Meanwhile, the great majority of the city’s Black and Latinx students attend elementary, middle, and high schools that are severely under-resourced and under-subscribed, from which their students graduate, if they graduate, into precarious employment in the city’s service sectors. Those relatively few graduates headed to higher education often enroll in CUNY colleges where too many spend their federal and state opportunity grants, and their college careers, mired in remedial courses.
The cost of this systemic exercise in separate and unequal education is not trivial. According to the NYC Department of Education (DOE), the average city teacher salary was $73,362 in 2018. Assuming ten teachers in each of the 90 gifted programs (one teacher to each K-5 grade, three subject-area specialists in Science, Social Studies, and Art or Music, and one program coordinator), teacher costs alone might approach $70 million. Add $5 million per school for the five citywide gifted program schools and the cost of this separate and segregated stream approaches $100 million.
But the costs of the school system’s tier of selective high schools beyond the eight specialized test-driven schools is much higher. The top twenty-five city high schools that graduate more than 90% of their students enroll predominantly White and Asian students. At approximately $25 million per high school, the cost of this privileged and hyper-segregated selective high school tier probably approaches $1 billion annually.
By the time city students reach high school, this race-based resource and opportunity disparity has structured, and far too often limited, not only their academic capacities but also what they’ll accomplish in the future. Research has shown that students attending financially stable high schools are more likely to access Advanced Placement and college preparation courses, and to have acquired the skills to succeed in those courses.
Add in increased access to SAT and ACT prep courses, private tutors, and the ability (and time) to pursue expensive extracurricular activities, and the already sizeable gap between wealthy students and their less economically advantaged peers grows even wider. This disparity affects not only who goes to college but also the types of schools students from different backgrounds attend.
A 2015 analysis from the Brookings Institution found that Black students were just 4 percent of those enrolled at top-tier U.S. colleges, but 26 percent of students at the bottom tier of colleges. A 2017 New York Times analysis found that even with race-conscious admissions policies in place, Black and Hispanic students are actually less represented at America’s top colleges now than they were 35 years ago.
If we want the currently hyper-segregated New York City school system to significantly reduce, if not tear down, this race-based opportunity barrier and effectively educate the 70% of our school system’s Black and Latino students, what should we do?
Continuing to spend perhaps a billion dollars on a segregated stream of gifted and selective programs primarily serving White and Asian students, from kindergarten through high school, will not disrupt our failure to effectively serve the majority of the school system’s students. But do we know what constitutes effective education for those students?
We now have increasingly effective data-driven analyses designed to identify all our students’ academic, socio-emotional, and economic needs. We still struggle, however, to deploy an equitable diversity of interventions and supports to effectively meet those needs.
I have been much influenced by the studies of effective education provided to Black students in the segregated post-bellum south, embedded in the pioneering research of James Anderson, Vanessa Siddle Walker, and other historians. In Their Highest Potential, in The Lost Education of Horace Tate, and in numerous other articles, Siddle Walker excavates and documents the commitment of Black principals and teachers in pre-Brown era rural southern segregated schools to challenge poor Black students to reach their intellectual and academic potential.
Walker’s work demonstrates how Black principals and teachers struggled to effectively serve their students in schools resource-starved by white supremacist school boards. Black rural communities, already unfairly taxed to support grossly inadequate roads, water and sewer lines and other public provisions, endured double taxation to build and heat often makeshift schools and provide the basic textbooks and supplies for their students.
Paid meager salaries and often lodging in the homes of the communities they served, educators in those schools fervently believed they were preparing the future leaders of the race, and that their effective education would lead to eventual Black liberation. Walker documents how principals and teachers combined high academic standards and rigorously challenging classrooms with an unrelenting focus on loving and nurturing their students while relentlessly preparing them to develop and hone their academic capacities.
Those schools are long gone—the perhaps unintended victims, along with their Black administrators and teachers, of the integration of southern schools. Currently, in most U.S. school systems, not just in the south, the vast majority of our administrator and teacher cohorts are White. How might we mount a national effort to inspire, recruit, support, train, certify and tenure a huge cohort of teachers of color as committed to helping students of color reach their highest academic potentials as the protagonists in Siddle Walker’s histories were?