When Bill de Blasio takes over as New York City’s mayor, he will face a task his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, admitted is the most-important of all: Educating the nation’s largest city’s one million children. And the current mayor-elect is right when he declared that the Big Apple has become two cities. This is especially true when it comes to education.
Students from white non-Latino and Asian (especially Indian) homes are more-likely to live in families with two parents who are college-educated. Just four percent of white and Asian families consist of single women with children under age 18. The poverty rate for white families alone is just 19 percent in 2012, lower than the average of 26 percent.
Students from black and Latino households are not likely to be so fortunate. They are less likely to have received baccalaureate and graduate degrees. They are more likely to be single-parent households; 16 percent of black and Latino families in New York City consist of single women with children under age 18. And 40 percent of black and Latino families are living in poverty.
This is a challenge that New York City doesn’t undertake nearly as well as it should. On average, 86 percent of young black and Latino men in eighth-grade, and 82 percent of their female peers score below Proficient and Advanced levels (or at grade level), according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. As a result, most black and Latino students do not graduate college- and career-ready in four years.
The results can be seen in U.S. Census data on college completion for adults in the city. While nearly half of the New York’s White, non-Latino, and Asian adults over 25 years of age have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, only about one-fifth of black adults and 15 percent of Latino adults have achieved that level of education which is a crucial predictor of the educational achievement of their children and increasingly necessary for a middle class income.
The failure to educate black and Latino children is especially problematic because New York City isn’t a majority white or Asian district. Roughly equal numbers of New York’s children are Latino, black and white. Asian students (including Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and others) number between one-third and half the size of the other groups. When it comes to education, New York is a tale of two cities – and not a good one for black and Latino children.
What, then, is the task of the public schools? Is it to allocate public resources in proportion to private resources, so that children from comparatively well-off and highly educated families receive more public resources than others? Or is it to fulfill the ideals of the Founders that the quality of education should not depend on where children live or the class status of their parents?
All evidence points to a de facto decision in New York City to allocate public resources in proportion to the private resources available to students. Pre-kindergarten classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods. Gifted and talented classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods (and the qualifying tests are not even given in some poorer neighborhoods).
College-preparatory curricula are available in wealthier neighborhoods and not in poorer neighborhoods. The peak of the system, the selective high schools, as a matter of fact select so few black and Latino students as to be simply a rounding error in some of those schools, and the test is designed in such a way as to be virtually impossible to pass with the courses available in the city’s schools serving poorer (Black and Latino) students, while the city’s students from wealthier families not only have the requisite coursework for a solid foundation in their schools, but benefit from expensive private tutorials.
Given this situation, what is a new Mayor to do? The details are difficult to define. The goals are not.
First, bring equality to the allocation of resources across the school system. The differences in facilities, equipment and maintenance among the city’s schools is grotesque. It is incredible that this situation should exist. It must end.
Second, bring equity to the allocation of resources across the school system. The measure of this should not be clever book-keeping devices, but outcomes: Every school should have the resources to provide every student with a good education. Neighborhood schools in the Bronx and central Brooklyn should offer educations at least as good as those on the upper West Side and eastern Queens.
It is not difficult to measure the resources necessary for providing a student with a good education. The new administration need only identify those schools now providing high quality education, as shown by any of the usual measurements and determine the total resources—public and private—available to the students in those schools. Schools serving students living in poverty, with parents whose own educations are limited, will require compensatory resources: pre-school, all day kindergarten, after-school tutorials, summer school, high-standards for curricula and teaching. Schools serving students from wealthier families may find some of these items to be redundant for most of their students. The budget for each school should follow those determinations.
This article originally appeared on Dropout Nation.