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Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools


On June 6, 2017, the New York City Department of Education released a plan to stimulate diversity in its schools. The plan, titled Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools, featured three focal goals: (1) to increase racial representativeness in NYC DOE schools; (2) to decrease economic stratification of NYC DOE schools; and (3) to increase the number of NYC DOE schools that are inclusive on the bases of language heritage, ability status, and housing status. While some believed a comprehensive diversity plan was needed to promote equity across the system, key questions about the NYC DOE plan and its goals have persisted. To answer these questions, this report compares student outcomes in New York City’s most and least diverse schools using 2015-2016 student achievement and graduation data. In doing so, the report presents an analysis of academic achievement for students in the least diverse (i.e., “segregated”) and most diverse (i.e., “non-segregated”) schools across New York City.


To what extent will achieving the goals outlined in the NYC DOE’s diversity plan lead to better outcomes for the City’s most vulnerable students? That is, is there evidence that promoting diversity in New York City schools will lead to increased academic achievement and higher graduation rates for the City’s most vulnerable students?


Analysis suggests that there is a modest benefit for vulnerable students attending the City’s most diverse schools when comparing ELA and math test scores and four-year high school graduation rates. Moreover, long-term student outcome patterns for vulnerable students (across race and socioeconomic status) point to the benefits of diversity and more precisely the problem of segregated schooling across the board.

  •  Diversity in New York City schools appear to be regional, concentrated significantly in Queens.
  • All New York City students, with the exception of Asian students, are more likely to attend the City’s least diverse (i.e., “most segregated”) schools. Black students are more likely than other groups to attend such schools.
  • Based on 2015-2016 achievement data, third and eighth grade students attending New York City’s most diverse schools modestly outperformed students attending the City’s least diverse schools on state standardized tests in both English and math.
  • Students attending the most diverse high schools were slightly more likely to graduate on-time than their peers attending the least diverse schools; less economically advantaged students in particular seemed to benefit from attending the most diverse high schools.
  • Black third grade students performed better at the least diverse schools (in comparison to the most diverse schools), but this pattern was not sustained by eighth grade.
  • White, Asian, and more economically advantaged students performed substantially better and were much more likely to graduate high school in four years in the City’s least diverse schools than their peers.
  • Diversity along lines of race and socioeconomic status seemed to modestly close achievement gaps (i.e., opportunity gaps), while hyper-segregation seemed to greatly exacerbate them (i.e., opportunity barrier).   


  • Break Up “Opportunity Monopolies.”
    The City must do more to break up the monopoly that some students have on opportunity by breaking up schools that disproportionately serve almost exclusively the privileged.
  • Coordinate Strategies to Encourage Diversity. 
    The City must enlist allies from multiple community agencies to coordinate strategies to promote diversity while simultaneously discouraging segregation.  
  • Reframe Education. 
    The reframing of education must imagine diversity as something beyond bodies, and proliferates the properties of knowing and being inclusive of diverse student backgrounds.
  • Recruit and Retain Highly Effective Teachers of Color. 
    A plan to desegregate NYC schools must be imagined alongside a plan to promote diversity among the NYC teacher workforce.
  • Hire and/or Develop Culturally Competent Educators. 
    Systemic shifts in institutional mindsets must be pursued through the hiring of culturally competent educators mixed with a continued effort to provide ongoing development and assessment of teacher cultural competency, using cultural competence measures, inventories, scales, and other data systems.     


New York City remains plagued by a pattern of hyper-segregation, as revealed in the 2014 “Brown at 60” report released by UCLA. This condition of hyper-segregation influences student outcomes across the City, limiting access to opportunity for the City’s most vulnerable students—those whose achievement and graduation differences can be directly correlated with not just achievement or opportunity gaps, but also access and opportunity barriers. Within the City’s most diverse schools, these barriers begin to fracture, as differences in achievement and graduation rates across the City begin to close. Thus, there are real, if even modest, benefits to school diversity in New York City. There are also very real patterns in the City that epitomize a tale of two school systems, separate and unequal. These patterns suggest that while the goal of integration is a desirable one, the real work of educational equity in New York City must involve expanding opportunity because the opposite of segregation is not integration; the opposite of segregation is access. Segregated schooling in the City limits access to opportunities for less economically advantaged students and students of color. To achieve equity, the City must address a very frank question—a question that deals with not only how to expand diversity, but importantly how to expand opportunity.

A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools

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Research Report on Equity and the Transformation of Schools