In New York City Public Schools, Brown v. Board remains…unfulfilled

May 17, 2024 | Blog

This year, May 17th marks the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned segregation in public schools, stating that separating children based on race was unconstitutional.

And here in New York City (NYC), one of the most diverse cities in the world, that goal remains unfulfilled. School segregation continues to be the worst in the nation, for example, while the demographic makeup of New York City Public School’s (NYCPS) District 3 in Manhattan is diverse, the schools do not reflect this diversity. Of the district’s 40 schools, 16 schools have 35% or more Black students with an average of 4% White students. And 11 schools have over 35% White students, with an average 8% or less of Black students.

The history of segregation in New York City schools remains a complex web of policies — to name a few — selective school admissions, housing, school zoning, and enrollment policies, all of which have contributed to institutional racism in NYCPS. Yet, research shows that integration has many cognitive and social benefits for students, including higher academic outcomes, a higher likelihood of college enrollment, and can foster critical thinking skills and address opportunity and resource equity gaps for Black and Latinx students.

School integration has been an area of interest for past mayoral administrations, as NYCPS launched Diversity in Admissions programs, and the New York State Department of Education created the New York State Integration Project to fund district-wide integration efforts. However, the current NYC administration and New York State leadership have taken a step back from integration efforts — a new report found that the NYC administration has abandoned progress that was being made and, in some cases, moved the city backward. At the same time, a lawsuit challenging racial segregation in NYCPS is moving forward. That lawsuit could bring major changes to the City’s most selective schools and argues that too many Black and Latinx students face “systemic exclusion” from gifted and talented pipelines as early as Kindergarten, which impacts future educational opportunities.

As NYC leaders wait to see the outcome of the lawsuit challenging segregation in NYCPS, they don’t have to wait to hear from students about their right to a constitutional, anti-racist education. Students across the city from Integrate NYC are leading integration and anti-racist advocacy efforts to better support them and their peers in NYCPS.

As we reflect on this 70-year anniversary and acknowledge that our schools are extremely segregated, we urge NYC and State leaders to prioritize integration. They can do this by replicating successful efforts such as District 15’s middle school equitable choice lottery enrollment system overhaul which reduced economic segregation in sixth grade by 55% and racial segregation by 38% in one school year. NYCPS should also analyze and report out data, like, which demonstrates how segregated or integrated our schools are, and allows parents, advocates, educators, and school system leaders to track changes over time.

But the work can’t just be diversifying schools and classrooms. Such integration efforts must be supported with shifts in practices and policies to create culturally responsive and sustaining schools and classrooms. This involves: 1) creating welcoming and affirming school environments; 2) hiring and retaining representative and culturally competent educators; 3) addressing educator behaviors and mindsets to be asset-oriented with high expectations for students; and 4) using inclusive and affirming curriculum, materials, and instructional practices.

While NYCPS leaders have done some work to develop culturally responsive instructional materials, they did so in lieu of a of a more comprehensive plan to invest $202 million in a culturally responsive Mosaic curriculum for English language arts and math. Additionally, while NYC Reads, NYCPS’ new literacy initiative took, culturally responsiveness into account, experts found at least one of three new curricula were particularly demeaning and dehumanizing to people of color.

NYCPS has also made some progress on recruiting and retaining more educators of color, yet much more is needed to ensure our schools are taught and led by educators representing our diverse student body. NYCPS schools that serve the largest shares of students and teachers of color have some of the highest teacher turnover and 57% of schools do not have a Black school leader, with the percentage being higher for Latinx school leaders at 67%.

All students in New York City deserve equitable opportunities — and benefit from integration policies and culturally responsive-sustaining practices. It’s up to city and state leaders to honor the Brown v. Board of Education decision by not only prioritizing integration but also continuing work on culturally responsive and sustaining education policies and practices. Doing so will not only affirm and support our students, but it will prepare them for postsecondary success and beyond.