Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not Integrated Enough: New York City Schools

Yesterday, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decisions in the Seattle and Louisville cases, the New York Post’s headline story, “NOT WHITE ENOUGH,” described an eleven year old student denied entry from IS 239, Mark Twain School. The article stated that the student would have been admitted to the magnet school but for “racial quotas established in 1974 by a federal judge who ordered the school’s desegregation” and attempted to connect the story to the Seattle and Louisville cases. The Post noted that “The U.S. Supreme Court currently is considering a case that could end racial quotas in schools nationwide, including Mark Twain.”

Despite the Post’s contentions, the history of integration in IS 239 is substantially different from Seattle and Louisville. IS 239 was ordered to integrate after District Court Judge Weinstein found both de facto and de jure segregation. Both Seattle and Louisville implemented voluntary programs to combat de facto segregation in districts where they was either no history of de jure segregation, or where de jure segregation had fully disappeared. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Seattle and Louisville cases will have little or no bearing on the IS 239 court order. It is also clear that under the court order, IS 239 has become a relatively integrated school. The majority of schools in New York City, not under such orders, have become increasingly segregated over the past thirty years.

IS 239 was ordered to desegregate by federal court order in 1972. In the ten years preceding the order, white enrollment at the Mark Twain School had dropped from 82% to only 18% of the total enrollment. The judge in the Mark Twain case, Hart v. Community School Board of Brooklyn, N.Y. Sch. D #21, attributed this change to both housing patterns and series of rezoning and school assignment decisions which had the “the natural and foreseeable consequence of decreasing the white student enrollment at Mark Twain.”

In order to counteract this combination of de jure and de facto segregation at IS 239, the court directed the involved parties to develop plans which would insure that the racial balance at Mark Twain remained within 10 percentage points of the district wide average. Two years later, the court accepted the plan proposed by the school board, under which the board would revise its school assignment policies to ensure a uniform racial balance throughout the district and establish IS 239 as a magnet school.

Thirty years after the court order in Hart, racial diversity at IS 239 has increased and remains constant. According to statistics published by the New York State Department of Education, approximately 53% of the school’s eighth grade class is white, 25% Asian, 12% African American, and 11% Hispanic. The situation at IS 239 stands in sharp contrast to the rest of New York City Public Schools. According to Association of the Bar of the City of New York’s (ABCNY) amicus brief in the Seattle and Louisville cases, New York’s public schools are the sixth most segregated in the nation for African American students, and the third most segregated for both Hispanic and Asian students.

The New York City Public Schools have, for the most part, failed to end segregation and its students suffer as a result. Segregated schools, points out the ABCNY, are “institutions of concentrated disadvantage that systematically fail minority students.” According to the New York Court of Appeals, public schools with the highest percentage of minority children “have the least experienced, the most uncertified teachers, the lowest-salaried teachers, and the highest rates of teacher turnover.” Indeed the majority of New York City Public Schools illustrate “what a twenty-first century American city’s school system may look like, absent the ability to consider race” to avoid segregation in the public schools.
To learn more about the effects of segregation on New York City Public Schools, read