Finding the Right School · School Choice

New Year, Old NYC School Argument

Kindergarten Connect, the form New York City parents use to apply their children to public school Kindergarten for September 2019, is scheduled to close on Monday, January 14th, although on-going problems with the “new and improved” online Parent Portal may cause the deadline to be pushed back due to technical difficulties.

To help parents know and rank all their choices, I published a list of NYC’s Top 25 Elementary Schools for 2018 & How You Can Get In.

In response, I received the following email from a reader:

It (sic) obvious that you are a part of the Parent cohort that is deathly afraid of blacks and browns integrating your schools. The article you attached holding up TWO public schools with majority blacks and browns and free lunch users as an example of the Mayor being wrong about integration is a red herring. What about the other hundreds of failing schools. My god, you people sound as if you’re straight out of the 1959’s defeated south!

When I read the email to my husband – a teacher home for Christmas break – he asked, “Like my dad?”

My African-American father-in-law grew up in Virginia under Jim Crow. There are many things he doesn’t miss about that time and place. You know what he does miss? The all-Black schools he attended. Integration, he told me again just this past holiday season, ruined them. (Malcolm Gladwell did an entire podcast in 2017 explaining the unintended consequences of Brown v. Board of Education on Black schools and teachers.)

My father-in-law isn’t the only African-American who doesn’t see sitting “blacks and browns” next to white children as the magic bullet to fix the horrific education most of them are getting. There is data indicating that integration actually benefits white students more than minority ones, and that integration, especially the way the current administration proposes it, without mechanisms in place to help struggling students (i.e. those who can’t afford tutoring outside of school, the results of which schools take credit for), only exacerbates achievement gaps while simultaneously making them harder to see – and less important to fix.

Some parents of color aren’t interested in embracing the magnanimous gift of being allowed to attend schools with white students. What they truly want is the same financial resources that those majority white schools have – and to be left alone to educate their children as they see fit.

Such an attitude would likely shock this Brooklyn mother who, as I wrote last May:

(S)tarted a petition to “End the use of all middle-school enrollment screens…. These screens systematically isolate and exclude students of color, and must be removed.”

Perhaps she wasn’t aware that Black families have the highest proportion of students opting out of their zoned schools? But then, how would she know that? Her petition is only looking for “white-identifying parents” to sign. Who cares how parents of color might feel about her proposal?

These White Man’s Burden initiatives have no interest in the consequences of righteous crusaders charging in to “fix” “blacks and browns” schools with their uplifting presence, or the turmoil it causes the families already there, like this recent example from Williamsburg.

When I wrote as much to my critic, she replied: You’re still wrong in my opinion and it’s still the fear of blacks and browns integrating.

I’ll be honest. If I hadn’t married my husband, if I hadn’t spent the past 20 years listening to his father, and if I’d never met my late mother-in-law, who, literally till her dying day, was fighting for better educational opportunities for Harlem’s children, I would have agreed.

Because I would have never known there was more than one narrative to America’s school integration battle, that there was more than one “right” side of history. (My daughter currently attends a school where, when reading any text, they are instructed to make sure it’s not “a single story.”)

My own public school was keen to turn me, an immigrant child, into a “good citizen,” as defined by them. But they never taught me that.

Now that I know more, I simply can’t keep blindly swallowing the Department of Education’s self-congratulatory press releases. Now that I know more, I can’t go one believing that there is only one way to educate all children, or that parents should cede their voices to experts (who can’t even agree among themselves). Now that I know more, I feel compelled to keep fighting for all families, including those “blacks and browns,” to not only realize that they have school choices, but how to go about getting them.

Whatever those choices might be.

No matter how many critical emails I get.


PS: I did not hold up “TWO public schools with majority blacks and browns and free lunch users as an example of the Mayor being wrong about integration.” I did mention PS 172 and The South Bronx Classical Charter School as outliers. But I also listed over a dozen Success Academies, including one in Cobble Hill, which even The New York Times praised as being the best in the city at reducing the achievement gap.


What do you think?

2 thoughts on “New Year, Old NYC School Argument

More Comments