benefits local property owners. Redrawing the zones around such schools would mean fewer spots for the families who paid extra to live near them, which could also lower their property values.

And, of course, no mayor wants to suffer the wrath of irate middle and upper-class parents and property owners.

But that is exactly the scenario the city faces on the Upper West Side, where overcrowding at high-flying P.S. 199 has forced officials to propose a rezoning. Many 199 parents who would be rezoned for nearby P.S. 191, which has struggled with low test scores and reported discipline problems, are in an uproar. Not only would the zone change send their children to what many consider an inferior school, but it could also depress the value of their homes.

Parents have made both points in private conversations and public hearings that have roiled the community in recent weeks.

In the Upper West Side case and a similar one in Brooklyn, the city did not float the zone changes to spur integration. Rather, parents and officials decided that overcrowding at the sought-after (and largely white, middle-class) schools had become unsustainable.

Recently, de Blasio and top education officials have proposed less provocative means of promoting diversity.

Those include creating in-demand programs at schools to attract more middle-class families and having rich and poor schools form partnerships. (A deputy education chancellor recently touted school choice as a solution to segregation, but that applies mainly to high schools and some middle schools, whose enrollments are not limited by geographic zones.)

Critics who argue that those suggestions are insufficient have called for other measures, such as creating “super zones” that try to circumvent segregated neighborhoods or enrollment policies that let high-performing schools reserve some spots for needy students.

So far, de Blasio has appeared unconvinced. In his view — and many other people’s — the city’s deeply rooted segregation defies any quick education-policy fixes.

“This is the history of America,” he said Friday. “This is something much deeper than some kind of push-a-button solution.”

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”