Understanding Diversity in NYC’s Public Schools


March 1, 2016

With 1.1 million students in more than 1,700 schools, New York City is the largest public school system in the country. Recently there has been a significant amount of discussion about the issue of diversity in the City’s public schools. While NYC is home to many ethnicities and cultures, its public schools are among the most segregated school districts in the country.

A widely cited UCLA study from 2014 documented the challenge of public school integration throughout New York State, including New York City. The report attributed NYC’s school integration challenges to the decline or elimination of programs such as dual language, magnet schools and districtwide zoning plans which were superseded by school choice policies at the middle and high school level. The competitive selection processes associated with the City’s school choice policies tend to limit options for minority students leaving them to attend their zoned schools, which typically reflect the demographics of the surrounding community.

In May 2015, the City Council passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which aimed to document the issue of segregation in NYC public schools, ensure there was public awareness of the issue, and then bring about policies and programs to increase diversity in public schools. The New York City Department of Education (DOE) recently submitted its first annual report pursuant to the new legislation, in which they detailed the efforts being made to promote diversity and provided the demographic data of students for each school district, each school within a district, and each program within a school – such as gifted and talented programs.

CCC recently conducted an analysis of the DOE data applying the same definitions for segregation and diversity used in the UCLA study:

  • Intensely segregated: 90-100% of the student body is comprised of students of color
  • Diverse: at least three races represented at 10% or more, including white student enrollment.

According to the data, a majority of New York City schools are segregated with 71% of public schools intensely segregated and only 23% of schools diverse (see map above).[1] The data also show the disparities across boroughs, which is illustrated in the charts below.




According to the research, students in diverse schools perform better on proficiency tests than students in segregated schools. CCC analyzed student performance data for students in diverse and intensely segregated schools and found that citywide, students in diverse schools are more than twice as likely to meet proficiency standards in English Language Arts (ELA) as students in intensely segregated schools. When compared to Keeping Track data on overall student performance, our analysis found that these disparities are even greater in some school districts. For example, in School District 13 in Brooklyn – where school diversity has been a big topic of public discussion – 47.4% of students in diverse schools are proficient in ELA, while in the same district only 9.3% of students in intensely segregated schools are meeting proficiency standards. A similar trend is observed in math proficiency scores.

CC ProficiencyThere are a number of efforts currently underway aimed at addressing these trends and promoting school diversity across the city. Among them, the Department of Education announced in November 2015 a pilot program, which allows seven elementary schools to change their admissions policies so as to reserve seats for specific populations of children including English Language Learners, low income students, children in the foster care system, and children who have an incarcerated parent. The State also awarded grants in 2015 to eight NYC schools for the dual purpose of improving student achievement and promoting socioeconomic integration.

A review of media coverage on these efforts illustrates the complex task ahead for the City to better integrate NYC schools. While some focus on the challenges presented in communities where demographics are changing, others speak to the need for more to be done at the district and citywide levels to adopt practices that have proven effective in other parts of the country.

To learn more, read these highlights of recent media stories on this issue:

CCC will continue to monitor progress on these efforts and explore opportunities to build upon initiatives to increase diversity in our City’s public schools as we continue working to ensure that all children have access to high quality education.

To explore more data related to New York City’s public schools, visit Keeping Track Online.


[1] The remaining 7% of public schools represent a variety of different levels of segregation that do not fall under either intensely segregated or diverse as defined in the UCLA study.


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