Policy solutions for school integration: NYC and NCSD

This week, two major reports came out, each of which address what is perhaps the most important question facing contemporary school segregation: what can we do to fix it?

I’m talking specifically about:

Each came out within the last few days, and I’ve only begun to dig into them, but wanted to do my small part in amplifying positive and hopeful news in a field that too often experiences the opposite. So, this will be a broad summary/overview. As always, please feel free to add any thoughts in comments or via Twitter.

SDAG: Making the Grade

As you may remember, NYC put out a diversity plan in the summer of 2017 that attracted a lot of attention (and criticism) in the school diversity world. One major outcome from that report – it established a School Diversity Advisory Group with an all-star roster of more than 40 NYC-based school integration advocates, organizers and researchers. “Making the grade” is the first report from that group, and it is impressive. I particularly love this – they organized their recommendations according to the 5 R’s of Real Integration developed by student activists at IntegrateNYC. Last year, Integrate did a week of action for each “R” leading up to the Brown anniversary and, later, the diversity plan for district 15 in Brooklyn was influenced by the 5 Rs and by the IntegrateNYC students. It’s beautiful to see community organizing influencing policy in such a meaningful way.

So, the SDAG report’s ultimate goal is for all NYC schools to resemble the city according to “racial, economic, Multilingual Learner, and Students with Disabilities percentages.” The report recommends starting at the individual district level (NYC is organized into 32 elementary and middle school districts), then striving for each school to match the demographics of its borough and, eventually, the entire city. They also propose creating a Chief Integration Officer at the NYC DOE to monitor these efforts . There’s more background about the SDAG and the report goals in the NY Times coverage and in this article from NYC Metro.

Here’s how they hope to get there, according to the 5 “Rs”:

  • Race, socio-economic status, and enrollment –  Who is in your school? How are students admitted?
    • Require all nine districts with sufficient demographic diversity of population to develop diversity and integration plans.
    • All Family Welcome Center staff should be trained to support students with disabilities and should be prepared to help students consider all school options within their community
  • Resources – What is in your school?
    • Make resources available for any district to receive support for planning diversity.
    • Gather information from schools to determine what resources and changes in policies they feel they need to create greater diversity in their communities.
    • Invest in programs and offerings that will attract more diverse families to schools they might not have considered before.
  • Relationships – How do people in your school relate to one another and their differences? How do students, families, and teachers learn to build across difference?
    • Create a Student Leadership Team, comprised of one student from each BSAC to meet monthly with the Chancellor.
    • Adopt a common definition of Culturally Relevant Education (CRE) that will inform and shape work across the DOE.
    • Analyze the benefits and drawbacks of moving School Safety Agents to DOE supervision from NYPD supervision (this one has already come under criticism from the NYPD).
    • Ensure families without internet access or a computer at home are able to utilize all tools related to application and enrollment.
  • Restorative Justice and Practices – Who is punished in your school and how? What can schools do to create a more positive school climate and culture?
    • Here, the SDAG endorsed the recommendations of a committee created by the mayor that has released two reports on school safety – Safety with Dignity and Maintaining the Momentum. Recommendations include:
      • Memorialize in writing, policies and protocols within NYPD and DOE that promote de-escalation and integration between educators and agents
      • Implement strategies and supports to specifically reduce disparities in discipline and school-based arrests/summonses
      • Increase mental health supports for high-need schools to address symptoms and behaviors with a medical model as an alternative to disciplinary action
  • Representation – Who teaches and leads in your school?
    • Report diversity of staff by position (e.g., teacher, administrator, para, other staf) as part of the school quality report.
    • Explore career pipeline opportunities for parent coordinators within the school system.
    • Explore opportunities to build an educator career pipeline for high school students.

This is just a small sample of the recommendations, each of which are outlined in detail in the full 118 page report. For those who want to dive deeper, I highly encourage scanning through the report to find the pieces that are most relevant for you/your district. In addition to the recommendations, the report include details about: the history segregation in NYC, student racial density across the city (in stunning dot maps), the benefits of school integration, the participatory process used by SDAG and definitions of key terms, including a glossary that I think would be useful to anyone who is interested in school integration and racial justice. This is a rare report that can directly inform concrete policy and would also make for rich reading in a critical race theory class.

