Report: NY Schools Most Racially Segregated In Nation

Mar 28, 2014

A new report reveals New York State's public schools are the most segregated in the nation.

The report released Wednesday by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles used U.S. Department of Education statistics: it noted increasing segregation in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City metro areas.   It found many black and Latino students attend schools with virtually no white classmates throughout New York.

Credit Lucelia Ribeiro/Flickr

Gary Orfield is co-director of the Civil Rights Project.   "Our project was created 17 years ago at Harvard University to inform the country about what's going on in terms of realization of the goals of equity in civil rights."  

The report examines enrollment trends from 1989 to 2010. Numbers show the Capital Region's public schools growing increasingly segregated. Private schools were not included in the study, but charter schools were.   "Basically what happens with the creation of the Charter Schools is that we developed a new system of choice which forgot everything we learned in the magnet school experience and the open enrollment experience before that. If you don't have equity policies attached to choice, it separates kids."

In New York City, the largest school system in the U.S. with 1.1 million pupils, many of the charter schools created over the last dozen years are among the least diverse of all, the study shows. Orfield notes that most of the kids have few options and often choose a school as bad or worse than the one they leave. He emphasizes society has to have an intention to integrate schools and keep them integrated.   "And there really hasn't been that intention in any serious way in New York State since the 1970s, so we get what we let happen."

Orfield says no Southern state comes close to New York when it comes to segregation. He adds the states' halls of learning have become "dropout factories.”  He says "the dropout problems in the United States, which are really serious, and that really devastate the lives of young people, are concentrated in schools that are overwhelmingly impoverished and non-white. And these schools, their basic products are drop outs and broken lives."

Of 236 schools in the immediate Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, there are 15 schools where black, Hispanic and other minority students compose 90 percent or more of the student body.  Orfield says such schools become "double-segregated" by both race and poverty.    "In almost all parts of New York State, white kids are attending middle-class schools on average.  Black and Latino kids are attending schools that are not only segregated from whites but segregated from the middle class to a very high degree."

The study suggests that New York's segregation is largely due to housing patterns, because housing and school segregation are correlated, but that it could be mitigated through policies intended to promote diversity.   Albany Public School officials told the Times Union they are not surprised by the study's findings, which deemed four of their schools "extensively segregated."

Civil Rights Project senior researcher John Kucsera says if diversity falls short of society's values, legislation may be needed to maintain civil rights standards.   "Whether on the local level, the state level, the federal level, there's a lot of policies we could do. Locally there's educational organizations, neighborhood associations. We can try to promote diverse communities and schools as highly desirable places to live and learn. Interested citizens and elected officials, we should support those that understand."

The study concludes that for New York to have a favorable multiracial future both socially and economically, it is absolutely urgent that its leaders and citizens understand both the values of diversity and the harms of inequality.   Ainsley Thomas is the director for Affirmative Action for Albany County.  "Wherever you go there's always going to be an element of discrimination or racism. The challenge is to rise above it."

State Education Commissioner John King called the Civil Rights Project report "troubling" and told the Associated Press that "The department has supported over the years various initiatives aimed at improving school integration and school socioeconomic integration, but there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done — not just in New York but around the country."

In the video below, Civil Rights Project Co-director Gary Orfield and Senior Researcher John Kucsera present the findings of their report.