New York state has the most segregated public schools in the nation, with many black and Latino students attending schools with virtually no white classmates, according to a report released Wednesday. The report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles looks at enrollment trends from 1989 to 2010.
In New York City, the largest school system in the U.S. with 1.1 million pupils, the study notes that many of the charter schools created over the last dozen years are among the least diverse of all, with less than 1 percent white enrollment at 73 percent of charter schools.
"To create a whole new system that's even worse than what you've got really takes some effort," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project and an author of the report.
He and his fellow researchers say segregation has the effect of concentrating black and Latino students in schools with high ratios of poor students compared with the statewide average. Black and Latino students who attend schools that are integrated by race and income level perform significantly better than their peers in segregated schools, the authors note.
The study suggests that New York's segregation is largely due to housing patterns, because housing and school segregation are correlated, but that it could be mitigated through policies intended to promote diversity.
"In the 30 years I have been researching schools, New York state has consistently been one of the most segregated states in the nation — no Southern state comes close to New York," Orfield said.
Other states with highly segregated schools include Illinois, Michigan and California, according to the Civil Rights Project.
In New York, about half of the state's public school students were from low-income families in 2010, the report says, but the typical black or Latino student attended a school where close to 70 percent of classmates were low-income. The typical white student went to a school where just 30 percent of classmates were low-income.
"For New York to have a favorable multiracial future both socially and economically, it is absolutely urgent that its leaders and citizens understand both the values of diversity and the harms of inequality," the study's authors say.
New York City Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia did not address the findings of the report, but said, "We believe in diverse classrooms in which students interact and grow through personal relationships with those of different backgrounds." The district is roughly 40 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black, 15 percent white and 15 percent Asian.
State Education Commissioner John King called the findings troubling and added, "The department has supported over the years various initiatives aimed at improving school integration and school socioeconomic integration, but there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done — not just in New York but around the country."
The report, which used U.S. Department of Education statistics, also noted increasing segregation in upstate cities including Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
In the Syracuse metropolitan area, the report says, the number of black students increased by 4 percent between 1989 and 2010, but black isolation increased dramatically. In 1989 the typical black student went to a school that was one-third black, but in 2010 the typical black student went to a school that was nearly half black.
Pedro Noguera, a New York University education professor, said it's disturbing that policy makers have focused so little on racial integration in recent years.
"We've been talking about reforming schools in New York and elsewhere. This issue was never addressed," Noguera said.
He added, "When you concentrate the neediest kids together in under-resourced schools they tend not to do very well."
The UCLA report recommends that state and local education agencies develop policies aimed at reducing racial isolation and promoting diverse schools.
The report suggests voluntary desegregation programs in upstate cities like Rochester, where low-income populations are surrounded by more affluent communities.
In New York City, Orfield said, a system of unscreened "choice" schools would foster more diversity than the current New York City high school choice system, which sees entrance tests at top schools excluding most black and Latino students.
"If you just offer choice, the people with the best information will get into the best schools," he said.
Requel Russell-George, the mother of two students at Public School 169 in the Bronx, which has about 75 percent black and 19 percent Latino students, said she feels the school is "excellent" but she would like to see more diversity.
"I do feel that it would be great for our children and other children to be exposed to other cultures," Russell-George said. "You're more knowledgeable and things are not mysterious to you as you get older."