New York state education officials said they want to use the new federal accountability law to encourage school integration – but have not yet decided how they might do so.
At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, they discussed incorporating integration into the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires all states to determine how they will evaluate schools and support struggling ones. New York is looking to measure integration and possibly use it as an intervention in schools, according to a document released Tuesday.
“Promoting integrated school environments is a cost-effective strategy for raising student achievement for districts,” state officials wrote.
At the meeting, Deputy Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green delivered a presentation on how integration fits into the state’s plan. “Even though we’re the most racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse state in the nation, we have this existing situation in our school system,” she said, referencing a widely-cited UCLA study that found deep divisions in New York’s schools along racial lines. “ESSA is a prime place for us to really look at how we change that in our state.”
During the meeting, Infante-Green repeatedly said state officials were working on a policy statement that presents a framework for supporting integration and hoped to have it ready soon. State officials declined Chalkbeat’s request to interview Infante-Green about the details or broad direction of that framework.
“It would be premature to speculate on the specifics of the plan until the plan is fully developed,” said State Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.
The state’s document says developing tools for measuring integration might be part of the effort.
“Once a method of measuring integration is selected, the measure can be employed in different ways to incentivize schools and districts to integrate,” the details state. For instance, diversity could be presented as part of a “data dashboard” used to inform the public, which may encourage less diverse schools or districts to address the problem.
Under ESSA, the state could opt to intervene directly to improve schools’ diversity. The materials do not specify how the state might do so, but did say there is no “one right way” and that state officials could encourage local school districts to adopt integration strategies.
Diversity was one part of a larger discussion the Board of Regents had about the Every Student Succeeds Act. State education officials plan to submit a draft plan to the Board of Regents in May.
Regardless of how the state chooses to include integration in its plan, it would be a significant addition. School integration has been a major subject of news — and controversy — throughout New York. In New York City, despite a strong push from advocates, efforts to integrate schools have been incremental. Even in neighborhoods with a racial and socioeconomic mix, school communities have been slow to integrate and parents are not always on board.
Though most Regents expressed support for leveraging the law to promote integration, several brought up the practical concerns posed by the project — specifically the fact that families often oppose integration.
“The problem is, really, you can’t legislate morality,” said Regent Josephine Finn. “Until we address that, the fears, I don’t know how we do this.”