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New York City students are fighting for school integration

New York state has some of the most segregated schools in the U.S., particularly among African-American and Latino students. And 65 years after the Supreme Court decision declaring school-based racial segregation to be unconstitutional, New York City students are pushing for a city-wide integration plan. Hari Sreenivasan reports on the first of a two-part series examining the debate.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education declared school-based racial segregation to be unconstitutional. It was intended to desegregate schools … but that isn't exactly what happened, at least in New York State.

    Researchers have found that New York City has some of America's most segregated schools.

    In the first of a two-part report examining school diversity and equity in New York City, I met with a group of students protesting segregation, and visited a district in Brooklyn with a plan to increase diversity.

    This is part of our ongoing series: Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America.

  • Leanne Nunes:

    We are Integrate NYC!

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    On the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education last month, students from across New York City gathered in Times Square.

    They handed out newspapers declaring "retire segregation" and called for the city's public schools to be integrated.

    Leanne Nunes, Junior, Bronx /Co-Director of Integrate NYC: It's been 65 years since segregation in schools on the basis of race has been ruled unconstitutional.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A UCLA study of public schools found in 2014 — and again this year — that New York remains the most segregated state for African American students with 65% of them in intensely segregated schools. The study found it was the 2nd most segregated state for Latino students.

    We sat down with three New York City high school students — members of the group "Integrate NYC" — who have been meeting with school district leadership, urging them to implement what they call a "real integration" plan for the next generation of students.

  • Leanne Nunes:

    Looking at how the city is segregated, we've noticed that there are five main ways that the segregation happens.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The students' plan addresses what they call the 5 R's.

  • Leanne Nunes:

    The enrollment process, the resources that are distributed, the relationships in the schools and the curriculum. Restorative justice practices and teacher representation.

  • Jace Valentine, Senior, Brooklyn, Integrate NYC:

    The mission is to have real integration in schools. More resources for everybody.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How do you get there?

  • Matthew Diaz, Senior, Bronx, Co-Director, Integrate NYC:

    By getting more young people into the movement because they're the ones that are affected by the system, and also like telling students that don't feel like leaders that they are leaders and they can make change in their own schools

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What does an integrated school look like to you?

  • Leanne Nunes:

    An integrated school would reflect that outwards community. If there's a certain percentage of white students, black Asian, Latinx, you know the school should be able to reflect that. There's students who are English language learners, students with disabilities.There's different ways that students experience life and all of those different experiences put together in a school community are what make it so different and special and help the students learn from not only the content they're being taught but each other.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    New York City has more than 400 high schools — when 8th graders apply, they rank their top 12 choices. But many schools have so-called "screens" — such as tests, attendance or GPA requirements .

  • Matthew Diaz:

    You're a 12 year old. And you have to choose out of a huge book and some of them with tests you have to take. But the problem with that is that if I go to a school in the Bronx, there's not–there's not that many resources as some schools that have higher pay or higher resources than in Manhattan or in Brooklyn. Like there's different schools with different resources.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So not all New York City public schools are created equal.

  • Jace Valentine:

    No.

  • Matthew Diaz:

    No, they're not.

  • Richard Carranza:

    The fact that we have any school system that is still segregated is really an indictment on all of us. So we want our schools to reflect the diversity of our city.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has led some of the country's biggest school districts.

    He says big changes to the admissions process have begun — not for high schools, but for some middle schools.

    He points to progress for the admissions process at middle schools in two community education districts… there are 32 of these districts in the city.

    Brooklyn's district 15 is a racially and economically diverse district. It serves 6,000 students across 11 middle schools …

    A "working group" of community leaders, parents and educators looked at the district's data and found that the middle schools' use of screens– such as test scores, tardies and absences — disproportionately "remove" black and latino students from the applicant pool.

    The group developed a diversity plan for the district over three public workshops, and proposed a plan, which the chancellor approved.

  • Richard Carranza:

    District 15 removed all the screens of their middle schools this year so students this year got to go to–and choose to go to middle schools that in the past where they might have been screened out.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In Brooklyn, the district 15 diversity plan means that while fifth grade students still rank their middle school choices, Previous "screens" such as test scores, G.P.A., and attendance are no longer used.

    Now, seats are assigned based on a lottery.

    To reflect the district population, half of the seats at a school are prioritized for students eligible for free and reduced lunch, English-language learners and those living in temporary housing.

    Michael Perlberg, Principal, M.S. 839: We heard from a lot of community members and engaging with families that really we ought to just create a school that serves students. Any student who wants to attend.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Principal Michael Perlberg at M.S. 839 says that the district plan allows all students "equal access" to the schools.

    M.S. 839 was founded four years ago. It was the only middle school in the district that used a lottery to admit students. And as part of a diversity pilot program, it began to set aside 40 percent of seats for low-income students.

  • Michael Perlberg:

    It's a random lottery for every single school. So there aren't any hoops for parents to jump through or auditions to make —

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are some of the challenges of rolling out a plan like this across an entire district?

  • Michael Perlberg:

    I think buy-in. I know that a lot of families don't want their kid to be the first one for something to be tried out on.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do you think that it will scale?

  • Michael Perlberg:

    We've had a really positive experience with it. We've had to be really proactive and do a lot of work with teachers and students and families around what does it mean to work in an integrated school? So from looking at our curriculum and making sure it's not just a Eurocentric curriculum but that we are addressing the rich histories of all of our families, from working with teachers and students about talking about race and having difficult conversations, so I know that school leaders across the district have already been having those conversations about how to how to support their staff.

    At M.S. 839, students are taught using a so-called "expeditionary learning" model. That means they have many outdoor and hands-on projects, but also have electives in the arts and music.

    In April, offers were sent out for next year's sixth graders in district 15.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    When will you know that what you're trying is working and that you can institute it everywhere else in this city?

  • Richard Carranza:

    We're monitoring very closely to make sure what are the consequences what are the intended and unintended consequences? And being nimble to be able to address those issues as well.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Given that you've worked in all these big school districts around the country, what have you learned about integration, equity, these kind of big ideas and how they translate down and how can how they can work in New York?

  • Richard Carranza:

    It's never an easy conversation. It always means looking in the mirror. And in the mirror I say "Is what's reflected back truly what we believe in?" And if there's not an alignment with what we say we believe in and what the data is telling us the actual outcomes are, then why is that? // You have to work on systems and structures. I've learned that in every community I've lived in. And I've lived on the West Coast, now in the East Coast, and in between. And every community this issue has been an issue. I think the difference right now in New York City is that we are taking it on.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This month, Chancellor Carranza — alongside Matthew Diaz from integrate NYC — announced that five additional districts would receive $200 thousand dollars each to develop their own diversity plans.

  • Matthew Diaz:

    Why not make a plan for youth, with the youth…

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    They include two more districts in Brooklyn, and a district each in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.

    But the chancellor's most controversial proposal is to eliminate the admission test for the city's elite "specialized high schools" — that story will air Tuesday in part two of this series.

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