DOE adopts school diversity plan

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New UWS middle school admissions process part of broader push to integrate city schools


  • Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza is hopeful that a newly adopted admissions plan to increase diversity in Upper West Side middle schools will serve as a model for desegregation efforts across the city. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

“The diversity plan is a positive step toward addressing the fundamental inequity created by the proliferation of screened schools.”

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal

The Department of Education will move forward with a plan to overhaul the admissions process at Upper West Side middle schools with the goal of increasing diversity in the district, which is among the city’s most segregated.

Under the diversity plan, 25 percent of seats in every middle school in District 3 will be set aside for low-income students with low grades and low standardized test scores. The plan gives admissions priority to students who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program and who have low academic performance based on a weighted composite of classroom grades and scores on state-mandated fourth grade math and English tests.

“Students benefit from integrated schools, and I applaud the District 3 community on taking this step to integrate their middle schools,” Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza said in a statement announcing the middle school plan. “I hope what we’re announcing in District 3 will be a model for other districts to integrate schools across the City, and I look forward to working with parents and educators as we implement this plan and strengthen middle schools across the district.”

The plan applies to all middle schools in District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem. Most middle schools in the district screen students for admission based on academic performance and other criteria. At some of the district’s top-performing middle schools, the system has produced demographics in which black and Hispanic students are disproportionately underrepresented.

At Booker T. Washington Middle School on West 107th Street, for instance, black and Hispanic students make up 8.6 and 14.7 percent of the student body, respectively. In District 3 as a whole, 21.5 percent of students are black and 32.3 percent are Hispanic.

Divisions along economic lines are apparent in District 3 schools as well. At Booker T. Washington, the DOE estimates that roughly 21.6 percent of students face economic hardship, while at some Harlem middle schools, like P.S. 76 on West 121st Street, that estimate exceeds 90 percent.

Education officials say that the new admission criteria will increase racial, economic and academic diversity in District 3 middle schools. Students entering sixth grade in the fall of 2019 will be the first class admitted under the new admissions system. The DOE estimates the plan will affect roughly 300 families in the first year.

The middle school diversity plan became a flashpoint early in Carranza’s tenure. In April, less than a month after joining the New York City school system, he tweeted a video of parents arguing against the plan at a public meeting on the Upper West Side with a headline that read, “WATCH: Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

Carranza has since taken an aggressive posture toward addressing segregation in New York City public schools, announcing a plan in early June to change the admissions process at the city’s elite specialized high schools in order to increase diversity. Additionally, Carranza has publicly questioned whether public schools should engage in admissions screening at all.

The diversity plan adopted by DOE, along with similar alternatives that were considered, faced criticism on multiple fronts during months of local community education council meetings, which, at times, echoed disputes over a 2016 rezoning plan to address overcrowding and segregation in Upper West Side elementary schools.

One view, expressed by parents in the video in Carranza’s controversial tweet, holds that the new middle school diversity plan will be unfair to students that perform well on standardized tests but will not receive offers to their preferred schools, while lower performing students will receive priority.

Others have said that the measures do not go far enough in creating middle school student bodies that reflect the broader demographics of District 3, one of the city’s most economically and racially diverse school districts. While the DOE projects the plan will significantly increase academic diversity at a handful of middle schools, other schools — including several with high poverty rates — will see minimal changes. The DOE’s attention, some critics said, would be better focused on improving lower-performing schools with high economic needs in Harlem. (Education officials have said they will work to improve all District 3 middle schools in addition to implementing the diversity plan.)

But despite those concerns, the plan enjoys broad support among local principals and West Side politicians, including Borough President Gale Brewer, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal.

Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side in the City Council, called the plan “a positive step toward addressing the fundamental inequity created by the proliferation of screened schools.”

“The many hoops a 10 year-old must jump through to attend middle school in our district have resulted in a segregated and inequitable public school system,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “I wholeheartedly support this new enrollment policy and look forward to continued discussion and progress to ensure our public schools provide equal opportunity for every child in our community.”

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