Blog · New York City

A Different Kind of Segregation in the Name of Diversity on the Upper West Side

Despite local parent opposition, the NYC Department of Education is pushing through a highly controversial rezoning plan, to be put to a vote on Tuesday, November 22th, as a way to desegregate and improve a group of Upper West Side elementary schools. But the plan risks making both problems worse.

At the epicenter of the debate is PS 191, a school that serves the Lincoln Center Housing Projects. Enrollment there is 73% Free Lunch, 36% Black, and 45% Hispanic. Only 7% of students pass the state Math exam, and 24% pass English Language Arts.

A few blocks away, PS 199 is zoned for Lincoln Towers. Enrollment there is 7% Free Lunch and 63% white; over 80% of students pass state tests in both subjects.

Beginning in September of 2017, the DOE wants to rezone 61% of incoming Kindergarten students currently zoned for PS 199 into PS 191, as well as reshuffle families currently zoned for PS 191 into PS 199, and two other high-performing schools, PS 87 and PS 452. The DOE will move PS 191 into a brand new building to give it a “fresh start,” as well as relocate PS 452 into PS 191’s former space.

At Community Education Council hearings on the subject, PS 199 parents literally wept as they lamented that the rezoning is  “fracturing our community.” Their petition asserts, “[i]t would be a strong blow to split close friends amongst multiple schools.”

The Save 452 Facebook page asks,

To whom does a neighborhood school belong? Does a school belong to its administration? Its faculty? Its current parents and students? When I consider all the options, the only answer that makes sense to me is… [a] school belongs to the neighborhood it calls home.

Quick question: In all the hand-wringing, has anyone bothered to ask the PS 191 community how it feels about being splintered into three different parts? Or is the thrill of finally getting to sit next to white people supposed to smooth away any pitfalls and/or concerns?

Presumably, the idea behind all this switching around of deck-chairs on the Titanic is to mix low-performing students in with high-performing ones in order to create an atmosphere more conducive to learning for all. (I’ll explain why that has the potential to backfire next week, once the rezoning vote is final.)

But here’s another fly in the ointment. Currently, PS 191, PS 199, PS 87, and PS 452 are General Education schools, where all students are placed in identical classes, featuring the standard curriculum and no tracking based on academic ability.

Fully aware that it’s going to take more than just a brand new state of the art building on West End Avenue to attract middle-class families to a school that was once labeled “persistently dangerous,” the DOE has upped the ante.

Starting in September of 2017, PS 191 will offer a Gifted & Talented program. This is a suggestion proposed by the PS 199 petition that argues their parents are “entitled” due to the years they spent paying taxes. The new G&T won’t be one that begins at the Kindergarten level, which would require going through the city centralized process outlined here, but one that starts in 3rd grade and doesn’t use standardized test scores, but instead employs grades and teacher recommendations to determine admission.

This is similar to a methodology recently utilized to bring new G&T programs to underserved schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The same methodology that’s been proven to identify less Black and Hispanic children than other assessment methods.

Currently, in schools where a G&T program shares space with General Ed, the “enriched” program is primarily white, with some smattering of Asian children, while standard General Ed is Black and Hispanic. This is something that surprises The New York Times literally every single year.

If PS 191 follows the same path – and there is absolutely nothing now on the table to suggest that it won’t – the DOE will have rezoned and relocated a school in the name of diversity only to promptly resegregate the student body.

That’s not really something to be thankful for, is it?

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Segregation in the Name of Diversity on the Upper West Side

  1. Great article. 191 and 199 are 9 blocks apart. One is a failure factory, the other sparkles. There are setups like this all over New York State. Mount Vernon – Pelham (where I live), Rochester – Brockport, Chicago – Evanston and on and on. Sounds like the upper West Side is in the midst of a classic deseg move. The only way it works is if they change how they’re staffing and how they’re teaching, to meet the needs of the kids who are years behind grade level. I’d love to hear if there’s any plans to do that.

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