By the numbers

New analysis shows New York state has the country's most segregated schools

New York’s schools are the nation’s most segregated, largely due to school segregation in New York City, according to a new analysis of federal education data that rekindles the longstanding debate over whether creating school diversity should be an explicit goal of the city’s school system.

Though 60 percent of white and Asian students in New York City in 2010-11 attended schools that the researchers call “multiracial,” only 25 percent of black and Latino students did, according to the report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

The report also shows that between 1989 and 2010, the percentage of black and Latino students attending “intensely segregated” schools increased. In 2010-11, 85 percent of the city’s black students attended schools where white students made up 10 percent or less of the student population, up from 78 percent in the 1989-90 school year. Latino students also attended those intensely segregated schools in greater numbers than before: three quarters of them did in 2010-11, up from 66 percent in 1989-90.

While the report includes new data from the 2010-11 school year, its findings about the makeup of city schools aren’t new. Two years ago, the New York Times found that more than half of city schools are 90 percent black or Hispanic—the “intensely segregated” threshold. And another recent Civil Rights Project analysis showed that New York City was one of the most segregated cities for black students.

Researcher Gary Orfield said the numbers illustrate how desegregation has receded as an explicit goal of school districts and city governments. He also took special aim at New York City’s school choice policies as “exacerbating racial isolation.”

“If you don’t have an intention to create diverse schools, they rarely happen,” Orfield said.

Other experts have said that it’s more important to improve the quality of individual schools than to ensure each school has a racial and or socioeconomic mix. The Department of Education’s efforts to boost student performance under Mayor Bloomberg centered on creating new schools, improving other schools individually, and giving students and parents more choices about which schools to attend.

More recently, Chancellor Carmen Fariña indicated that she was supportive of individual schools’ efforts to draw students from different areas to create more diverse schools, like is happening at P.S. 133, but she hasn’t talked about larger enrollment policy changes. De Blasio has also said little about whether he want to see changes to enrollment policies, though he has expressed concern about the relative homogeneity of the city’s nine specialized high schools.

Expanding early education and lengthening the middle school day have been the primary engines he has said the city is using to address the socioeconomic and racial achievement gap.

“When students can integrate the experiences of others into their own personal development, we celebrate. We believe in diverse classrooms in which students interact and grow through personal relationships with those of different backgrounds,” Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said in response to the report.

The racial makeup of the city schools has also changed over the period examined in the report. White students make up just 14 percent of the city’s students overall, down from 25 percent in 1989-90, and black students now make up almost 30 percent, down from almost 37 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Latino students has jumped significantly, from 29 percent to 40 percent, as has the proportion of Asian students, from almost 9 percent to 15 percent of students.

In Brooklyn’s District 13, a task force has been developing ways for schools to maintain diversity as those proportions change in neighborhoods like Fort Greene. Using weighted student lotteries that would give preference to certain students is a form of “controlled choice,” which the report’s authors say is necessary to make the city’s choice system more equitable.

There are a number of challenges to those efforts, though. One is that they are more easily accomplished in districts like 13, with a racial and socioeconomic mix that doesn’t exist in some parts of the city. The Civil Rights Project’s report notes that white students make up 10 percent or less of students in 19 of the city’s 32 school districts. (That includes District 13, though its residential population is more mixed.)

The report also attributes some of the increase in segregation to the city’s charter schools, many of which often operate in low-income neighborhoods that are among the city’s least diverse. But charter advocates point out that those schools were created explicitly to serve low-income students and are often bound to accept students from specific geographic areas.

“Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. He said that charter schools that open in mixed-income neighborhoods are often accused of “abandoning their mission” to serve students in low-income areas.

“And when they do serve children in low income areas — neighborhoods which are historically segregated and which have district lines that charters must honor and that were drawn in some instances precisely to segregate,” he added, “they are accused of being too narrow in focus.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede