Posted on October 7, 2022

New York City, Embracing Merit, Rolls Back Diversity Plan for Schools

Laura Meckler, Washington Post, September 29, 2022

New York City schools announced Thursday they would allow middle schools to consider academics in admitting students to some of the city’s most sought-after programs, unraveling pandemic-era rules aimed at injecting racial and economic diversity into a segregated system.


Also under the new rules, a smaller group of top students will qualify for a lottery into the most sought-after high schools. And for middle school, the city’s 32 districts will have the option of bringing back admission criteria that advantage those with the best grades or other metrics. Each district will make its own decision after gathering input, though they have only a few weeks before final rules are put in place in late October.

Critics argue these policies box out many Black, Latino and low-income students from top schools and drive segregation in the city schools.


Across the country, similar debates have raged over the value of racially diverse schools and classrooms against the advantages of rewarding top students with access to elite schools and advanced courses.


In New York, the debate is particularly fiery because students are required to apply to middle and high school, and before the pandemic, about a third of the city’s 900 middle and high schools included requirements for admission — such as grades, test scores, attendance and behavior records. Those measures tended to favor the most privileged students, who were also most likely to be White or Asian. These applicants flocked to schools that had the best academic reputations.

That system was largely converted into a lottery under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

For high school, applicants were put into tiers based on their grades. But the top tier included about 60 percent of all students, who had the first crack at the top schools. Competitive schools drew acceptances randomly from this group.

Critics said that because so many students qualified for the top tier, there was almost no reward for those who worked hardest in middle school. But supporters were buoyed because some schools grew more racially and economically diverse.

Now, under the new system announced Thursday, it will be harder to get into the top tier, though once in that group, it will still be a lottery. To get into the top tier, students must be in the top 15 percent of their school or of the city overall, and they must have at least a 90 percent on grades.

Test scores, which had been used for years but also criticized as biased, will not be considered. Banks said exam scores are a flawed measure but grades are “still a very solid indicator of how you are showing up as a student,” even for students who face hardships at home.


But Matt Gonzales, an integration advocate who directs the Integration and Innovation Initiative at New York University, said he worries that there are only a few weeks for community engagement on an issue that draws passionate views from both sides.

“This will undoubtedly ensure the most well-resourced and privileged voices get heard, and opens the city back up to more segregation,” he said. “Screens cause segregation. Segregation is bad. We should stop using screens.”