Career Pathways and Racial Equity: Another Way to Address School Segregation

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

I’ve been very vocal over the past few years on the appalling levels of segregation in our public school system. Despite the fact that black and Latino students make up 68 percent of students citywide, over half attend schools where they are more than 90 percent of the student body.

As we at the Community Service Society (CSS) have begun to study the issue more closely, we see a clear dynamic of “opportunity hoarding,” whereby groups of (largely white) parents with resources utilize existing mechanisms like school choice and specialized programming to create segregated environments for their children. In essence, they are able to make public schools into private schools for their own purposes. Gated communities are bad enough when it comes to housing, but at least those are private resources--the same thing is happening in our schools, using yours and my public tax dollars. Students at these “gated” schools enjoy more resources, active parents, and a range of other benefits that are difficult to quantify, but play out in test scores and beyond.

Students who attend schools segregated by concentrated poverty lack so many of these resources. It’s been a welcome relief to hear our new Schools Chancellor, Richard Carranza, recognize and rail against these disparities, and my organization appreciates the opportunity to be part of the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which is working alongside a range of stakeholders to develop a broad set of recommendations of ways to integrate and promote greater equity in our schools.

In another line of our work here at CSS, we have pushed for greater efforts to expand career pathways in our schools. Beginning with our research and advocacy on career and technical education (CTE) and continuing with our call for universal summer jobs for high school students, we have pushed for expanded and enhanced work-based learning opportunities for young people.

Right now, the exposure that young people, particularly from low-income communities, get to the world of work is too little, and too disconnected from the rest of their educations. This leads not only to lower levels of achievement within high school, as students are less likely to see how their classroom efforts connect to the real world, but worse outcomes down the road and in college, because students aren't informed or prepared about the pathways that are best for them. It's not a coincidence that disproportionate numbers of low-income students end up in liberal arts programs at community colleges, from which very few of them graduate. Without an understanding of careers, the world of work, and how college programs connect to them, low-income young people are being set up for failure.

Much of the school desegregation efforts will come with political, rather than financial costs, particularly as it relates to getting white parents to cede some of their privileges. But there are some components of the problem that Mayor de Blasio and the Chancellor can try to solve with their checkbooks.

One of the major inequities caused by school segregation and opportunity hoarding is that low-income, young people of color end up unable to access the social networks that provide referrals, mentors, and other resources that lead to internships, jobs, and college connections. Students at higher income schools have family members and neighbors with powerful social and professional relationships. One way to address this challenge would be to offer students at our most segregated schools these same opportunities.

Schools whose racial and ethnic distribution is notably high (perhaps .5 standard deviations from the citywide average) could receive a package of career and college readiness services. This could include a full-time Career and College Readiness coordinator, responsible for managing the schools’ activities and partnerships in these areas, as well as a universal internship program, whereby every student would receive a paid job during each summer of high school. In addition, these schools could receive funds to provide them with additional career exploration and college planning that would allow them to obtain the New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) commencement credential, a newly expanded endorsement to the traditional high school diploma that certifies that each student receiving it has participated in a range of valuable career development and college preparation experiences.

Adding such resources to segregated schools may even make these schools more attractive, similar to the way that other efforts at enhanced programming such as dual language and G & T have. Perhaps now the white families that gentrify neighborhoods, but don’t feel the responsibility to attend the local schools, might change their minds.

To be clear, the bulk of the work toward integrating our schools will involve reforms to policies around school choice, screening, and zoning. But as those efforts develop, we must support the students who have been cheated by the opportunity hoarders. Enhancing those schools with a robust set of career and college preparation services might be the best way to do so.

Issues Covered

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