Back to School Part 2: Do NYC Schools Represent their Districts?

Digital Briefs

January 7, 2020

Racial segregation is a long-standing issue in New York City’s schools, highlighted recently by advocates, academics, politicians, and most importantly by students themselves.To begin to address the issue, CCC recently published an analysis of diversity in NYC schools, and it revealed some important facts. Only 28% of schools in the city are diverse, and two-thirds of Black and Latinx students attend schools that are predominantly (more than 80 percent) Black and Latinx.

But racial and ethnic diversity is only one part of the story. While we want all our schools to be diverse, we also want schools to reflect the diversity within communities. The group commissioned to issue diversity recommendations to the Department of Education (DOE), the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) said as much in their first report. “Rather than start with a standard citywide racial and economic target for all schools, the DOE should set localized targets that reflect a more achievable goal for schools. This ensures all schools and all communities have a role to play in promoting and supporting integration.”

Back to School Part 1: How diverse are NYC's Classrooms?</span> Read our blog on the lack of diversity across all Department of Education schools

Check Out the Digital Brief Here >

A more localized target in the short term, while we strive for diversity in the long term, would be for schools to be representative of their communities. But what does representation look like across the city? To answer this question we turned to the SDAG, where they define a school as representative if its enrollment by race/ethnicity is within 10 percentage points of the enrollment of its school district. On the other hand, a school would not be representative if its enrollment by race/ethnicity is more than 20 percentage points off of the district enrollment figures.

For example, consider a district with 30% Latinx student enrollment. If a school in that district has between 20% to 40% Latinx enrollment – within the 10 percentage point threshold – it would be considered representative. However, if the share of Latinx students at a school is below 20 percent or more than 40 percent, the school does not represent its district.

With this definition in mind CCC sought to determine how well school student populations represent their districts, and what factors might be causing unrepresentative schools.

Here Are Some Key Findings From 2018-2019 School Year Enrollment Data:


of all schools in NYC did not reflect their district’s demographics.

That is equivalent to 755 schools.

32% could be considered within range of being representative, with enrollments by race within 10-20 percentage points of their district. 27% were representative, meaning they had enrollments within the 10 percentage point threshold recommended by the SDAG.

Representation Was Especially Lacking In Certain School Districts

Districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan, Districts 13 and 15 in Brooklyn, and District 27 in Queens, had the largest shares of unrepresentative schools.

Districts Ranked by % of Unrepresentative Schools

District 3

(Upper Westside)


District 2

(Stuyvesant Town, Upper East Side)


District 27

(Jamaica, Howard Beach, Rockaways)


District 13

(Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn)


District 15

(Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn)


As a whole these districts contain only 15% of schools and 17% of students citywide but contain almost a third of all the schools that do not represent their districts.

This means the student populations of these districts are fairly diverse, but many of the individual school student populations are not.

For example, the demographics of three schools — P.S 87 an elementary school in District 3, Lab Middle School in District 2 and Frederick Douglass Academy VI a high school in District 27 — compared to their districts can be seen below.

P.S. 87 Student Population Compared To District 3 Student Population

Lab Middle School Student Population Compared To District 2 Student Population

Frederick Douglass Academy VI Student Population Compared To District 27 Student Population

These districts would be the place to start if integration efforts were to be targeted where real progress can be made in the short-term.

It is worth noting that Districts 3 and 15 have implemented district-wide middle-school diversity plans,and District 13 has received a grant to work on their own integration plan.

The Majority Of Unrepresentative Schools Were Elementary Schools

55% of all unrepresentative schools were elementary schools, while 31% were high schools and 13% were middle schools. Since most families in NYC send their children nearby for elementary school, its no surprise that many elementary schools reflect the housing segregation patterns of New York City. But housing segregation isn’t the only thing causing segregated elementary schools.

New York City’s model of school choice, combined with residential segregation, actually exacerbates segregation at the elementary level.

In fact, if every elementary school student in NYC attended their zoned school, schools would be less segregated. This is because families will exercise school choice to send their children to out-of-zone elementary schools they consider better academically, but as the Center for NYC Affairs noted,“White families also tended to choose schools that have more White children than their zoned schools do. Black and Hispanic families, on the other hand, choose schools with the same proportion of Black and Hispanic children as the schools to which they were zoned.”

By the Numbers: Download the raw data used in our analysis by clicking here.

Download the Raw Data Here >

Admission Screens Don’t Help

At the middle and high school level, schools with some type of screen for admission (not including those that screen for language) were more likely to be unrepresentative of their districts. 53% of high schools with screens were not representative, compared to 33% of unscreened high schools. Only 17% of screened high schools were considered representative of their district.

At the middle school level, 58% of screened middle schools were unrepresentative, compared to 27% of unscreened middle schools, and only 18% of screened middle schools were considered representative. In its most recent report,the SDAG took aim at screens in middle and high schools, calling for a moratorium on all new screened high schools and the elimination of screens in middle schools.

While New York City must continue efforts to ensure schools are diverse, representation can be a more localized and short-term goal. By comparing school-level enrollment to its district’s overall enrollment, we can identify areas whereby admission policies, housing segregation, and other trends may be contributing most to segregation within diverse communities. With ongoing and new district-level efforts, as well as system-wide changes made through adopting the SDAG’s recommendations, the DOE can work towards equity and achieve both representative and diverse schools.

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