New York state singled out for most segregated schools

BY Kyla Calvert  March 27, 2014 at 2:11 PM EST
New York city classrooms are the most segregated in the country according to a new study by UCLA.

New York city classrooms are the most segregated in the country according to a new study by UCLA. Photo by PBS NewsHour

Public schools in New York state are the most segregated in the nation, according to a report out this week from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

The researchers’ analysis of federal enrollment stats from 1989 to 2010 found that segregation increased over that time. While about half of the state’s students are white, the average black student went to a school during the 2009-10 school year where only 17.7 percent of his or her classmates were white, according to the Associated Press.

The overall rate of segregation was heavily weighted by New York City schools, which the researchers say is the most segregated school system in the country.

The city’s charter schools are among the most segregated, with 90 percent qualifying as “intensely segregated.” But James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, told Chalkbeat New York that charters are in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation. He told the education reporting site that charters are seen as having a mission to serve low-income students.

“And when they do serve children in low-income areas — neighborhoods which are historically segregated and which have district lines that charters must honor and that were drawn in some instances precisely to segregate,” he added, “they are accused of being too narrow in focus.”

While New York’s uncomfortable first place ranking is getting all the headlines, the state’s story of backsliding after decades of deliberate school desegregation is just one example of what the UCLA researchers say is going on across the country. They’d like to see desegregation put back on the list of explicit goals for schools.

Other researchers argue this worsening picture has more to do with the way the UCLA team is measuring segregation, not an actual increase. Those from the opposing camp also say it isn’t clear that the more integrated schools relieve inequalities in educational opportunity.

The debate is likely to continue, at least through May, when the country marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The Civil Rights Project plans to mark the occasion with a national report on school segregation trends.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.