In June 2017, the NYC DOE released a diversity plan, which included the creation of a School Diversity Advisory Group, an outline of a community engagement process, and a commitment to the following district-wide goals:
- Increasing the number of students in “racially representative”  schools by 50,000 over the next five years;
- Decreasing the number of “economically stratified” schools by 10% (150 schools) in the next five years; and
- Increasing the number of inclusive schools that serve English Language Learners (ELLs) and Students with Disabilities.
A major thrust of the City’s plan is the expansion of the “Diversity in Admissions” pilot program, which currently includes 21 schools. This initiative focuses on diversifying individual schools through the use of weighted admissions lotteries that set aside seats in schools’ entering grades. While free and reduced lunch eligibility is the most common admissions priority being piloted, some schools have set aside seats for English Language Learners, students with families involved in the child welfare system, or other criteria. The program began with seven schools that were allowed to include admissions priorities in the lottery process for the 2016-17 academic year; another twelve schools joined the pilot group for the 2017-18 admissions season; and two additional schools were added to the pilot late in the spring of 2017.
We thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at these schools and the methods they have chosen to try to improve or preserve diversity among their students. The map below shows the location of each school, its demographics for the 2015-2016 school year (including race and poverty), and a description of the admissions priorities the school is piloting. Near the end of the post, we highlight some important questions about school segregation, which we hope to begin to explore in the coming year.
Of the 21 current pilot schools, 11 are elementary schools, 3 are middle schools, 2 are K-8 schools, and 5 are high schools (including one that serves grades 6-12). Almost all are located in Manhattan and Brooklyn, primarily in gentrifying neighborhoods. Most of the pilot schools have no neighborhood zones; many are open to all residents of the community school districts in which they are located (or, in the case of high schools, students throughout the City). Several of the high schools are currently “limited unscreened schools,” which give admissions priority to students who demonstrate interest, for example, by visiting the school or attending an information session. However, the City’s diversity plan proposes eliminating this admissions method for students entering high school in 2019.
The type and scope of admissions priority being piloted by each school varies. By far, the most common admissions priority is free or reduced lunch eligibility, which is being used by all but one of the schools, sometimes in combination with other priorities. Six schools prioritize students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). PS 705 is the one school not using free lunch eligibility among its criteria; instead, it sets aside 20 percent of seats for students who are either ELLs or involved in the child welfare system. About half the schools set aside 50 percent or more of their incoming seats for priority students.
The current demographics at these schools also vary widely. For example, poverty rates (as measured by eligibility for free or reduced lunch) ranged from just 10 percent at East Side School for Social Action to 88 percent at Central Park East. None of the schools have a racial/ethnic breakdown that closely mirrors that of the City (i.e., approximately 15% Asian, 27% Black, 40% Latino and 15% White), although some are more racially diverse than others. In fact, eight of the pilot schools meet the City’s definition of “racially representative” (i.e., Black and Latino students make up at least 50% percent of all students, but not more than 90%). In 11 of the other pilot schools, White students outnumber other racial/ethnic groups, sometimes by a wide margin.
The variation seen across these schools provides an opportunity to learn, especially as more schools join the initiative. Below we highlight some questions we hope to continue exploring as the City implements its diversity plan, including some larger questions about school segregation and desegregation in New York City. For example:
- To what extent does the City’s “Diversity in Admissions” pilot (and the larger diversity plan) result in more racially and economically integrated schools and classrooms?
- Do these efforts promote more equitable learning opportunities and outcomes for students?
- What are the benefits and limitations of efforts to increase the diversity at the individual school level? How have these efforts affected neighboring schools? How have various admissions policies, including the use of the gifted and talented test and screening based on grades or test scores, interacted with schools’ efforts to improve diversity?
- What are the benefits and limitations of various approaches to district-wide desegregation? For example, one desegregation strategy not included in the City’s plan is “controlled choice” school assignment. Under a controlled choice plan, parents would continue to rank elementary or middle schools as they do through the current enrollment process, but the algorithm that matches students to schools would consider demographic factors (such as free and reduced lunch eligibility) in addition to individual families’ preferences. Some advocates argue that this kind of district-wide plan is the only way to address segregation on a systemic level, but it is not possible without unzoned, district-wide admissions processes. Could some version of controlled choice be piloted in NYC? What are the potential advantages and drawbacks of this approach?
What else should we be asking about Diversity in Admissions? Are you exploring any of these topics? Let us know via email.
This post was developed using data provided to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools by the NYC Department of Education. Analyses conducted by Alexandra Freidus.
For more information on the the Diversity in Admissions pilot project, please see the Promising Outcomes, Limited Potential: Diversity in Admissions in New York City Public Schools report at the Center for New York City Affairs.
 The NYC DOE defines a school as “racially representative” if Black and Latino students combined make up at least 50 percent of the student population, but no more than 90 percent of the student population.
 The NYC DOE considers a school “economically stratified” if its economic need, as measured by the Economic Need Index, is more than 10 percentage points different from the citywide average.
 A number of factors contribute to New York City’s segregated schools, including residential segregation, common pathways from elementary to middle and high school, and elementary, middle, and high school application processes that demand resources (such as time, flexibility, and comfort navigating bureaucracies) that low-income families often do not have at their disposal. For a discussion of school segregation nationally, see 60 Years After Brown: Trends and Consequences of School Segregation.
 Both Community School District 1 in Manhattan (which is already unzoned at the elementary level) and Community School District 13 in Brooklyn (focusing on middle schools, which are already unzoned) proposed controlled choice plans as part of a grant they were awarded through the New York State Education Department’s Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program (SIPP). However, District 1 and District 13’s SIPP grants are currently stalled, and it is unclear whether the NYC DOE will pursue this policy in the future.