Unequal Education in New York’s Public School System

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

A report by the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A. found that New York City has one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation. 

In a recent New York Times story, a national report on education found that only 11 percent of Latino senior high school students were proficient in math and 22 percent in reading.  A report by the Community Service Society (CSS) revealed that Latinos have the lowest educational attainment of any racial or ethnic group in the city.  These findings are directly linked to the unequal education fostered by segregated schools.

In May 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared separate public schools for the races unconstitutional, many believed that public education would eventually be integrated.  Their expectations were never realized.

In 1992, I took part in a video entitled “Unequal Education” that highlighted the vast differences in resources between two junior high schools in the Bronx.  One was located in the middle class Riverdale section.  The other was in the South Bronx, in the poorest congressional district in the country. 

Unlike at the Riverdale school, there were many uncertified teachers in the South Bronx school.  People were teaching courses in subjects where they had no educational background.  The overwhelming numbers of students in the Riverdale school were white, while the students in the South Bronx school were black and Latino.

Segregated schooling is abetted by policies that affect admissions at the city’s specialized high schools and at CUNY’s senior colleges.  Among the eight highest rated high schools in the city, only 11 percent of students are black and Latino, despite the fact that over 70 percent of all public high school students are black and Latino.  This is the result of the use of a single, never validated, admissions exam. 

This situation is made much worse by the test prep industry, which charges thousands of dollars to families who can afford to boost the chances of their children for access to top high schools.  Even the prep course for the gifted and talented class of four year-olds now costs $1,700.  The playing field is tilted toward children from families with higher incomes.

A CSS report published last October, “The Meaning of Merit: Alternatives for Determining Admission to New York City’s Specialized High Schools,” revealed that other highly rated public schools around the country use a combination of factors in deciding on admissions – grades, class rank, exams, teacher recommendations.

At CUNY’s senior colleges, the number of black and Latino students has plummeted since the recent recession, pushed out by white and Asian students seeking a lower cost college education.  As the demand for CUNY increased, its senior colleges raised their minimum SAT requirements and began to enroll fewer students.  As a result, in CUNY’s top tier colleges, Latino freshmen fell from 18 percent in 2001 to 11 percent in 2010.

Besides changing admissions policies at CUNY and specialized high schools, the city should be expanding it options for students who do not intend to go to college.  One area of promise is Career and Technical Education (CTE).

A February 2014 CSS report, “Challenging Traditional Expectations,” revealed that students in CTE high schools, particularly new schools, which are smaller and more high tech, see strong boosts in graduation rates.  This is particularly true for black and Latino male students, the cohort whose graduation rates are lowest in non-CTE high schools.

There has been a great deal of public discussion of the problem of income inequality lately.  Income inequality is directly linked to unequal education.  The new administration has made a good start with universal pre-K.  But more work will be needed for the system to be reflective of the Brown decision.

© 2015 Community Service Society. All Rights Reserved. 633 Third Ave, 10th FL, New York, NY 10017