Charter Schools

How to Fix 'One of the Most Segregated Public School Systems In the Nation'

"If you force parents to value [diversity] then they won't."

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International Charter School of New York |||

New York is "home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation," noted an influential 2014 report from UCLA's Civil Right's Project. New York City's Department of Education, which serves about a million kids, has been experimenting with different strategies to bring more diversity to its system, including a new pilot program that will allow seven schools to set aside seats for English learners, low-income students, and children whose families are on welfare.

A story about the new program that appeared in The New York Times on Tuesday included the mixed reaction of one parent who fears these set asides could take a spot away from his child:

The idea of keeping the school diverse "totally jibes with my politics," said Mark Schwartz, the owner of a liquor store in Prospect-Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn, who also has a kindergartner at the school. "But what if it means we lose out on this opportunity?"

What the story doesn't mention is that there are a growing number of charter schools that have made diversity part of their core mission. These schools specifically recruit and weight their admissions processes to ensure a mix of kids from different backgrounds. An advantage to this approach is that charters aren't assigned to a geographical area, so parents who moved to a neighborhood for access to a local school are less likely to feel resentful.

And if parents make the choice to send their kids to diverse schools, they're more likely to be on board with that mission. "Diversity is something that everybody should value, but if you force parents to value it then they don't," says Matthew Levey, who's the executive director of the International Charter School of New York (ICS), which specifically targets diversity in its recruitment process.

I recently profiled ICS for Reason TV and looked at how rezoning traditional district schools to promote diversity can stoke resentment. Watch that video below: