Opinion: The DOE Should Eliminate School Choice

Sam Ferrera, Grade 11, Staff Writer

Over the summer, High School of American Studies students formed the Committee for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI) amidst renewed calls for racial justice in America. The committee aims to diversify HSAS by expanding the number of students accepted through the Discovery Program, which reserves seats for low-income or minority students who score just below the cut-off on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). The goals of the CEDI echo a greater push from students, activists, and educators in the Department of Education to integrate New York City schools and provide greater opportunities for students of color. Desegregating NYC schools and expanding affirmative action and other similar programs will not be enough. The DOE needs to better fund schools, which will require the phasing-out of school choice programs.


As the New York City Council found in 2019, 74.6 percent of Black and Hispanic students attend a school with less than 10 percent white students. Moreover, 34.3 percent of white students attend a school with more than 50 percent white students. The segregation of schools has a resounding impact on school performance because of how race and wealth are tied together in America. Concentrating minority students in certain schools leads to unequal funding, and the DOE has strategies to counter this inequality.


Since 2007, the Fair Student Funding algorithm has provided greater funding to schools with higher-need students. Despite this, the neediest schools in the DOE are still underfunded. The highest-need schools receive only 15 percent more funding than lowest-need schools despite having double the number of low-income students. These schools also suffer from inexperienced teachers, with one-quarter of their teachers having less than three years of experience. The impact of racial segregation on schools manifests itself in the stark differences in educational outcomes. According to ProPublica, Black and Hispanic students are academically 2.3 grades behind white students and have a graduation rate 14 points lower than white students.


To put an end to school segregation and educational disparities, schools must demand integration. School choice serves a large role in segregating the schools of a particular district. It begins at the kindergarten level, where students have very little dividing them. Despite this, 40 percent of NYC kindergarteners, or around 27,000 five-year-olds, do not attend their local zoned school. Overall, one in eight NYC kindergarten classes is racially homogenous, meaning 90 percent or more of the students are of the same race or ethnicity.


These trends continue into elementary school, where school choice helps to not only create homogenous schools but also consolidates wealth through Parent-Teacher Associations. PTAs rake in tons of money from the parents of students at a school, whose race and wealth are strongly tied together. P.S. 87, which is 64 percent white, had their PTA raise around $2.1 million in 2019. In contrast, P.S. 194, which is 91 percent Black and Hispanic, raised $391 in 2019.

By the time students reach middle school, segregation is already a reality. District 3 in Manhattan serves a population that is roughly about half Black and Hispanic, and half white and Asian. However, the district requires its students to apply to middle school, which leads to stark racial divides. Middle School 54 (located within District 3) is 70 percent white and Asian. Two blocks away, West Prep Academy is 97 percent Black and Hispanic.


The problem is clear: the implementation of school choice at every level of education creates the basis for funding disparities, which eventually culminates in the huge achievement gap between white students and minority students. School choice must be phased out in order to provide more equitable educational outcomes across racial lines.


Some would argue that rather than strip parents of their right to choose their child’s education, the DOE should implement greater affirmative action plans. Plans to reserve certain amounts of seats in “good” schools for low-income, or under-performing students (metrics that strongly correlate to Black and Hispanic students) are seen as preferable to ending school choice.


However, advocates of affirmative action plans have no solution to the persistent problem of segregated schools. Affirmative action plans in NYC schools, at their best, slightly increase the diversity of top-performing schools. These plans do nothing for the minority students who are left to squander in their under-performing schools. Moreover, expanding affirmative action plans to achieve greater diversity would require “forced bussing” to transport huge numbers of Black and Hispanic students to top-performing schools across the city (due to housing segregation). Bussing represents a greater loss of liberties for the parent than removing school choice.


Eliminating school choice at younger ages would in fact be the only way to preserve it for later admissions processes, like high school. By creating more equitable schools at a younger age (through eliminating school choice and more equally spreading white wealth), older students would be on more equal footing, allowing the selective system of high-school admissions to continue.


To truly desegregate schools, NYC would have to first achieve housing integration and have truly diverse communities. But short of revamping the housing system, the DOE can achieve greater diversity and lower the achievement gap between students of different races by ending the practice of school choice. By eliminating school choice, needier schools would be more adequately funded through a more even distribution of the wealth of white families, creating more equitable educational outcomes.

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