The first definition—based on the concentration of Black or Latino students in a school—produces a relatively comparable proportion of racially representative schools across each of the five boroughs, ranging from 20 percent in the Bronx to 36 percent in Queens. The somewhat higher proportions in Staten Island and Queens are likely due to the large populations of Asian students who live in Queens and White students who live in Staten Island.
The boroughs look very different by the other two definitions, however. Most notably, nearly half of all elementary and middle schools in the Bronx and a third of schools in Brooklyn are racially representative in comparison to their CSD, while only 12 percent of the schools in Queens are. When we compare schools to the demographics of their borough, only the Bronx has more than a quarter of its schools defined as racially representative. Strikingly, fewer than 1 percent of schools in Brooklyn and fewer than 3 percent of schools in Queens are racially representative when compared to their borough.
How we identify racially diverse schools matters for how we approach the problem of school segregation in NYC. In its 2019 report, the NYC School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) explicitly tied its recommendations to these increasingly broad definitions of representation. In the short-run, the SDAG advocated for policies to make schools representative of their CSD, while in the long-run advocated for representation at the borough and city levels. There remain many important questions about how we measure segregation in NYC and track progress over time. These questions include:
- What factors explain different levels of racial representation when using each of these measures, and what are the biggest challenges to progress on each?
- What measures should we use to assess the effects of racial and socio-economic segregation in NYC schools (e.g., do students in highly segregated schools have access to fewer resources or less rigorous coursework?)? What measures should we use to determine whether burgeoning desegregation efforts are making a difference? Many scholars (in NYC and nationally) have embraced a definition based on the percentage of Black and Latino students in a school—which importantly captures the extent to which Black and Latino students attend school apart from White and Asian students. However, questions have been raised about the utility of this approach in NYC, given real differences in demographics across neighborhoods and boroughs. A definition focused on a school’s CSD takes into account the fact that neighborhoods are already racially segregated, and that elementary and middle school students generally attend schools near where they live. Which definition(s) should the Research Alliance use as we continue working to understand patterns of segregation in NYC schools?
- Finally, what kinds of diversity do we miss when we think only in terms of four racial categories? There are many differences within these categories, including differences associated with ethnicity, income, immigration status, language, religion, special needs, and prior opportunities and achievement. How, if at all, should these dimensions of diversity be incorporated into measures of school segregation and integration?
Check back next week for another Spotlight post focused segregation in NYC schools.
This post was authored by Kathryn Hill, Zitsi Mirakhur, and John Sludden. Special thanks to Sean Corcoran for his generous feedback on earlier drafts of this work.
What else should we be asking about defining racially representative schools? Let us know via email.
 We exclude schools that serve 9th through 12th grade from this analysis, given that high school students are more likely to attend high schools outside of their residential CSD or even borough.
How to Cite this Spotlight
Hill, K., Mirakhur, Z., Sludden, J. 2019. "Which Schools are "Racially Representative?" It Depends on the Definition You Use." Spotlight on NYC Schools. Research Alliance for New York City Schools.