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Don't abandon diversity goals in NYC schools

New York City's schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks

New York City's schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks at the Teachers College at Columbia University Academic Festival in Manhattan on April 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

After nearly two years of talk about inequity in NYC's schools, and the deep racial and economic divides that permeate them, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made a suggestion last week that fails to even make a dent. Create pairings of "sister schools" so students can become pen pals and Parent Teacher Associations can share funds. Mayor Bill de Blasio backed the idea as "achievable in the near-term."

During an Upper West Side forum Wednesday, Fariña talked a lot about the desire for diversity, focusing on what individual schools could do, without any plan or big ideas.

What happened to the visionary mayor and chancellor, dedicated to sweeping changes and big efforts to close the city's education gaps? Have Fariña and de Blasio given up?

Yes, it's incredibly complex. Yes, there's no easy answer. But don't propose piecemeal solutions that don't even scrape the surface of the significant, overarching issues facing NYC schools. Don't avoid the big moves, comprehensive solutions and long-term plans, in favor of pen pals.

There's nothing wrong with the concept of students getting to know one another. There's nothing wrong with the notion that PTAs with excess funds can help those that can't afford to buy paper and supplies for teachers. But it's not enough, and none of it will happen on its own; it'll need structure, guidelines and people to take charge.

It takes leadership to make real change. On these issues, Fariña seems to be passing up the opportunity. It may be an admission that it's harder than it looks and more complicated than de Blasio anticipated.

Instead of throwing out arbitrary suggestions, they should start listening to those in the trenches. Principals have proposed ways to increase diversity in their schools, but so far, those plans haven't moved forward. Parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant are working together to find their own solutions for improved educational opportunities, like new dual-language programs that could benefit all.

Let the voices of parents and principals through, and let their ideas lead to action. We've heard de Blasio and Fariña talk for too long; it's time to see something more.


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