High School Reform

Inside New York City’s segregated high school system

How policies and procedures prevent integration in one of the nation’s most diverse cities

New York City’s schools are among the most segregated in the nation, and at every level of the city’s education bureaucracy, policies and procedures may be preventing integration. This spring, eight high school and college students from across New York City are investigating the systems that have divided them by race and class, and are sharing their own stories and hopes for the future of the city’s schools.

For example, middle schools in many parts of the city are allowed to “screen” their students. That means they look at student test scores, attendance records and sometimes even conduct interviews to decide who can attend. Black and Hispanic students are concentrated in elementary schools with lower test scores and lower attendance rates, and there are no requirements that middle schools reflect the racial diversity of the city, or even their neighborhood. The top screened middle schools often skew white and/or Asian and often feed the elite high schools, setting up a segregation pipeline.

That means even with a high school admissions process that allows students to apply to high schools outside of their neighborhood, high schools are also segregated. Students don’t simply get to choose their high school; instead, the top high schools get to choose their students. Some of the city’s most sought-after high schools use a single exam to decide who is admitted, and affluent parents pay big sums to prep their sons and daughters. Those who can’t pay usually don’t make the cut: several of the top schools only admit a handful of black and Hispanic students each year, in a city where they make up the majority.

“My mom didn’t work full time,” said Zoe Markman, a white student at the High School of American Studies, one of the city’s best performers. “So getting me into high school basically became her part-time job.”

Zoe is part of the team of students who worked in conjunction with The Bell to report, write and record their own season of the podcast “Miseducation,” which will explore these disparities in depth, from the perspectives of the young people most impacted.

Listen to a preview of what’s to come on this season of Miseducation.

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