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Federal data shows that poor, black and Hispanic children are becoming increasingly isolated from their white, affluent peers in the nation’s public schools, as my Washington Post colleague Emma Brown reported in this story.  In fact, the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students across the country more than doubled between 2001 and 2014, she wrote.

And in what may seem surprising, the largest school district in the nation in terms of student population, New York City, may have the most segregated schools. That’s what a 2014 report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, titled “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future,” concluded:

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10 percent white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

Now, officials in New York City are announcing a new initiative to help diversify public schools. In the following post, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña explains what the effort will look like and why it is important.

By Carmen Fariña

I was absent for the first six weeks of kindergarten.

I was in class every day, but I hadn’t learned English yet, and my teacher decided to replace my hard-to-pronounce Spanish last name, Guillen, with something easier for her — Quillan. I didn’t raise my hand during roll call. Eventually my father, a recent immigrant who spoke little English, met with my teacher and firmly explained the importance of calling me by my actual name — and how to pronounce it correctly. There were no more absences.

It was my first lesson on inequality, and what it means to be part of a group that doesn’t get represented or treated the same way as others in our society. That lesson, and many others like it, are part of what inspired me to become a public-school teacher more than 50 years ago. They have driven me every day since then, including my last three years as schools chancellor of New York City, the nation’s largest school district.


New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña (NYC Education Department)

First and foremost, I became a teacher — and have stayed in public education — because I wanted equity and excellence for children who didn’t speak English, for black and Latino children, for children with disabilities, for homeless children, for children whose parents aren’t wealthy.

Whether it’s something as small as not getting the respect of being called by their given name, or receiving a K-12 education that is “less than,” these children have often not received the high-quality public education they are owed. Each child has unbounded potential and deserves every opportunity to achieve.

From Day 1 as New York City Schools chancellor, my vision has been to serve every child and improve every classroom. It’s why I worked with Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand free, full-day pre-K to serve every 4-year-old. It’s why we expanded bilingual programs that serve English Language Learners, and have worked hard to bring a record percentage of children with disabilities into general-education classrooms. We’re building on that work with our Equity and Excellence for All agenda — bringing Advanced Placement and computer-science courses and college counseling to high-needs children in the Bronx and Brooklyn who never had these resources before.

All this work happens in the classroom, and that is largely where our focus has been these past three years. Our schools are the strongest they’ve ever been.

But we believe, and years of experience and research show, that we also need to consider who is in the classroom. New York City’s diversity across so many forms — racial background, socioeconomic status, home language, ability, to name a few — is a gift. By sharing each other’s cultures, backgrounds and resources, we learn from one another.

For too long this has not been reflected in our schools. While educators and researchers know that all children stand to benefit from greater school diversity, a lack of it is often the greatest disservice to those who need public education the most.

We believe that we will only achieve our vision of serving every child — including those historically left behind — with more diverse and inclusive classrooms.

Today, New York City is releasing “Diversity in New York City Public Schools,” the next step in our Equity and Excellence for All agenda.

This plan sets goals for making New York City schools more diverse, introduces reforms that we’ll make in the coming months, and, perhaps most importantly, kicks off a process of soliciting and implementing additional changes from New York City school communities.

There are concrete goals for the next five years. We will increase the number of children in a school that is racially representative of New York City by 50,000 students. We will decrease the number of schools that are “economically stratified,” serving extensively more low-income or high-income children than the City average, by 100 schools. And we will increase the number of inclusive schools serving a representative number of English Language Learners and children with disabilities.

Our work to reach these goals includes reforming a number of school admissions policies, increasing information available to all families — regardless of what language they speak or what neighborhood they come from — and removing barriers within admissions processes.

As they navigate admissions, families — particularly those who don’t speak English or are low-income — run into obstacles like having to attend an open house or information session to get priority to that school, understanding how to rank schools strategically on an application and having to grapple with school directories that are hundreds of pages long. We are making changes that will start in pre-K, where all programs will now be able to give specific demographic groups priority in their admissions. In middle and high school, we are creating online applications to make the process more accessible to families. For high school admissions, we are eliminating an admissions method that has favored families with the time and resources to attend school open houses and information sessions.

Just as important is the long-term, community-driven work we are launching. A Schoolwide Diversity Advisory Group, chaired by established advocates and longtime members of New York’s nonprofit community, will evaluate our initial goals and policies and make additional formal policy recommendations by June 2018. And across our 32 community school districts, we’ll hear from students, parents and educators crafting diversity plans that will work for their communities.

As a longtime educator and leader, I know the real, sustainable change comes from the ground up. I believe that what we’ll learn from our Advisory Group and district meetings will have a larger, longer-term impact than the policy changes we make today.

All this work will not happen overnight, and there are many steps ahead of us. Seeing this plan through is my priority.

It stands for equity and excellence, for a greater path to opportunity for those whose parents and families did not have it, and for the limitless power of public education. It stands for the reason I, and millions of educators across the country, go to work every morning.

We believe in all children.

Here’s more to read: