We Need Cross-District High SchoolsMay 2012
With all the problems Long Island keeps agonizing over (high taxes, lack of affordable homes, etc.), one problem—huge, long-standing, and getting worse—rarely gets mentioned.
On some level Long Islanders surely recognize that our communities are segregated, but are people aware of just how segregated we are? I doubt it.
- We rank tenth in the nation in residential segregation between blacks and whites. That puts us ahead of such cities as Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
- We rank 19th in Hispanic/white segregation. And this segregation has grown rapidly since 1993.
Now comes a new study, conducted by researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and published by the Long Island Index, which provides a stark accounting of school segregation on Long Island:
- By one measure, school segregation on Long Island is double the national average; Nassau’s is almost triple.
- Black-white segregation is worse than Hispanic-white segregation, but Hispanic-white school segregation has been steadily increasing since the late 1980s.
- Although there are some exceptions, schools in the same district aren’t that segregated; instead, entire school districts are segregated from one another.
This segregation costs our region dearly, on a human and economic level. Segregated, high-needs schools are the epicenters of the education gap, places where children’s needs overwhelm scarce resources.
Trapping kids in such schools is an affront to our values, and a threat to our future. It blights children’s dreams, mocks our belief in equal opportunity, and wastes society’s most precious resource.
Eradicating entrenched segregation is a daunting challenge. But a good first step lies in easy reach: creating regional high schools of excellence. These schools would draw high-achieving students from across district lines, and could be created in ways that would not replicate the segregation that already exists.
The benefits are both obvious and significant. The schools would offer upward mobility to deserving kids in failing community schools. Nurture the smarts that employers need to grow a high-tech economy. And create high-profile oases of diversity on our too-segregated island.
It’s an idea whose time has long since come. It was championed by the first Governor Cuomo, who recognized it as a vital step in building our regional economy. In recent decades, other regions have acted, while Long Island has not.
So what’s stopping us?
Most opposition comes from within high-performing local districts, which fear that the new schools will siphon away their top students. Research shows, on the contrary, that when a district has a great program, students don’t leave.
Many districts don’t have these costly programs, and duplicating them 125 times over doesn’t make sense. The smart move is to let the students leave, allowing districts to focus their resources on their other students’ needs.
Cross-district high schools are a genuine no-brainer: good for our children, good for our economic future, and good for our sense of who we want to be. If we can’t even do this, then shame on us.