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.”