In a interesting new report, researchers say that there is a correlation between the quality of New York City public school education, and the racial and economic makeup of the school district where a student lives.
Using a statistical index, which looks at test results, the number of so-called “high-performing” schools in each district and other factors, researchers with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Schott Foundation for Public Education make the case that if you are poor and black or hispanic and live in predominantly poor, minority neighborhoods, you get less money, more inexperienced teachers and worse schools. If you are white or Asian and live in a wealthier neighborhood, you get better schools, more money and better teachers.
“What we find most alarming is the link between these scores and the geographic residential boundaries — the corrosive impact of “redlining,” the researchers say.
For example, in District 26 in Queens, all of the students have a chance to go to a high-performing school. In District 16 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and District 12 in the Bronx, none of the students have that opportunity. Those latter two districts happen to be predominantly black and hispanic, and largely poor.
“Good schools are good for all students; however, in New York City, they are not available to all students,” researchers say. “The quality of the education available to most New York City children depends on where they live. All too many are “redlined” out of the opportunity to learn in a high performing school.”
City schools officials, though, say the report ignores a decade of progress, the highest graduation rates ever and a narrowing of the acheivement gap. The achievement gap in reading has narrowed by 12 percent in 8th grade, and in math, by 17 percent.
“Over the last ten years, our reforms have focused almost entirely on creating better schools for students who were failed by the system for decades,” says Schools spokesman Frank Thomas. “While there is much more work to do, the reality is that black and Hispanic students in New York City are graduating at their highest rates ever, and continue to narrow the achievement gap year after year. A report that fails to acknowledge this progress is shortsighted and overlooks the gains made by thousands of students during that time.”
Michael Holzman, the research consultant and lead writer of the report, pointed out, however, that the gap in reading proficiency of 8th graders hardly changed between 2003 and 2011. In 2003, black and hispanic students scored 23 percentage points worse than white and Asian students. In 2011, the difference was 26 percentage points.
Moreover, he said, just 28 percent of black and hispanic students got advanced or regents diplomas in 2009-2010, compared to 57 percent of white students. “If Bloomberg wants to stand on that record that’s fine with me,” Holzman says.
The researchers found a big difference among the districts in the number of highly educated teachers. Staten Island’s District 31 has twice the number of experienced teachers as District 7 in the Bronx. That difference is compounded by the fact that the turnover rate is higher in lower performing districts.
“This means that students in some districts have the advantage of more stable, more highly educated teaching staffs,” the researchers say. “Others have the disadvantage of less highly educated, less stable teaching staffs. These students are subjected to a revolving door teaching staff.”
And there is also a disparity in what the Education Department spends per student from district to district. “The New York City Department of Education, by these estimates, spends 19 percent more on the education of children from the city’s most prosperous neighborhoods than it does for children from the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods,” the researchers say. “Those who have more get more; those in need, get less.”
An Education official called this comparison unfair, and said it’s natural for more senior teachers to want to remain in better performing schools. He also noted that overall, each school is funded the same way: based on its student population.
But Holzman points out that unlike New York City, more experienced teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland are assigned to poorer performing schools, and those schools also get more professional development money. “There is a solution, but they [New York Schools officials] just aren’t doing anything about it,” he says.
The researchers also found that kids in some of these same districts get much less of an opportunity to test into gifted and talented programs than in others.
And the correlation extends to high school, too. “While 46% of the city’s White, non-Hispanic students and 47% of the city’s Asian students are enrolled in top high schools, only 18% of Black and 16% of Hispanic students are enrolled in those schools,” the researchers say.
“The fact that New York has consistently promoted policies that systemically lock out most of its student population from an opportunity to learn is tantamount to the U.S. allowing its national security, democracy and economic strength to rot away,” the researchers write. “The need to address this matter goes beyond a city’s or state’s prerogative but is a national issue that must be addressed with a sense of urgency.”