School diversity bills passed in City Council

Many desks inside this classroom at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School were empty on Thursday, April 16, 2015 as students opted out of the state

The City Council passed four pieces of legislation aimed at increasing diversity in the city’s school system.

“New York City prides itself on its diversity, but we have the most segregated school system in the country,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, before the vote.

Now, the Department of Education will be required have a breakdown of demographics by grade level and place on its website a side-by-side comparison of racial and ethnic demographics within each school or special program with the racial and ethnic demographics of the city public school system.

Going forward, the city will also create a school diversity advisory group of 27 members — teachers, principals, current students, parents of public school students, and experts in the fields of cultural curriculum and pedagogy, restorative justice school discipline policies, teacher education and training, integration or education policy— who will be appointed by the mayor, the public advocate and the City Council speaker.

One member will be appointed by the public advocate and one will be appointed by city council speaker. Members of the advisory group will be appointed by early next year with members schedule to start meeting in September of 2020.

The third bill passed calls for the creation of diversity working groups in each of the city’s community school districts. Each working group, comprised of 13 people, will make recommendations on how to increase diversity. Members will again include teachers, parents, students, principals, DOE representatives and community education council members.

The DOE already is in the process of creating diversity plans in districts 9, 13, 16, 28 and 31, officials said. The agency has already has diversity plans in Manhattan’s community school district 1, 3 and Brooklyn’s 15.

“Our students thrive in diverse learning environments, and we thank the Council for their partnership in developing this important, community-driven work,” said a DOE spokesperson. “We’re creating diversity plans in five districts this year, and look forward to expanding to more in the coming years.”

The DOE will also also be required to report on the demographics, including gender, race, ethnicity, length of employment and years experience in the position of school leadership, teaching staff and other school-related professional staff. But the DOE will not have to state the highest level of education a staff member has achieved.

“Information is power and without data we can’t understand a problem or even identify if a problem is there,” said Executive Director of Educators for Excellence Paula White. Having data on demographics down to the building level will only provide more nuance to how the make up of city schools.

“Even in places where the teaching staff does more closely mirror the student body the distribution may be quite uneven,” said White.

The passage of the bills come about a week  it was discovered that 200 school districts in the state of New York did not employ a teacher of color. The findings, presented in a draft report to the state’s Board of Regents, showed that the New York that the number of teachers of color has declined in Manhattan and Brooklyn.