Editorials

Steps toward diversity

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for increasing school diversity, released on June 6, is a much-needed response to segregation in New York City public schools. While not nearly as aggressive as we would like it to be, the mayor’s plan clearly recognizes the issue’s importance and constitutes a step in the right direction. 

Black and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the 1.1 million students in our schools; the city considers a school “racially representative” if the number of black and Hispanic students combined makes up at least 50 percent but less than 90 percent of the student population. The city’s goal is to increase the number of students in racially representative schools by 50,000 over five years. It also set a goal of reducing the number of “economically stratified” schools by 10 percent in the next five years.

Toward that end, the mayor’s plan laid out a dozen steps, many of them modest. High schools will have to come up with new recruitment methods that promote a diverse student body. By 2019, schools will no longer be allowed to prioritize applicants who demonstrate interest by attending an open house or information session. Screened high schools and middle schools will increase access for students with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students. The Department of Education will also streamline the middle school and high school application process and make information more accessible to families. A School Diversity Advisory Group, made up of parents, students, advocates and other community leaders, will be a sounding board on what works and what doesn’t. The UFT will seek to have a voice in that advisory group.

The city’s eight specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, have long been a bastion of predominantly white and Asian students. The mayor’s plan calls for doubling down on strategies that have shown little impact so far. By contrast, the UFT Taskforce on Specialized High Schools led by Janella Hinds, the UFT vice president for academic high schools, produced a report with much more aggressive recommendations to tackle the alarming lack of diversity. 

Mayor de Blasio is taking a lot of heat for a plan that is not nearly as bold as it needs to be. But you have to give him some credit for taking on this challenging issue.

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