New york city is famous for its diversity. Yet the 1.1m pupils in the city, who are mostly non-white, attend some of the most segregated schools in the country. They are even more segregated than schools in some southern cities such as Atlanta. Complacency has reigned for decades. But a school district in Brooklyn is showing early signs of success in a drive towards integration.
District 15 encompasses expensive brownstone houses in Park Slope, immigrant enclaves in Sunset Park and one of the country’s largest public-housing projects in Red Hook. Despite that, it remained intensely segregated. The more affluent—and usually white—school-age children flocked to the district’s “good schools”. Last year, after a parents’ campaign, the district eliminated admission screens, which included test scores, attendance and behaviour records, for its 11 middle schools. Parents still rank their preferred schools, but now the district uses a lottery, with 52% of places at each school set aside for pupils who come from poor families, are still learning English or are homeless.
Eight of the 11 schools are now hitting integration-rate targets. Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a think-tank, calls it “one of the most exciting educational-reform efforts in the entire country”. One school, MS51, was 47% white last year. It is now 28% white.
It is still early days for District 15. But so far, integration appears to be stable. Fears of “white flight” out of the public-school system have not been realised. The middle schools’ incoming classes remain 31% white, roughly the same since 2015. MS88, which was only 9% white last year, is now 24% white. Ailene Mitchell, MS88’s principal, says children from different backgrounds are starting to socialise with each other and joining each other’s after-school activity programmes. Jason Hoffner, a teacher, says some of the “new” pupils had near-perfect exam scores, but in classroom discussions there is little difference.