Equity & Diversity Opinion

Apartheid Education in New York City

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — April 17, 2012 3 min read
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Today, the Schott Foundation, whose Board I am proud to chair, released the results of an analysis that they conducted on New York City schools, the nation’s largest school system. The report, A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City, documents that in New York City student education outcomes and their opportunity to learn are more determined by where they live than their abilities. In addition to documenting the problem, the report lays out solutions.

Here are the KEY FINDINGS:

  1. Districts with higher poverty rates have fewer experienced and highly educated teachers and less stable teaching staffs.
  2. A student of any race or ethnicity eligible for free or reduced-price meals is most likely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest performing high schools; an Asian or a White, non-Hispanic student is highly unlikely to be enrolled in one of the city’s poorest-performing schools.
  3. Students from low-income New York City families have little chance of being tested for eligibility for gifted and talented programs.

This is exactly what the Occupy movement has been protesting. Call it “Redlining” or “Apartheid,” lower income kids are barred from entering the schools with well trained teachers. The 1% get the best public schools, the 99% are not included in the gifted and talented programs. No longer do we have signs that say “Whites Only,” but we might as well put similar signs back up. “Wealthy Only” could be posted outside certain schools or classrooms. It would be more honest than the myth of equal education.

In the past, our society nurtured the belief that whites were better than blacks, men were better than women. And the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements emerged. The movements called this form of superiority a disease and they named that disease “racism” or “sexism.” But now that form of exclusivity is more and more based on inherited wealth or income. And like racism and sexism it is a disease that is running deeper and deeper in our society. It is a disease that says people with wealth are superior and deserve more. That if your grandparents made a lot of money you should be given more opportunity to go to a gifted and talented program or go to college. That if a kid’s parents run a hedge fund that made lots of money, even if it wrecked our economy, that kid should be given better teachers. That those with money (capital) should have access to better opportunities. I am not sure what we should name this disease? “Classism”? “Capitalism”? Perhaps our readers can suggest a name after you read more of the report.

Here are the KEY Recommendations:

  1. New York State should restore and increase funding that has been dramatically cut in the past two years, cuts that have effectively reversed the impact of CFE v. State of New York; November 2006, which requires the state to provide a “sound basic education” to all children.
  2. All New York City middle schools should offer the courses necessary for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and tutoring should be offered free to all students eligible for free and reduced-price meal programs.
  3. The NYC DOE should administer the Gifted and Talented program test to all prospective kindergarten students; tutoring should be offered free to all students eligible for free or reduced-price meal programs.
  4. Every school should conduct an “opportunity audit” to determine if they are offering each student a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. The NYC DOE should then set a goal of bringing every school’s Opportunity to Learn Index up sufficiently to indicate an improvement in available resources for students who attend.

And how will the public will be created to pressure politicians enact these recommendations? I think kids should walk out of the poor performing schools and walk into the wealthy high performing schools. And the wealthy parents should encourage their children to boycott the gifted and talented test until the system has been changed. Like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Lunch Counter Sit-ins, it’s time to occupy education.

Read more and download the report here.
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