POLITICO New York: City to release long-awaited integration plan, with broad definition of diversity

By Eliza Shapiro

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will release its long-awaited plan to combat entrenched segregation in city schools on Tuesday, according to city officials.

The city will frame the effort to racially and socio-economically integrate New York City’s schools, some of the most segregated in the nation, as part of the mayor’s broad “equity and excellence” education plan. And the city will continue to use the word “diversity” rather than “integration” to describe its plans, a sticking point between City Hall and the city’s integration advocates and experts.

As part of the plan, which will be called, “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools,” the city will release a policy statement expressing the administration’s support for school diversity.

The statement, which will be officially released Tuesday, will read as follows: “The New York City Department of Education is committed to supporting learning environments that reflect the diversity of New York City. We believe all students benefit from diverse and inclusive schools and classrooms where all students, families and school staff are supported and welcomed. This work is essential to our vision of Equity and Excellence for all NYC students.”

The statement is intended to reflect the broadest possible definition of “diversity,” according to officials — not just racial diversity, but also “socioeconomic status, home language, country of origin, immigration status, ability, special needs, religion, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, housing status and cultural background and experience.”

As integration has become an increasingly urgent political issue over the last year, advocates have chafed at how de Blasio and city school chancellor Carmen Fariña have generally defined diversity, and pushed for an acknowledgment that racial segregation persists in the city’s 1,800 public schools.

But at least one integration advocate, David Kirkland of NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, called the city’s statement “an important step in the right direction.”

“This affirms a shared commitment to – and understanding of the importance of – not just school, but also classroom diversity, which is essential to the work ahead of us,” Kirkland said in a statement shared by city officials.

The de Blasio administration has taken some modest steps over the last year to promote integration in schools, including creating a pilot admissions program that creates set-asides for high-needs students at elementary schools in some neighborhoods. But the mayor, who is no stranger to sweeping rhetoric, has repeatedly described integrating schools as a herculean task, and he has described school segregation as a regrettable fact of American history.

Several school rezoning debates in gentrified neighborhoods over the last two years have highlighted just how contentious attempts to integrate even individual schools can be in New York City, a fact not lost on an administration running for reelection this year.

Tuesday’s plan is likely to appease but not entirely satisfy advocates and pro-integration elected officials, who have pushed for a controlled choice system in some districts reminiscent of the model embraced in Cambridge, Mass., along with other, more dramatic citywide measures.

Experts have pointed to research demonstrating that integrating schools is likely to boost academic performance overall, and particularly in mostly minority schools that have been historically under-resourced.

More details about the city’s diversity plan will be released later Tuesday.

This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro New York on June 6, 2017.

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