Public Schools Are Segregation Academies

April 26, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The first image above shows the school districts in Manhattan. The second shows the racial/ethnic makeup of the population; the data are a little old, but the relevant facts for the purpose of this post haven’t changed.

Take a look at the shape of District 2 – it’s the one that encompasses all of Manhattan below Central Park except for a big chunk on the southeast tip of the island.

What occasions this particular illustration? In his e-mail blast today, Whitney Tilson reprints the following correspondence “from a friend”:

Every great DOE school is selective — whether by test score or by Realtor, if you know what I mean. 

Look at the map of Manhattan District 2, one of the best public school systems in America. It could only have been drawn to intentionally ensure that white kids on Upper East Side, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village wouldn’t have to bump shoulders with black and Hispanic kids. 

Try renting a 2 bedroom apartment in that district for less than $3,000. 

Does District 2 cream? Hell yes!  Kids there have benefitted from a double-whammy (which was designed to benefit white kids, but now is increasingly filled by Asian students): they attend a middle school where you have to ace the 4th grade tests to be allowed in.  They also get the best teachers in the city because who wouldn’t want to teach the richest public school families in America? 

Schools filled with rich kids, when the system is rigged in their favor (the education level of their parents, the reality that rich kid schools are able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for teacher aides and books and such at fancy fundraisers, etc.), equals selective schools. 

Then we give them the best teachers and we allow their test scores to mask the city’s low aggregate scores. We create gifted and talented programs for them and give them a much stronger curriculum and higher expectations. We watch their parents spend a small fortune on afterschool tutoring and organized activities for their kids. 

OF COURSE they do well with all that extra learning! 

The NYC ‘system’ is rigged in favor of rich kids. (Joel Klein has tried to unrig it, but the political force is too strong.) 

It is why poor kids need these opportunities that are provided by the 30-40% of charters that are really, really excellent. 

What’s the quickest and easiest way to create a nationwide system of segregation academies? Force people to go to school based on where they live.

How do you make them even worse? Let the district lines be drawn by an unaccountable bureaucracy that claims to care about kids but actually doesn’t care how many children’s lives it has to destroy in order to keep the gravy trains running on time.

What is the only – the only – empirically proven way to successfully smash segregation? School choice.

Images by UNHP and Gotham Gazette