By: Mark Anderson, Policy Fellow with the New York Educator Voice Fellowship

Re: Increasing Diversity in New York Schools

PROBLEM

New York operates some of the most segregated schools in our nation.  Research suggests all children benefit from learning in socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms.

SOLUTION

Legislators sponsor a task force to create a report outlining models of school diversity to guide districts in working with their communities to develop local policies. New York State Education Department (NYSED) then crafts and publishes a policy statement that establishes increasing diversity in schools as a priority.

BACKGROUND

Due to economic demand during WWI and WWII, monumental numbers of African Americans moved to northern cities from the South, in what came to be known as “the Great Migrations.” After WWII, the Federal Housing Authority provided funding for new homeownership, but banks have been accused of using “redlining” (maps of neighborhood demographics) to deny services to families of color, or selectively raise prices (1). Real estate brokers have also been accused of engaging in “racial steering,” further segregating communities by race (2). Urban redevelopment efforts and the building of highways stranded lower income families in noisy, polluted inner cities, while creating swift escape routes for more affluent suburban commuters. Economic stagnation and deindustrialization in the 1970s further exacerbated both urban and rural poverty and spurred the continued flight of more affluent families to suburbs. Coupled with strict zoning rules and a lack of affordable housing and public transportation options in many suburban areas, poorer families found it difficult to gain the means either to leave or improve their high poverty communities. 

Meanwhile, in tandem, NY schools—both district and charter—have become increasingly segregated by both race and class, and the students with the greatest needs often end up concentrated in the same schools, with far less access to quality teachers, resources, and opportunities.

In 2014, a UCLA Civil Rights Project report (3) announced that NY State has earned the infamous status of running the most segregated schools in the nation. And in 2016, EdBuild released a report (4) on the most extremely segregating school boundaries. Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica made the list, making NY number 6 out of the 50 states with the most segregating districts.

Yet there is a substantial body of research on the benefits for all children from learning in socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms.

In recognition of this, in 2014 State Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch initiated the Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP), providing grant funding to school districts that sought to integrate student populations by socioeconomic status. And in 2015, the City Council of New York City passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the NYC Department of Education to publish school-level diversity numbers. Most recently, NYC Councilmember Ritchie Torres introduced a bill to create an Office of School Diversity, and the NYCDOE has proposed rezoning on the Upper West Side to address segregation.

But beyond these efforts, not enough has been done to systematically address, through state-level policy and leadership, the extreme segregation that pervades schools across New York.

PROPOSAL

Despite strong evidence of the benefits of diversity in schools, there are no existing state-level policies nor guidance on increasing school diversity. Therefore, a sound first step will be for NY legislators to sponsor a task force to create a report, eliciting input from experts and communities across the state, that can serve as a guide to districts in crafting local policies to promote school diversity. This report should outline various models and best practices that have been applied and provide guidance for New York-specific contexts, most especially for those districts identified as the most highly segregated.

NYSED can then make explicit the urgent priority of increasing diversity in schools by publishing a policy statement. This policy statement should clearly establish the vision and purpose for diversity in New York schools. Models of such statements can be viewed at a state level in Ohio (5), and at the district level in Nashville (6), San Francisco (7), Berkeley (8), and Fresno (9). Advocates in NYC are currently in dialogue with the NYCDOE to craft a policy statement on diversity that can also serve as a guide, if adopted.

Rural districts and isolated urban districts both present a unique challenge to increasing school diversity, and should also be explicitly addressed in the report. For those schools and districts that are unable to increase diversity due to geography, other resources, opportunities, and experiences should be outlined.

For more information, contact the New York Educator Voice Fellowship or email maryconroy.almada@americaachieves.org. 


  1. Antonio, A. L., Chang, M. J., Hakuta, K., Kenny, D. A., Levin, S., & Milem, J. F. (2004). Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college students. Psychological Science, 15(8), 507–510.
  2. Grant, H., Grey, J., Rock, D. (2016, September 22) Diverse teams feel less comfortable — and that’s why they perform better. Harvard Business Review, retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/09/diverse-teams-feel-less-comfortable-and-thats-why-they-perform-better 
  3. Mickelson, R. A., & Bottia, M. (2010). Integrated education and mathematics outcomes: A synthesis of social science research. North Carolina Law Review, 87, 993–1089.
  4. Kagan, S.L. & Reid. J.L. (2015). A better start: Why classroom diversity matters in early education. The Century Foundation & Poverty and Race Action Research Council. Retrieved from http://www.prrac.org/pdf/A_Better_Start.pdf
  5. Johnson, R.C. (2011). Long run impacts of school desegregation & school quality on adult attainments. National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/papers/w16664
  6.  Schwartz, H. (2010). Housing policy is school policy: Economically integrative housing promotes academic success in Montgomery County, Maryland. The Century Foundation. Retrieved from https://tcf.org/assets/downloads/tcf-Schwartz.pdf
  7. Mickelson, R.A. (2016). School integration and K-12 outcomes: An updated quick synthesis of the social science evidence. National Council on School Diversity. Retrieved from http://www.school-diversity.org/pdf/DiversityResearchBriefNo5.pdf
  8. Pentland, A. (2016, October 13). To rescue democracy, go outside. Nautilus, 41. Retrieved from http://nautil.us/issue/41/selection/to-rescue-democracy-go-outside
  9. Boschma, J., & Brownstein, R. (2016, February 29). Students of color are much more likely to attend schools where most of their peers are poor. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/02/concentration-poverty-american-schools/471414/