Research tells us that socio-economically and racially integrated schools are better schools. But if we want truly diverse schools, we need equally diverse housing.
At my public school in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn we are fortunate to have a uniquely diverse student body. About 40% of our students are high or middle income and mostly white. Around 60 percent of our students come from low-income Dominican, Puerto-Rican or Mexican families. The resources of our upper middle class families gave us a music program, after school programs, art and science supplies, a school garden and unlimited free trips. Our Spanish speakers make our dual language program possible. At the same time, all of our students benefit from engagement with children and families of different means as well as cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
But every few days, I hear about another student who is leaving the neighborhood to move to the Bronx or Queens because they can’t afford to stay in the area. The students who are leaving are almost all recently immigrated, low income, native Spanish speakers. There goes our diversity and there goes their education. Going from a warm, nurturing and resource rich environment in an integrated public school in Brooklyn to a “failing” school or network charter in the Bronx does not bode well for their future. We know what schools they are headed for and we know that they are underfunded, overcrowded and either slated for shut down or newly privatized.
This is yet another reminder that the real issues in education today are poverty and inequality and that the worst facets of education reform disproportionately affect low income students of color. Nothing will get better for these children unless we address housing inequality and give ALL schools the resources they need to cultivate successful, critical, happy and healthy students. Every neighborhood needs affordable housing and every public school with a segregated, low-income population should be getting triple the funding of schools in high income neighborhoods.
I’m going to miss my students who abruptly left after years in our community. I’m worried about them and hope they land somewhere with teachers who can see how wonderful they are and the potential they have. I hope they get to do more with their days than ELA and Math. I hope they are not made to feel like failures. They are not failures and neither are their teachers- the only failure is a system that punishes the poor for being poor and recklessly allows corporate power into children’s lives.
New York already has one of the most segregated and unequal school systems in the country. If we don’t tackle housing soon, it will only get worse.