Friday’s Bloomberg article confirmed a longtime suspicion about New York public schools: New York State has the most segregated schools in the United States. It seems counterintuitive, as New York is a Northern state never subjected to Jim Crow. But the deep-seated economic inequalities in New York have created a new form of segregation that exist outside the rule of law but nonetheless affect the opportunities of thousands of students, many of whom will be firmly stuck in the cycle of poverty before they even begin their first day of kindergarten. In a state as liberal as New York, a haven for unions, powerful Democratic politicians, and organizers, those who champion the underdog and preach equality for all are failing the very people they claim to help.
Part of what drives this segregation in New York State is the economic stratification of New York City. Simply put, students from low-income households attend failing public schools, while students from wealthier families have their choice of charter schools, specialized high schools, or private schools. Stuyvesant High School, the most famous and selective specialized high school in New York City, offers admission to whomever passes their rigorous examination, regardless of economic background or ethnicity, but only seven black students were admitted this year, down from nine last year. While there is no law prohibiting black or Latino students from attending to Stuyvesant, low-income families often do not have the resources to help their children prepare for such a rigorous entrance exam. Additionally, if the student is an English learner, he or she will have a steeper uphill battle to receive an even passable education.
One possible factor that could explain such segregation is housing discrimiation. Jamelle Bouie, in one of his last pieces for The Daily Beast, described in stark detail the consistent and systematic methods by which blacks, many of whom were migrants seeking opportunities in the North, were prevented from securing stable housing. The result was the creation of the ghettos that sprung up in Midwestern cities such as Cleveland, and East Coast ones like Baltimore. The schools in these areas often underperform, with high dropout rates and low test scores in reading and math.
In cities like New York, low-income neighborhoods have seen little improvement in their local public schools. In the 1960s, following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, black and Latino children were integrated into predominately white schools, but nothing was done to fix the dilapidated schools they were extracted from, which have limped into the 21st century leaving thousands of dropouts in their wake. In 2014, the battleground for achieving greater educational equality has been charter schools, publicly-funded but privately-run schools that often share space with decrepit public schools. One bone of contention in the controversy is the accusation that charter schools siphon resources from public schools.
It’s true that suffering schools are not directly linked to any particular liberal policy. But the fact cannot be ignored that New York public schools, despite gains made under the Bloomberg administration, are still woefully inadequate. Only 66 percent of New York City high school students graduate, of whom a paltry 47 percent were ready for college, according to data released in December 2013. The bureaucratic maze and insufficient funding make it impossible for students to have their basic needs met to acquire the academic skills to lift them out of poverty and put them on the path to success. New York has long been regarded a bastion of liberal efficiency and equality, an example to the rest of the country for its tolerance and diversity. But this gaping inequality can no longer be swept under the rug. Underpinning this segregation are racist housing policies and willful “scrubbing” of undesirable students from charter schools, which impede black upward mobility as much as the laws in the Jim Crow South. It’s time for New York politicians to understand that their methods for facilitating opportunity have failed, and be more open to new ideas, perhaps from the other side of the aisle.