I should note there’s already been some critique. For example, while the report offers detailed recommendations for integration in elementary and middle schools, it does not consider high schools. In response, Teens Take Charge (who were involved in Making the Grade) are holding a press conference tomorrow at 5pm on Facebook Live to keep the attention also on high schools. And, this Chalkbeat article asks 4 questions about whether/how the mayor will translate the recommendations into implementation. Others have claimed that the report doesn’t go far enough in recommending changes to enrollment policies.

Of course, this is a huge effort, and all questions could never be answered by a single report. As described by Matt Gonzales (who was a part of both the reports featured in this post), “we wanted to shift the narrative about how we measure school quality. Good schools are integrated schools.” Other SDAG members have emphasized that this report is just the beginning of the conversation towards reaching that goal. If the early response in an indication, it is generating public discussion they hoped. Here, for example, is Matt’s conversation on a local radio show along with a rep from IntegrateNYC and recent NYC HS grad (runs from 39min to 1:05min). The host of that show, Brian Lehrer, will have the mayor on this Friday, and he said he’d ask about the report. The SDAG has events planned in the upcoming months to generate public engagement, and parents are encouraged to send comments to nycsdag@gmail.com. The SDAG also plans to release a second report later this year that focuses on school enrollment screens, gifted and talented programs, and school resources.

NCSD: A school integration agenda for 2019 and beyond

The recommendations from NCSD focus on what can be done to promote school integration at the federal level. Of course, the current federal administration is not exactly hospitable to racial justice and integration. Nonetheless, despite everything moving against school integration, there have actually been points of progress. This may sound weedy, but it is important – last year, NCSD advocacy led to the congressional repeal of provisions from the federal budget that prohibited the use of federal funding for the purpose of school integration, and that was under a R-controlled House. These “anti-busing” provisions had been in the federal budget since the Nixon administration, and now that they’re gone, districts could use their federal funding to transport students to magnet schools, for example.

That brings us to the recommendations. In the interest of space, I’ll mainly focus on 5 here, but you can see all 10 above and at this link. Also, each recommendation is hyperlinked to an NSCD tweet that has more info. The background/details for these are important, so I’ve included my own short summaries under each:

The remaining recommendations are: increase funding for Equity Assistance Centers, create Equal Educational Access grants for inter-district school planning, reinstate diversity priorities for competitive grant programs in the federal Department of Education, modify the Charter School Grant Program to further incentivize diversity, and enhance the Civil Rights Data Collection, which reports on the prevalence of ongoing desegregation efforts.

Even if you aren’t interested in the specific policy details of all the recommendations in each report, I include the lists here to give a sense of the wide variety of issues that are included in the contemporary movement for school integration. This is long removed from being just a question of desegregation – As you see in both sets of recommendations, the school integration movement includes everything from rethinking regional planning, to reconsidering the use of school resource officers, to implementing culturally responsive curriculum.

And, I also hope the recommendations give a sense of all the things, large and small, federal and local, that we can do to work towards meaningful school integration. NCSD’s federal recommendations may face tough obstacles, but so did school integration in what is infamously the most segregated school system in the country. In NYC, sustained advocacy from community-based and student organizing groups, vibrant public discussion of school integration policy, and pressure on political leaders has created real momentum for positive change. Why couldn’t that also happen in other cities or even, eventually, at the federal level?

Peter started the SD Notebook in January 2017, and he joined the Center for Education and Civil Rights (CECR) at Penn State University in October 2018. CECR helped manage content for this post.  

3 thoughts on “Policy solutions for school integration: NYC and NCSD

  1. Pingback: Voluntary Integration: The known and (fairly vast) unknown | School Diversity Notebook

  2. Pingback: SD News Roundup, part 1: The big stories | School Diversity Notebook

  3. Pingback: SD News Roundup: Kamala Harris, Joe Biden & “busing” | School Diversity Notebook

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