Anyone laboring under the delusion that New York City is a progressive bastion need look no further than the city’s school system, which remains among the most segregated in the country.
In an effort to fight that trend, which has only gotten worse thanks to gentrification, rising income and wealth inequality throughout the city’s five boroughs, schools on the Upper West Side—one of the wealthiest and whitest sections of Manhattan—are looking to adopt a plan that would require all local middle schools to reserve a quarter of their seats for students who score below grade level on state English and math tests.
The plan is designed to make Upper West Side schools more reflective of New York City’s diverse demographics, and make sure underprivileged students have access to the sorts of advantages and resources that the neighborhood’s well-funded schools can provide.
Well, that plan didn’t go over so well in a room full of wealthy white parents.
Local TV station Spectrum News NY1 captured footage of a contentious meeting during which rich, white Manhattanites shouted, ranted and complained about the perceived disadvantages their children would face.
The parents couldn’t fathom their children not getting into the middle school of their choice because they might have to hand their seat over to a black or Latinx child.
“You’re talking about an 11-year-old, you worked your butt off and you didn’t get that, what you needed or wanted,” said one big-mad woman. “You’re telling them that you’re going to go to a school that’s not going to educate you the same way you’ve been educated. Life sucks!”
The video has traveled around education circles and reached the New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who shared a Raw Story write-up of the fountain of white tears on his Twitter page.
District officials didn’t take the parents’ heated comments lying down. As News NY1 reports, virtually all of the district’s principals and many of the elected parent-leaders support the desegregation plan. During the meeting, middle school principal Henry Zymeck clapped back at the angry parents.
“There are kids that are tremendously disadvantaged,” he said. “And to compare these students and say, ‘My already advantaged kid needs more advantage; they need to be kept away from those kids,’ is tremendously offensive to me.”
The city’s highly segregated school system is the result of a number of factors. As Michelle Chen wrote for The Nation, the city’s system of school choice “encourages privileged parents to move to higher-performing, affluent, and often disproportionately white districts, which inevitably leaves behind, and excludes, poor children of color who get stuck in unstable, underfunded schools.”
Gentrification compounds the problem by forcing low-income families out of neighborhoods that were previously underserved; as resources and income pour in, the children of these families are also squeezed out of their schools. Chen notes that academic testing, which applies “rigid standards of ‘merit,’” also results in biased outcomes and helps exacerbate racial and class divisions across the city’s schools.
The plan, which would affect 17 schools on the Upper West Side, is currently being reviewed by the district’s school superintendent. If enacted, the Upper West Side district would become the first in the city to enact a policy to diversify its middle schools.