Explore Schools hosted a panel discussion last Thursday to discuss closing the achievement gap in New York City schools.

The panel, entitled “Closing the Gap: How Can We Ensure All Students Have Access to an Outstanding Education?” featured Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University; Martha Olson, dean of administration at Bard High School Early College; John Allman, head of School at Trinity School; and Rhea Wong, executive director at Breakthrough New York. Morty Ballen, CEO and founder of Explore Schools, was the moderator.

Each of the panelists, dealing with education at different levels, agreed that the racial and socio-economic gap had to close, beginning with the integration of schools.

Olson said, “Kids recognize this. They really value being at school in a diverse place. They really value learning to express their own opinions.”

Noguera agreed but said that there needs to be a strategy when it comes to creating diversity. “Now, we know from almost 60 years since the Brown decision, that it just doesn’t happen by itself. That is, that there has to be a deliberate strategy that creates diverse schools. Our society is extremely fragmented,” he said.

Panelists agreed that part of that strategy needs to extend beyond the schools and into the communities. Noguera spoke about the rebuilding of segregated and predominately Black communities like Far Rockaway, which was affected by Hurricane Sandy.

“The storm actually creates an opportunity now because we’re going to be rebuilding certain neighborhoods. We should build them deliberately to be diverse,” he said. “Why not make that a model community with model schools that could become a showcase for what’s possible when we’re integrating neighborhoods? If we don’t look at housing, it’s very difficult to create integrated schools.”

Aside from integrating schools through integrating communities, admissions tests to some of the specialized schools was a topic of discussion. Ballen asked the panel their opinion on how fair the admissions tests are when it comes to Black and Latino students, and if they were discriminatory.

Wong said that it was not so much the test that was the problem, but what happens before the test. “We’re not talking about this test. We’re talking about the fact that we’re not preparing low-income African-American and Latino kids to compete at the same level. That’s what we’re talking about,” she said.

Allman added, “I think one of the interesting things in the history of selective admissions and standardized testing is, there’s a long and well-established history of the subjective elements of admissions testing being used to exclude.”

It was agreed that many factors had to be changed in order to close the achievement gap in New York City schools, and many of these factors needed to start outside of the school: resources and information being available to children in low-income neighborhoods, and diversity in the everyday lives of students around the city. “We need both community and school redevelopment,” said Noguera.