Brownstone Brooklyn's Racial Divide: Why Are the Schools So Segregated?

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Brownstone Brooklyn's Racial Divide: Why Are the Schools So Segregated? 3.5
Will moving the lines on a map integrate Brooklyn's public schools? What if instead of redrawing catchment areas, poor parents were given the same choices middle-class families take for granted?

P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights is one of New York City's most sought after public elementary schools. It’s surrounded by luxury condominiums and nineteenth-century town houses. Young families pay top dollar to move into the zone with the goal of laying claim to one of P.S. 8’s coveted kindergarten spots.

Three quarters of a mile from P.S. 8 is another public elementary school called P.S. 307. It serves a tiny section of Brooklyn that on a map looks like it was carved out of the area assigned to P.S. 8. And the zone is fully occupied by the Farragut Houses, which is a large public housing project.

As a result, demographically these two schools just a short distance apart look nothing alike: Ninety-percent of the students at PS 307 come from economically disadvantaged homes, as compared to 16 percent at P.S.8, and 95 percent of P.S. 307 students are minorities, while at P.S. 8 the figure is 40 percent.

And there’s nothing unusual about this particular district; race and class divisions exist in public school systems all over America. Sixty-two years after the Supreme Court ruled against separate but equal, school lines are drawn in a way that keeps kids who are rich and poor—black and white—apart.

Now, in this particular district in Brooklyn, with P.S. 8 experiencing severe overcrowding, the community is making a serious attempt to bring more integration. In early January, a local board that represents the district voted 6 to 3 to redraw the boundary between P.S. 8 and P.S. 307. In theory, this will mean hundreds of white affluent families will start sending their kids to a school that’s currently predominantly poor and minority.

But will parents go along with the plan?

"In general, the lesson of integration over the past 30 or 40 years has been don't just compulsorily reassign families and expect integration to occur," says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation who is considered "the intellectual father" of the movement to integrate schools. "Upper middle class families have options," he says. "They can move to a different district. They can send their kids to private school."

Wendy Lecker—a senior attorney at the Education Law Center, who's part of an informal working group to bring more diversity to New York City schools—is more sanguine.

"Many parents don't themselves have experience with integrated education," she says, "and I have a little more faith in parents that...when they understand the benefits of being in a diverse school district they will choose to participate in the public school system."

Meanwhile, walking distance from P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 there are three charters with diversity as part of their core mission. They're taking a different approach to integration—within the very same district.

Charters are public schools that are free from many of the bureaucratic rules that govern traditional public schools, and they aren't strictly tied to a particular neighborhood, so kids from anywhere in the city can apply for a slot. The newest of the bunch is the International Charter School of New York.

"We have everyone from parents who work on Wall Street to families who live in transitional housing," says Matthew Levey, the school's executive director and founder. "Diversity is something that everyone should value," says Levey, "but if you force [parents] to value it then they don't."

Today most charter schools in the U.S. aren’t diverse at all, but Kahlenberg believes that if parents had more choices many would recognize the immense benefits and opt to send their kids to integrated schools. "I'm excited about the possibility of charter schools, empowering teachers and integrating students," he says.

Written, shot, edited, and narrated by Jim Epstein. Production help from Alexis Garcia, Todd Krainin, and Izzy Skenazy.

About 11 minutes.

Music

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

"After the Week I've Had" by Dexter Britain
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


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💬 Comments on the video
Author

So nobody wants the new zoning or integration but they are going to force it on them? Just get rid of public education.

Author — Swansong32

Author

Upper class white kids from mostly two parent homes being forced to attend school with poor black kids from mostly single mother homes? That is going to work out extremely well. NOT!

Author — John O. Williams

Author

Homeschooling your children will save them from crap schools, and those will make them far better educated than schooled children.

Author — William Braganza Hanna

Author

If I never hear the phrases "socioeconomic status" and "economically disadvantaged" again, it will be too soon. People just air-drop those into sentences to see if that makes an argument sound valid.

Author — Aaron Neighbour

Author

People self segregate too. Yes, there is involuntary segregation due to salary/affordability but people also want to live among themselves.

Author — MbseedM

Author

They are segregated because of freedom! Segregation is not a bad thing, government enforced segregation is a bad thing!

Author — Daniel Holm

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"Public schools have been the glue that has held our society together"

Author — Boban Orlovic

Author

Wendy Lecker is not the sharpest knife in the draw.She states the mission and apparently sole mission of schools as socialization .Whereas, the true mission of schools should be to impart wisdom and skill.

Author — aramagoo

Author

It's so weird to see a socialism being tried in a capitlaist society, and no one even thinking maybe this is a bad idea

Author — Boban Orlovic

Author

The logic here is flawed. Putting gifted children in special needs classes would not benefit the gifted child. To destroy a child's potential for the sake of "diversity" is criminal. Make schools merit based. Children and the country would benifit from a merit based school sytem.

Author — jamhay1000

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Wendy Lecker talks a big game but she probably sends her kids to a nice white private school.

Author — huxleyaddict

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Time to find a good private school! Who would leave their precious children's educations to these whack jobs?

Author — Kemwit Tall Tree

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It seems that at least some of the re-segregation has been the result of self-segregation based on people choosing to live among other citizens with whom they feel the greatest sense of community. Diversity is of value only when the diverse elements have a common goal and self-select, not when diverse elements are aggregated at the whim of some external agency

Author — Dan Troop

Author

Your solution sounds like affirmative action for elementary schools.

Author — Ship-man

Author

Schools are merely books and buildings at heart, it's the quality and character of the student and parents that make a school great.

Author — BEMarty Three

Author

Wendy Lecker is a naively dangerous person.

Author — alfred koenig

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Segragation by IQ and property tax is not racial segregation

Author — Rachel Holtzman

Author

So even after years of equality segregation forms naturally?

Author — Parysk

Author

when i was a child we segregated by IQ. It's still the same.

Author — Dwig Buoy

Author

People don't want to live together.
If you force them you only create problems, not solutions.
It's a utopian delusion to think just putting people from different cultures together is progress.

Author — s0nnyburnett