The Schott Foundation for Public Education

Education Redlining: Preface




John Jackson
Dr. John H. Jackson
President & CEO
Schott Foundation

The Right to Learn is an inalienable human right. Thus it is alarming that in the largest school system in the United States, that of New York City, the right to an Opportunity to Learn is undeniably distributed by race, ethnicity and neighborhood. This unequal distribution of opportunity by race and neighborhood occurs with such regularity in New York that reasonable people can no longer ignore the role that state and city policies and practices play in institutionalizing the resulting disparate outcomes, nor the role played by the lack of federal intervention requiring New York to protect students from them. In fact, there is clear and compelling evidence that federal resources provided to NYC only reinforce education redlining in New York.

We are fully aware that this has been the tradition for so long in New York and other urban and rural places that many will not be alarmed by the news. Instead they have accepted as normal policies and practices that label low-income people and people of color as failures, when they essentially are the causalities of larger systemic failures. Considering the U.S. Department of Education’s well intentioned efforts to move states towards common core national academic standards and New York’s efforts to double down on testing, teacher and school evaluations, we at the Schott Foundation find it necessary to take a deeper look into the widely varying opportunities to learn in New York City.

The results of this report clearly show a pattern of consistent education redlining in New York City at such a level that student outcomes are less about what students can achieve or teachers’ ability to teach and more about the failure of New York state and the city through policy and practices to create an environment or eco-system where all students have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn regardless of their race or where they live. Metaphorically, it is as if New York State and City are knowingly testing Black, Brown and students of any race or ethnicity living in poverty, on their swimming abilities while also knowingly relegating them to pools where the water has been drained. These students are then stigmatized as failures, their parents as being less than fully engaged, their teachers as being ineffective and ultimately their community schools are closed rather than being furnished with the necessary resources and supports to flourish. The policy landscape in New York sets the table for school closures in low income communities of color, a more negative media image of boys of color, and a pipeline for students to be pushed out or, as U.S. Department of Education data indicates, the overrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos among those suspended and expelled.

These results should move students, teachers, advocates, donors, leaders and policy makers to boldly act to reject and remove the unconscionable policies and practices in place which challenge the very right to learn of students in the city’s most neglected communities.

This is not to say that there are not some schools in high poverty, high minority areas that are performing well. There are indeed a few. However we have always been able to identify — even in times of legal state-sponsored segregation — students and schools who have been able to swim upstream through the midst of a flow of inequities. This should not cause us to be any more accepting of ill policies or forgetful of how there are in fact more students, schools and good teachers drowning, because of a mainstream current of bad policies which exacerbate racial and wealth inequities.

These results should move students, teachers, advocates, donors, leaders and policy makers to boldly act to reject and remove the unconscionable policies and practices in place which challenge the very right to learn of students in the city’s most neglected communities. Within the context of education being a right, given these results, it makes sense for parents to say “No more tests,” for students to walk out in protest, for parents to force highly resourced schools like Stuyvesant (which Black and Brown students have a very little chance to attend) to accept their children, or demand that their neighborhood schools remain open and are transformed to serve as hubs for creating opportunities in their communities. These are rational responses by individuals who recognize that under the current system, students’ fundamental right to learn in New York City is being systemically thwarted.

These systemic challenges can be addressed and in a timely fashion. Through this report we hope to identify the challenged areas with more specificity, provide immediate policy steps to disrupt the current flow and unapologetically proclaim that the time for emergency “whole system” reform, as opposed to a slow creeping status quo “school by school turnaround strategy” is now.

This is a crisis of state, local and federal significance. However because we know that it takes a village to abandon a child, in the face of the inability of federal, state and local leaders to generate the political will to address these issues, ultimately parents, students, teachers, faith leaders and the business and philanthropic community must lead through public will. As Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem’s Children Zone, proclaimed during a CNN interview, he had to do what he did in Harlem because the state and city were not doing what they should for all students in Harlem.

The New York education system is the biggest apple on the U.S. tree, and by enforcing policies that enhance education redlining rather than systemically disrupting education inequality divisions it is letting the potential and opportunity for too many students and the city rot away. We find this grossly unacceptable for New York City and any city in the United States.

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