Sarah Gonzalez, Reporter, WNYC/NJPR
Sarah Gonzalez is the northern New Jersey enterprise reporter for WNYC and NJPR.
New York State has the most segregated public schools in the nation, largely because of the lack of diversity in the New York City schools, according to a new report. It also found that in neighborhoods with lots of charter schools, the charters "take the city's segregation to an extreme."
The Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles studied U.S. Department of Education enrollment data from 1989-2010. It found:
• Among charter schools, more than 90 percent had enrollments in 2010-11 that were 90 percent or more minority students. That compares with 72.1 percent of the city's traditional public schools. The report's authors call these schools "intensely segregated."
• More than 73 percent of charters had enrollments that were between 99-100 percent minority. The report's authors call these "apartheid schools." By contrast, about 30 percent of the city's traditional public schools fell into this category.
• Magnet schools that screen students, such as gifted and talented programs, were more diverse. About 56 percent were intensely segregated in the 2008-09 school year. However, they tended to have fewer poor children.
The report found residential segregation in New York City is in large part to blame for school segregation — something that's been known for decades. It noted that 19 of the city's 32 community school districts had elementary and middle schools schools with enrollments that were less than 10 percent white in 2010.
This also explains the demographics of charter schools. Many are located in the intensely segregated districts of East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant, Harlem and the South Bronx. Charters are required by state law to give priority to students in their local district when holding lotteries to determine admission.
But Gary Orfield, one of the authors of the report, argued that charters can put policies in place to promote diverse classrooms.
He suggested school choice systems should have a goal for diversity, and said they should "recruit across racial and ethnic and linguistic lines."
"If you have choice without these protections we learned 50 years ago in the South that choice will segregate,” he said.
But the C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center, James Merriman, said that charters are already accused of trying to attract the most talented students to inflate test scores.
“When we follow the law and honor district lines by giving preference to students who live in the district, when those district lines themselves have sometimes been set up in order to segregate, then we get accused of apartheid,” Merriman said.
During the last decade, New York City encouraged the development of hundreds of new schools, including charters, to give parents more options. But the report stated that "more color-blind and market-based educational policies and programs" didn't address student racial isolation and "possibly increased school segregation" across the city.
The New York City Department of Education did not address the findings of the report. But in an email, spokesman Devon Puglia wrote, “With over 1.1 million students who speak over 180 different languages, we value the incredible diversity among our students.”
New York City's public school demographics are also shifting. Overall, 40 percent of New York City public school students are Hispanic, 30 percent are black, and whites and Asians each account for 15 percent. Over the past 20 years, black and white enrollment has declined while Asian and Hispanic enrollment is rising.