For months now, we’ve been harping on about the shameful segregation of our city schools. As real estate values soar, diversity in our neighborhoods goes down. The result is one of the most segregated school systems in the country, as bad as the climate that led to forced desegregation by the courts in the 1970s.
That’s the storyline we know.
Now, thanks to some impressive, groundbreaking research from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, a new wrinkle has been added to the debate, and it doesn’t reflect well on parents in some of the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods.
The study acknowledges that segregated housing begets segregated schools, particularly at the primary-school level, when kids tend to attend the neighborhood school they’re zoned for.
But this study shows that the demographics of the neighborhood don’t tell the whole story. Schools in many neighborhoods — especially ones with predominantly black or Latino populations — tend to be even more segregated than the neighborhoods themselves, essentially meaning that white parents are pulling their kids out of the public system in those neighborhoods, opting for private or charter schools.
Case in point: P.S. 191 on the Upper West Side, site of a recent, nasty fight over school overcrowding at nearby P.S. 199. A plan to shift kids from the (predominantly white and top-performing) 199 to (the predominantly black and Latino and poor-performing) 191 was met with angry protests and letters, forcing the city to back down.
But here’s the thing: The study found that 80 percent of the kids at P.S. 191 are black and Latino. However, only 21 percent of the people living in the zone are black and Latino. What that means is that a big chunk of the white families who live in the zone are choosing not to participate in the neighborhood school; clearly, there are more than real estate values at play here.
New Yorkers pride themselves on their openness and inclusivity. David Dinkins called it our “gorgeous mosaic.”
Apparently, that changes when it comes time to send our kids to school. Values that we wear as badges of honor in our 20s and 30s fade as our families grow. Diversity is fine, we say, but not if it comes at the price of our own kids’ education.
It’s sad, but telling, that the New School center had to end its report with a section called “Why Integration Matters.” Poorer schools, it said, tend to have trouble keeping good teachers and are more likely to have lower expectations for their kids; higher-income parents have the political clout to demand better.
“The key,” the report concludes, “is to find ways to encourage more middle-class parents who live in economically mixed neighborhoods (or white and Asian parents living in racially mixed neighborhoods) to send their children to the neighborhood schools.”
Until that happens, the segregation in this city will worsen, and the inequality gap will continue to spread from our wallets to our kids.
— The Editors