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New York City Diversity Panel Recommends A 'Chief Integration Officer,' Schools That Reflect City's Diversity

A new report on creating more integrated and diverse schools in New York City put forwards a host of recommendations, including that the city hire a chief integration officer, expand rigorous academic programs and schools outside of the city-center of Manhattan, improve student climate, and take an approach to diversity that encompasses race, economic background, gender, home language, and disability and that reflects the city's diversity.

The report comes from a panel convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who first ran for mayor in 2013 on a theme of  "A Tale of Two Cities," but who has been slower than critics would have liked to take sweeping steps to address the city's deeply segregated school system. According to a 2014 report by the University of California, Los Angeles, Civil Rights Project, New York state has the most segregated schools in the country. 

Hispanic and black students make up nearly 70 percent of the city's public school students. And about 14 percent are English-language learners, while 74 percent come from economically-disadvantaged families.

Those demographics mean that achieving integration in every New York City neighborhood or district would be tough. But at least nine of the city's 32 community school districts have enough socioeconomic diversity to tackle integration on that front. Those schools enroll more than 330,000 students. 

"New York City is among the most diverse places on earth and has a strong tradition of progressive politics, yet its schools are more segregated than those in Mississippi," Richard Kahlenberg, the director of K-12 equity and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and a member of the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group's executive committee that worked on the report, said in a statement.

"The advisory group has hammered out a series of bold recommendations to better integrate schools so that public education in the city can serve its fundamental purposes: promoting social mobility in the economy and social cohesion in our democracy."

The School Diversity Advisory Group included parents, students, advocates, and employees of the city school system. 

Expand Student Voice, Deepen Family Engagement, Ensure Program Equity

The proposals in the preliminary report are organized around a framework developed by students—race, socio-economic status and enrollment, resources, relationships, restorative justice and practices; and representation. The recommendations range from calls for the city to make academic program changes in elementary schools to step up efforts to improve opportunities for student voice.

Among the recommendations for the community school districts:

  • Review choice schools, gifted and talented programs, and other programs that use admissions criteria to determine whether they encourage or discourage segregation.
  • Ensure events—including admission fairs and application processes—are accessible to all students and their families and that staff members are trained to support students and families with disabilities and those with immigrant backgrounds.

Systemwide, the report's recommendations include:

  • Invest in programs that will encourage participation from diverse populations.
  • Ensure that high-poverty schools have the same curricular, extracurricular, and after-school programs as more affluent communities.
  • Expand college-and-career prep programs in poor communities. 
  • Increase the number of high-performing schools outside of Manhattan.
  • Diversify the education workforce—from principals, teachers and paraprofessionals—and explore creating a pipeline that will provide opportunities for parents to work for the school system. 

The report says that diversity should be included as part of the criteria on which schools are judged, along with current measures such as student achievement, effective school leadership, trust, and strong family-community ties.

The report follows the city's diversity plan, which was released in 2017 and aimed to create more racially- and socio-economically balanced schools. That plan was panned by some critics for its modest goals and for avoiding the words segregation or integration.

This set of recommendations goes beyond the city's proposals, though they are not mandates. They have to be adopted by the mayor.

The report also recommends that the city's education department adopt culturally-responsive teaching, meaningful family and parent engagement—including ensuring that meeting times, locations, and the languages used meet family needs—promoting restorative justice practices in schools, and greater student voice.

To amplify student voice, the report recommends adding seats on Borough Student Advisory Councils for a student representative from every high school, creating a student leadership group that will meet monthly with the schools chancellor, and establishing a leadership position in the department of education that would be focused on student voice. The report also recommends that all schools monitor discipline practices and develop plans to reduce disparities in discipline. 

The panel will continue to meet and is expected to produce another report this year.

You can find the full report here.

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