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Redrawing Zones to Integrate Schools

Over the years, there have been many different attempts to integrate schools.  The latest is playing out in New York City, home of the nation's largest school district ("Diversify City Schools and Make Them Better," The New York Times, Nov. 9).

Two elementary schools located close to each other on the Upper West Side of Manhattan couldn't be more different.  One posts high test scores and enrolls mostly white students.  It is overcrowded, with one of the longest waiting lists in the city.  The other posts low test scores and enrolls mostly poor black and Hispanic students.  It has plenty of unused space.

The Department of Education tried gerrymandering in order to send more students from the overcrowded school to the underpopulated school.  It triggered a fierce outcry.  To mollify these parents, the department proposed giving the less popular school a new building and a fresh start, but did not substantially retreat from its rezoning plan.  This has resulted in some parents threatening legal action.

I support integrating schools, but it has to be done fairly.  Parents of all races make huge sacrifices to be able to live in a neighborhood where the local public school has a solid reputation.  In fact, parents will often make their decision based largely on that factor alone.  To arbitrarily rezone neighborhoods in order to achieve racial integration denies them what they have worked so hard for. 

If the plan goes through, I wouldn't be surprised if many parents take their children out of the public school they are assigned to and enroll them in a private or religious school. That's the risk given short shrift in the matter.  Traditional public schools say they want to retain enrollment.  If so, the department is going about it the wrong way.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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