Inside a Divided Upper East Side Public School

Whites in the front door, blacks in the back door

Dr. Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at NYU's Steinhardt school, and the author of The Trouble With Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education, thinks it's problematic to be segregating kids from such a young age: "When you send young kids to school where the racial lines are so stark, there is the process of saying there is something fundamentally different about us, which is why we can't be together.

"Some towns, because they are homogenous, their inability to create integrated schools is limited, simply by the fact that there is nobody else there," he says. "That's not the case in New York City. What we have here is really Plessy at work: separate, without even being equal—but very much separate."

In other parts of the country, cities and counties and states struggle with the inequalities that arise between schools that benefit or suffer from their geography—public schools in wealthy areas generally provide a better educational experience than public schools in poor areas. School districts have always wrestled with ways to minimize these differences, like how money is spent, how children are routed, and how teachers are allocated.

In New York, these striking differences have nothing to do with geography—not when two public schools can offer such unequal environments within the same building. And yet, the mayor's plan, embodied in the rush to close schools and replace them with even more multiple institutions, only seems to be exacerbating these differences.

Concerned about the lack of access for talented programs in Straus, the Department of Education is addressing the situation. Patrick Sullivan says the DOE will be starting a gifted program within Straus this fall, beginning with a kindergarten class.

Now, the zoned children will have the option of getting into a talented program, instead of competing with children districtwide. A girl like Doreen might have the chance to be in a gifted class, without competing against rich families who can pay for tutors. Teachers might not have to work as hard to accommodate their slowest and fastest students in the same class.

But the decision is not being universally heralded.

"Why on earth would [Straus] need to have a gifted class, if there's a gifted school already in the building?" asked one mother. "They say they're doing it to make the school more 'attractive,' but are they doing it just to keep [Lower Lab] segregated?"

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