Understanding and Addressing Segregation in NYC Schools

Sixty-five years ago, in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court determined that segregated schools are inherently unequal. Despite this, schools in NYC have remained segregated by race and socioeconomic status, as in many districts around the country. While school segregation is a longstanding challenge, the issue has recently received renewed and more urgent attention in the press, and from policymakers, educators, students, and community members across NYC. Increasingly, the public conversation has focused not only on promoting enrollment policies to make schools more representative of the diversity of the City, but also on ensuring that students have access to inclusive learning environments, where all students feel safe, culturally affirmed, and intellectually supported, and where they can learn from peers who have a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. Specific desegregation efforts are being rolled out in three community school districts (1, 3, and 15) and at more than 75 individual schools across the City.

We believe that research has a vital role to play in informing these efforts, including work that can help stakeholders think critically about the assumptions and questions underlying discussions of school segregation and desegregation. This includes assumptions about what is meant by “segregation” and “representativeness”, and how to assess whether a school is diverse in a City where about 70 percent of students are Black or Latino and where there is tremendous ethnic diversity within larger racial/ethnic categories. Another assumption, which Chancellor Carranza raised (and challenged) at the Research Alliance’s Pursuing Equity event, is the idea that students of color need to learn alongside white peers in order to receive a high-quality education and access to greater educational opportunities. Finally, there are questions about what it takes to ensure that desegregation—i.e., changing the racial and socioeconomic demographics of schools—actually results in meaningfully integrated learning environments for all students.

The Research Alliance is developing a new line of work aimed at better understanding and measuring segregation in NYC schools, illuminating the consequences of segregation for students’ experiences and outcomes, and examining the implementation and impact of specific desegregation initiatives. This work will leverage our unique archive of administrative data from the New York City Department of Education, along with our extensive experience conducting research on a variety of strategies to reduce inequality within and across the City’s schools. We will begin by releasing a series of Spotlight posts in Fall 2019 that explore:

  1. How patterns of segregation (and integration)—measured by school racial/ethnic composition—have changed over time as neighborhoods across the City have developed and gentrified;
  2. How patterns of segregation (and integration) vary for students in elementary, middle, and high school—and if/how current school enrollment policies contribute to segregation (and integration); and
  3. If and how segregation is shifting within schools (e.g., disproportionalities in discipline policies or gifted and talented course-taking).

We also aim to document the challenges and promising practices in implementing desegregation initiatives. This work will draw on interviews with educators, parents, and community members in Districts 1, 3, and 15—all of which have recently adopted plans to diversify their schools.

Our long-term vision is to build a robust body of evidence to advance meaningful, effective school integration in NYC. We look forward to engaging with your questions and comments as we develop this work.