As New York City tries to increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of its schools, it must do more to make sure every school is welcoming to students of all backgrounds, advocates said Thursday at a rally organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice.
To make the point that the city has overlooked what actually happens inside classrooms at diverse schools, advocates, who gathered outside city hall, pointed to an anti-bias training for 600 teachers that was funded in this year’s budget. Advocates had expected the training to take place before school started — but, three months into the school year, it still has not, they said.
Without such trainings and teaching materials that reflect students’ backgrounds, schools cannot become truly integrated, said Angel Martinez, the mother of three children in Harlem.
“It’s not just about putting black and brown children into predominantly white classrooms,” Martinez told Chalkbeat in a phone interview. “That’s not diversity. That’s just a color scheme.”
An education department spokesman said the anti-bias trainings will build on other initiatives already under way to build more culturally responsive classrooms. One of the groups that will lead the anti-bias trainings said they would begin in January.
After prodding from advocates, the de Blasio administration in June released a plan to boost diversity in the city’s schools, which are among the most segregated in the country. At Thursday’s City Council education committee hearing, lawmakers said the plan’s proposals are too small-scale and its goals too modest.
Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx faulted the city for not mentioning segregation or integration in its plan, opting instead for “diversity.”
“I worry that we’re white-washing the historical context of racial segregation,” Torres said. “It’s not only about words. It’s about a proper diagnosis.”
He urged officials to “be bold” and eliminate the admissions policy that lets “screened” schools select students based on grades, attendance, and other factors. The city’s plan does do away with an admissions policy that gave an edge to students who attend a school open house. Black and Hispanic students were less likely than their peers to benefit from that policy.
Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said the education department does not plan to create more screened schools. But, when pressed, he declined to say whether selective schools exacerbate segregation.
“I think it depends on the context,” he said. “But I do think it’s an issue we would do well to address.”
Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn also called for changes to the high school admissions process. Although the system allows students to apply to schools outside their own neighborhoods — offering the potential to circumvent residential segregated — students still end up largely sorted into different schools according to race, class, and academic achievement.
Lander said the city should consider a “controlled choice” model, which would factor student diversity in admissions decisions while still letting families choose where to apply. The city recently established such a system for elementary schools on the Lower East Side.
“We could have that ambition all across our high school system,” Lander said.
Wallack, the deputy chancellor, said the city’s plan is essentially a starting point. He pointed to a 30-member advisory group that is tasked with evaluating the city’s diversity plan, crafting its own recommendations, and soliciting ideas from the public. The group’s first meeting in Monday.
“These are initial goals and we set them out as a way of measuring our progress in some of this work,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect when Angel Martinez made her comments. She spoke in a phone interview with Chalkbeat, not at the City Hall rally.