In November of last year, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that seven elementary schools in New York City will undergo changes in their admission policies. Ironically, these changes were made in an attempt to bring more diversity to each of these elementary schools.
New York City is known for being a melting pot of different ethnicities and nationalities. Yet some education activists ask whether elementary schools are so homogenous that changes in admission policies had to be made. Perhaps, they note, the schools are not as diverse as many New Yorkers think, and this common misconception has caused the negative experiences of some Black students to be swept under the rug. Furthermore, they query whether these policies that strive for diversity subtly imply that the quality of education in predominantly white schools is higher than that of predominantly non-white schools. Or rather, are these policies implying that placing Black students in schools with white students will be beneficial for Black students, merely because they are in the same classroom as white students?
Although the diversification of these schools may be beneficial, could it also intensify the isolation and discrimination that many Black students already face? According to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as are white preschool students. Is this policy change setting Black students up for failure or investing in their future? Furthermore, what factors might contribute to the change in dynamic between Black and white students in predominately white institutions, inside and outside the classroom?
According to S.E. Anderson, a professor and one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party, “The issue that we should be concerned with is … how can we in communities, control our schools. It is not a question of educational excellence only when a Black student is sitting next to a white student. Educational excellence happens when you have parents and teachers and students who are working together to create curriculum, a cultural atmosphere, in the school to create an … atmosphere in the school that promotes pride and excellence. You don’t need white folks for that.”
Besides possibly prejudice in these new policies regarding the academic capabilities of non-white students, these policies might also suggest a lack of understanding of the needs of the Black community. Only a third of high schools with high Black and Latino enrollments offer calculus, compared with 56 percent of those that serve low numbers of Black and Latino students. Could the money that is being invested into these policies of diversification and integration be instead used to invest in the schools that need the attention?
Keron Alleyne, activist and native New Yorker, shared his opinions regarding the effects of predominately white institutions on young Black minds. “Going to all white institutions and certain rules and policies and procedures that they have in place, can be sometimes detrimental to your growth and development,” Alleyne said. “It causes you to find out who you are and to really check certain behaviors around you … you’re extremely cautious. Everything you say now becomes a script for the entire Black community across the world, that’s the way your opinion is held.”
Recently, Elissa Nadworny of NPR held an interview with Ron Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who studies the achievement gap between young men of color and the rest of the population. According to Ferguson, “At the same time that we work to desegregate, we also need to work to prepare the teachers and the administrators who work in the school to really cope effectively with the conditions they face. They, too, are facing conditions they aren’t quite sure how to deal with. We know that there are some teachers and administrators in these schools that are really succeeding. They know things. They’re doing things that others aren’t doing. We need to make better efforts to share the best of what is already known.”
This past week, Albany legislators granted Mayor Bill de Blasio just a one-year extension of mayoral control of the city’s public school system. With that decision as a backdrop and the historical grassroots fight for community control of schools as an additional narrative, activists say that now the question of who controls the quality of education in New York City schools and the extent that race relations should play in that experience is up to the community—the Black community. And the question of how young Black students view their schooling experience is also up to the Black community.