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New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future

Authors: John Kucsera, Forword by Gary Orfield
Date Published: March 26, 2014

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.
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Editor's Note: Fifth in a series on
School Segregation in the Eastern States.

From the Executive Summary

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

Forty years ago, school desegregation was a serious component of the state’s education policy, as a result of community pressure and legal cases. Key desegregation cases arose throughout a number of segregated communities. The U.S. Justice Department case in Yonkers was the first in history to combine housing desegregation and school desegregation claims simultaneously. The remedy for the school desegregation case in Rochester led to one of the country’s eight existing voluntary interdistrict programs. The magnet school plan for the school desegregation case in Buffalo was hailed as a model for other similar cities across the country. In  New York City, a citywide desegregation case was never brought but community control of local schools sometimes helped integration efforts, as many school officials and community members challenged practices and policies that perpetuated racial imbalance and educational inequity across schools.

In light of these efforts, local and political resistance influenced New York’s history of school desegregation. Around the time of Reagan’s administration, the state moved away from desegregation efforts and instead focused on other practices and policies like accountability systems, school choice, and charter schools. By the early twenty-first century, most desegregation orders in key metropolitan areas were small and short-lived due to unitary status, and many programs designed to voluntary improve racial integration levels, like magnet schools, are now failing to achieve racial balance levels due to residential patterns, a lack of commitment, market-oriented framework, and school policy reversals. In New York City, the area has been experiencing significant school choice programs and policies that are exacerbating racial isolation as demographics continue to change.

In this report, we provide a synthesis of over 60 years of research showing that school integration is still a goal worth pursuing. From the benefits of greater academic achievement, future earnings, and even better health outcomes for minority students, and the social benefits resulting from intergroup contact for all students – like the possible reduction in prejudice and greater interracial communication skills – we found that “real integration” is indeed an invaluable goal worth undertaking in growing multiracial societies. Can separate be equal, yes. If measured by test scores, a few resegregated schools show high performance. But even if equality can be reached between racially isolated schools, students may never achieve the skills and abilities required to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.

Due to such benefits of racial integration, we next explore the demographic and segregation patterns across New York over the last 20 years in a variety of geographical areas. A number of findings resulted from this analysis.

For one, we found a growing diversity of student enrollment in schools and school districts across the state and main metropolitan areas, particularly in urban schools. This changing demography, accompanied by a lack of diversity-focused policies over the last two decades, has inevitably been linked to another main finding: persisting segregation patterns, and in some contexts, an increase. With school poverty so closely linked to so many harmful social and educational conditions and outcomes, we then explored a number of associations between race and class, leading to another main finding: the overexposure to low-income students for black and Latinos across geographical levels. Next, we found high racial isolation for the average charter school and lower segregation for the average magnet school across New York City. However, we did find substantial variation within magnets with close to 20% enrolling less than 1% of white students. Finally, due to the lack of voluntary metropolitan or other large interdistrict policies across upstate New York, as well as the proliferation of numerous small, fragmented school districts, we found that the majority (close to 90% or above) of segregation is occurring among rather than within upstate districts. 

 In the video below, Civil Rights Project Co-director Gary Orfield and Senior Researcher John Kucsera present the findings of their report. 





In compliance with the UC Open Access Policy, this report has been made available on eScholarship:

http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/5cx4b8pf

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