Desegregating New York's schools poses many challenges

A City Council hearing on school segregation kicked off on a fiery note with students who said they're tired of officials lack of action on integration.

"Let us address the fact that we are the most diverse city in the world and yet we have one of the most segregated school systems in the country," high school junior Sokhnadiarra Ndiaye said. "That is shameful."

The Brooklyn resident is with the group Teens Take Charge.

"Student voice is great but you know what I prefer? Adult action," Ndiaye told the council and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who was in attendance.

Carranza testified before the education committee about the steps his department is taking to integrate schools.

"We have no illusions," Carranza said. "Meaningful integration of a system of 1,800 schools is tough work, and we know it will not happen overnight."

One element of the DOE's plan is awarding $2 million in grant money to local school districts to allow them to develop their own diversity plans. That model has already been successful in a small handful of districts, including District 15 in Brooklyn.

"Letting an individual school district opt in to receive $2 million—that doesn't seem like a way to make rapid systematic change," Council Speaker Corey Johnson said to Carranza.

The chancellor said that isn't the plan.

"So it's both a bottom-up coalition of the willing but also a top down," Carranza said.

But the most controversial part of DOE's desegregation proposal continues to be the elimination of the SHSAT, the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is the single metric for entrance into the city's eight elite high schools.

Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carranza proposed nixing the test, which unleashed a heated debate.

"Simply put, the single admissions test is unfair and the status quo is unacceptable," Carranza said at the hearing.

But many want the test to stay, including alumni of the elite schools and a large faction of the Asian American community, who say instead of eliminating the test the DOE should provide better K–8 for all.

"A test working for 100 years is going to keep working for a long, long time," said Howard Chao, an advocate who spoke at a rally outside City Hall.

Ultimately, state lawmakers will have to decide the fate of the SHSAT, though the council is considering a resolution to support its elimination.

Other related legislation under consideration includes the creation of a city monitor of school diversity within the Human Rights Commission and calling on the DOE to improve gifted and talented offerings.