Brooklyn’s Dilemma: School District Lines and Racial Segregation

September 24, 2015


Brooklyn by race (one dot = one person)

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today on NRO, Reihan Salam writes about a controversy involving school district lines attendance zones [see correction below] in his Brooklyn neighborhood. A nearby public school (P.S. 8) is oversubscribed; another nearby public school (P.S. 307), which is located in another attendance zone, is undersubscribed. Officials are therefore trying to redraw the lines and move an appropriate number of households in the neighborhood – which is, no fooling, called “Dumbo” – from one zone to the other.

Easy peasy, right? Not on your New York life.

P.S. 8 is 59% white and 15% free/reduced lunch; P.S. 307 is 90% black or Hispanic and 90% FRL.

Salam notes:

More than one Dumbo parent has tried to explain to me how they’re totally different from other people who fight against integration. They explain that what they really want is a better world in which we spend far more on our public schools, not mentioning, or perhaps not knowing, that New York city spends $20,331 per pupil, almost twice as much as the national average of $10,700, and that much of this money is spent very inefficiently. Of course they want integration, they’ll tell you, but only if it entails no sacrifice on their part. “It’s more complicated when it’s about your own children,” says one Dumbo parent. Well, yes, it is more complicated, and that is exactly what every parent believes, whether they are in Brooklyn or South Boston or Kansas City.

“Dumbo parents,” indeed.

There is more to this story than a political dilemma in Brooklyn. One of the biggest problems in the research on racial segregation in schools is getting the public – and, too often, the researchers! – to understand how school district lines, attendance zones, etc. are drawn in ways that ensure racial segregation in public schools. Research on racial segregation is often conducted in ways that ignore this, making public schools appear much better integrated than they actually are.

The only really viable solution is school choice. It not only breaks the link between place of residence and place of schooling, thus helping overcome residentail segregation; it entirely circumvents the political (and therefore racially fraught) process of drawing school district lines. Of the eight empirical studies examing the impact of school choice on racial segregation in schools, seven found that choice reduced segregation, and one found no visible effect.

Image: University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service (via)

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

UCLA Civil Rights Project Gets It Wrong

February 4, 2010

My friends over at Mid-Riffs take apart the new report from Gary Orfield’s UCLA Civil Rights Project claiming that charters produce segregation:

“The report finds:

that charter schools, particularly those in the western United States are havens for white re-segregation from public schools; requirements for providing essential equity data to the federal government go unmet across the nation; and magnet schools are overlooked, in spite of showing greater levels of integration and academic achievement than charters.

It looks like, based on a quick pass through the report, their main finding is based on demographic comparisons  between charter schools and traditional public schools at the state level. This method of comparison likely leads to inaccurate conclusions due to the fact that charter schools are overwhelmingly an urban phenomenon. The correct comparison is between charters and the demographics of their immediate geographic area. We have discussed this topic as it relates to Little Rock at length here.

The Economist’s take on this report is concise, to-the-point, and spot on.

In plain English, there are a lot of black kids in charter schools. This is because charter schools tend to get set up in neighbourhoods where the public schools are terrible, such as south-eastern Washington DC or the rougher parts of New Orleans. These neighbourhoods are disproportionately African-American. Charter schools are popular with poor black parents because their other choices are so awful. There are very few charter schools in rich white suburbs with nice public schools, because there is no call for them.

The important question about charter schools is: do they give kids a better education than they would otherwise have received? The answer is yes. Nothing else matters.”

EdWize’s Racial Libel

September 28, 2009

Race Card w watermark

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

On EdWize, Jonathan Gyurko finds himself forced to acknowledge that Caroline Hoxby’s recent blockbuster study is good news for charter schools. He then starts desperately groping for any excuse he can find to neutralize the good news.

Most of his claims will be familiar to those who have seen the teachers’ unions try to spin away gold-standard empirical evidence that their positions are wrong. We’ve read all these cue cards before.

But one of his claims deserves more attention. Like many before him, Gyurko tries his hand at racial demagoguery to make parental choice seem like a scary throwback to Jim Crow:

Such a dramatically-presented conclusion is sure to feature prominently in charter advocates’ efforts to expand the number of charter schools across the city and state. And if it’s true, then why shouldn’t we? The answer actually depends on how policymakers weigh the goal of improved student achievement against other worthy goals, such as greater educational equity and meaningful diversity. And on these other objectives, nagging questions dog the charter sector.

