Parents & Community Leaders Respond to Pervasive Inequality in NYC’s Public Schools

Donna Nevel,



December 11, 2014  In light of events in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, NY; and elsewhere, it is more urgent than ever to address the gross inequities in our public schools. Racism flourishes where there is segregation and inequality. Parents and educators in Community School District 3 presented their proposal for addressing these inequities at a City Council hearing today (see testimonies attached) that was devoted to increasing the diversity in our schools.

Community School District 3 in the Upper West Side and Harlem is known to be one of the most pervasively segregated and unequal districts in New York City. A group of parents, educators, elected officials, and long-time education advocates have come up with a framework for a proposal to desegregate District 3 schools and ensure fair, equitable, and transparent admissions. The District 3 Equity in Education Task Force, initiated in 2012 by the Parent Leadership Project, has been meeting together for nearly two years.
Task Force member, Lori Falchi, a parent in District 3 and director of La Escuelita bilingual pre-school, states: “We are thrilled that a group coming from diverse backgrounds and communities in our district has come together to address the systemic problems we face in our public schools. Our goal has been ensuring equitable access for ALL students to all schools in District 3.”

According to the Task Force’s findings, CSD3’s current admissions policies and criteria have resulted in uneven access to the district’s schools and an uneven distribution of students:

·      Socioeconomic status: The combined average Economic Need Index for District 3 public elementary schools is 61%. However, some schools range under 15% while others range as high as 97-100%.

·      English Language Learners: ELLs comprise 8.8% of District 3 students, yet the percentage of ELLs at District 3 schools ranges from a low of 0.2% to a high of 18.9%.

·      Race: Approximately two-thirds (66.5%) of District 3’s students are Black or Latino. Some schools, however, are comprised of 95-99% Black and Latino students while at other schools, less than 30% of the student body is comprised of Black and Latino students.

The Task Force argues that the separation of students by race, class, and language is directly tied to unequal learning environments, which in turn, impact students’ academic achievement levels, as measured by 4th grade ELA and Mathematics assessments.

According to Flor Donoso, a parent leader at the Parent Leadership Project, “Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that separate could never be equal, students across the country continue to attend segregated schools, and the separation of students by race and income continues to impact the immediate futures and life outcomes of these young people. As a community, we have the opportunity and responsibility to change that.”

The Task Force proposes a policy of controlled choice to address the inequitable access and lack of diversity in our elementary schools. Controlled choice is a widely acclaimed and well-implemented student assignment methodology that was developed in the 1980’s as a way to voluntarily desegregate schools and avoid the imposition of court-ordered student assignment policies. Task Force members say their next step is to continue to share the policy-framing document with political leaders as well as with their Community Education Council. Today’s hearing offered an opportunity for their document and work to be shared more broadly. The Task Force is also working closely with District 1 and leaders in Brooklyn’s District 13 to advocate that their districts be pilot Controlled Choice demonstration projects.

*Testimonies from our partners in D13 and D1 are in the links below.


Introduction to city council testimony D3, 1, 13

D3 task force hearing presentation 12-11-14

D13 City Council Presentation on Desegregation 12 11 14

D1 testimony Diversity & Equity OVERVIEW

D1 CC Diversity hearing Dec 2014