We can't meaningfully integrate schools without desegregating neighborhoods
// Economic Policy Institute Blog
This article first appeared on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's website.
A bill introduced in the New York City Council proposes to establish "an office of school diversity within the human rights commission dedicated to studying the prevalence and causes of racial segregation in public schools and developing recommendations for remedying such segregation."
But it is not reasonable, indeed it is misleading, to study school segregation in New York City without simultaneously studying residential segregation. The two cannot be separated.
School segregation is primarily a problem of neighborhoods, not schools. Schools are segregated because the neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated. Some school segregation can be ameliorated by adjusting school attendance boundaries or controlling school choice, but these devices are limited and mostly inapplicable to elementary school children, for whom long travel to school is neither feasible nor desirable. We have adopted a national myth that neighborhoods are segregated "de facto;" i.e., because of income differences, individual preferences, a history of private discrimination, etc. In fact, neighborhoods in NYC are segregated primarily because of a 20th century history of deliberate public policy to separate the races residentially, implemented by the city, state, and federal governments. Just a few examples:
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