For example, Hoxby finds that 92 percent of charter students are black or Hispanic, compared to 72 percent in district schools and concludes that “the existence of charter schools in the city therefore leaves the traditional public schools less black, more white, and more Asian.” Such racial segregation is consistent with research on charter schools in other states including North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere.

Although this statistic is likely to be a function of charter schools’ location in largely black and Hispanic neighborhoods, Hoxby also reports that fewer white students are applying to the charters; although 14 percent of residents in the charter school neighborhoods are white non-Hispanic, only 4 percent are applying.

There are two claims made here:

1) If the citywide aggregate population of all charter school students is more heavily minority than the citywide aggregate population of district school students, charters must be increasing segregation.

2) If charter school applicants who live near the charter schools are disproportionately minority, charters must be increasing segregation.

Both claims are transparently bogus.

On the first claim: citywide aggregate figures tell us nothing whatsoever about the impact charters are having on segregation, for the simple reason that citywide aggregate figures can tell us nothing whatsoever about segregation in any context, even aside from the whole charter question.

Imagine for a moment that New York is made up of 50% green children and 50% purple children. Let’s look at two scenarios:

Perfect segregation scenrio: All the green children go to fully segregated schools made up exclusively of green children, and all the purple children go to fully segregated schools made up exclusively of purple children.

Perfect integration scenario: All children attend perfectly integrated schools made up of half green children and half purple children.

Now, let’s take a look at the citywide aggregate figures we would get under these two scenarios.

Perfect segregation scenario: Citywide aggregate 50% green, 50% purple.

Perfect integration scenario: Citywide aggregate 50% green, 50% purple.

You see? Aggregate figures are intrinsically incapable of providing any information about school segregation. To find out whether schools are segregated, you must look at the individual schools.

Let’s apply that principle to the real world. Hoxby finds that the citywide aggregate population of district school students is 72% minority. But does that mean every individual school is 72% minority? Of course not. You could very well have all the white children going to perfectly segregated exclusively all-white schools, all the black children to perfectly segregated exclusively all-black schools, all the Hispanic children going to perfectly segregated exclusively all-Hispanic schools, etc., and the citywide aggregate figure would remain unchanged.

And, in fact, the reality on the ground is a lot closer to that dystopian hypothetical than it is to the utopian scenario of ideal racial balance. But Gyurko’s argument relies on the unspoken assumption that the reality on the ground in district schools is utopian.

Meanwhile, the citywide aggregate for charter schools is 92%. As with district schools, the aggregate figure tells us nothing about the actual racial balance in any individual school. Supposing for a moment that New York’s district schools are very heavily segregated – which they are – it is quite possible that the actual charter schools on the ground are better integrated than the district schools even though their aggregate population figure is disproportionately minority.

And, in fact, given that the primary cause of school segregation is housing segregation, the fact that charters can break down neighborhood barriers and draw students from other neighborhoods with different demographics makes it highly likely that they are, in fact, better integrated. That’s the reality in voucher programs, where the empirical evidence unanimously shows parent choice improves integration.

But at any rate, the data to which Gyurko appeals don’t tell us either way.

Once the essential sham behind the first claim is exposed, the second claim is much easier to refute. What counts is not how the local applicant pool differs from the local resident population, but how the final makeup of each charter school differs from the final makeup of each district school. Once the process of parents making choices is completed, are the individual charter schools more segregated? This datum tells us nothing about that.

Ironically, Gyurko’s argument on this second claim really implies that he wants charter schools to represent the racial balance of their local neighborhoods. That would imply endless racial segregation, given that neighborhoods are so racially homogeneous. Any serious attempt to break down racial segregation in schools must begin by acknowledging that schools representing their neighborhoods is the problem.

That’s why hyper-arrogant courts forced us to go through the disastrous failed experiment with forced busing. That was a terrible idea, just like anything that robs parents of their freedom. But at least those tyrannical judges understood the source of the problem correctly.

If parents want to send their children to their local neighborhood schools, they should be allowed. But anything we do that forces them to send their children to school locally is – among so many other evils – going to increase racial segregation. Assigning students to schools by ZIP code is not only educationally bankrupt, it’s racially poisonous.