Interestingly, within a U.S. city as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and diversely populated as New York City, it boggles the mind that their public education system encompasses all five boroughs, flows through so many different communities, cultures and yet… an overwhelmingly segregated school system.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is the largest school district in the U.S., serving 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools. Nearly 77% of the students live in or near poverty, and combined, black and Hispanic students make up over 70% of their enrollment. Teachers remain overwhelmingly white, and represent significant cultural mismatches, but that doesn’t mean that this is necessarily problematic. Race and culture don’t determine efficacy. The ‘problems’ exist in a different realm.
Of late, the focus is on student demographic data, disaggregated by race and class. This means, plainly spoken, the student populations are not reflected in the schools they attend and there is a recognizable pattern of enrollment across the city’s schools. This pattern suggests extreme segregation due to clustering. Black kids go to school with black kids. White kids with white kids, affluent with affluent-no healthy cross-section. Newly unveiled plans to address the disturbing patterns in a number of ways.
#1. Plans are to make the schools representative of the overall student population. Over 70% of students in all school districts across the 5 boroughs of NYC are black and Hispanic, who represent 30% and 40% respectively. However, school enrollment demographics do not reflect those numbers. So, soon the general enrollment is to be less segregated by race and more balanced student diversity.
#2. Schools are greatly segregated along class lines as well. Duh! The proposed changes once again are to be more reflective of the general population. Some schools have large numbers of high needs students enrolled in similarly disproportionate fashion. Even the ‘limited selection’ schools are about to be tweaked in terms of their enrollment/admissions process.
Normal selection process in such schools, has interest that determines the student selection for attendance. If students attend open houses, as an expression of interest in those schools, then they are selected to enroll. This process places many students in poorer families at a disadvantage. The affordability of transportation, time off work, etc… are factors that limit their access. So, that will change, too. Of course, all such changes will be incremental. No one can withstand radical change, it seems. How radical is de-segregation? In the 21st Century?
It is noteworthy that in all new school proposals to be implemented by the Department of Education, not anywhere is explicit language used to describe the root symptom of the identified problems-segregation and integration. Instead, diversity is the common term to describe de-segregation of public schools.
Diversity is everywhere we look, and everywhere we go, and within every school’s core student population, no matter the racial make-up. But, the ‘implied’ in this students of color and students of families with lower household incomes are not attending every school at numbers that reflect the city-wide student demographic.
Let’s call it what it is, NYC…SEGREGATION !!
change, too. Of course, all such changes will be incremental. No one can withstand radical change, it seems. How radical is de-segregation? In the 21st Century!
It is just noteworthy and questionable that in all new proposals, not anywhere is explicit language used to describe the root problem-segregation, integration. Instead, diversity is the coined term. Diversity is everywhere we look, and everywhere we go, and within every school’s core student population, no matter the racial make-up. But, the ‘implied’ students of color and students of families with lower household incomes are not attending every school at numbers that reflect the city-wide student demographic population. We’re still evading the main issue.
Additional noteworthiness in these new plans is that there is a clear absence of any plans for staff training, professional development, diversity workshops, cultural proficiency courses, or any system-wide, initiatives that will be undertaken at all levels in aim to prepare and equip school based staff for the new slice of ‘diversity’ soon to enter their school buildings and classrooms. Segreation didn’t happen by chance, but by deliberated choice, therefore by design. Not only is re-design an imperative, but so is the general re-design of the framework of policies, practices, procedures, programs, and personnel, too.
Best practices, as an informational guide to all of the above, need to be re-evaluated, revised, researched, and reconsidered in all school environments. If student populations are to change, radically, in some cases, we will merely start a ‘grease fire’ in districts across the city without well thought out transitional processes. There are a number of components about which we mustn’t neglect in this design, should we wish for success and positively impact all lives.
Prepare the students themselves, for when students acquire the tools, mindsets, that enable them to appreciate, respect, and not just tolerate differences, they will be more eager to collaborate in and outside of school settings.
Proactively prepare the staff, for when staff acquire the tools that will enhance their already present competencies with cultural competence, they will experience less job-related stress, and will develop and sustain relationships with students and families. Differentiated instruction will be delivered with optimal positive outcomes. Win-Win!
Prepare the community, PARENTS AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST, for when the community stakeholders are informed, involved, invited, and aligned with mission, and school-related decisions, we empower an entire community, and gain powerful, influential allies, too. Win-Win!
Prepare ourselves. Essentially, we must be individually and then collectively ready to facilitate true educational equity, and ensure school success for every child, and partner with every parent. All students can then engage, learn, thrive, and travel the pathways to potential recognized and realized within this new structural design of 21st century learning environments. The absolute 1st step before incrementally introducing physical shifts, transfers, district changes being proposed here.
That part of the preparation process that exists to impact every student in every classroom is in the curriculum (re-)design. Must, must, must be overhauled, more inclusive, and respectful and responsively incorporate into academic and life lessons all different faces, races, religions, cultures, communities, etc…
Instruction, supported and supplemented by the inclusion of real life, present and past in all forms, is both relevant and engaging. Besides preparing students to engage in a global society, respect ‘diversity’ and feel validated, they will certainly enjoy learning in the classrooms much more than they do today, or more than their parents may have appreciated or enjoyed school yesterday.
How will students learn to respect ‘different’ if they don’t learn about different people, different experiences, realities, histories, traditions, opinions, worldviews? How can a black child feel good about him/herself if they never learn about themselves through learning about others who look like themselves? Certainly, we aren’t that far removed from reality that we actually expect an overwhelming majority of black children to excel at, near or greater levels than their counterparts with the content provided in schools today. Motivating students to want to learn, achieve, dream, engage, and behave depends as much on content as relationship between teachers, families and student.
Children, by and large, are taught throughout their k-12 education by learning about white people, through white eyes, from white perspectives. That doesn’t work, and with increasing diversity, we must use the current data on instructional content and achievement to better inform us. Everything about education must change, and this means the curriculum; not subject, not rigor – the lack of contextual diversity and cultural relevance must be altered. We expect black kids to learn and want to learn about Pythagoras theory, but we don’t tell them that this math pioneer was of African descent.
Oh, sure! We throw a few bones to black kids each year, but how long should they have to wait before school become places where they want to be, not just mandated to be?
FOR NOW, LET’S CALL IT WHAT IT IS, PEOPLE….. DE-SEGREGATION!