National News

In School Together, but Not Learning at the Same Rate

Posted January 31, 2018 10:15 p.m. EST

The academic gaps between groups of students — the poor and the middle class, or black and Hispanic children and their white and Asian peers — often are examined in broad strokes, across a district or an entire city. But a new analysis from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School takes a closer look by mapping the achievement gaps within each public elementary school in New York City. The results reveal the challenges of integrating students across the system, and of integrating under one roof.

The study is a snapshot that looks at student performance on a single test, the state math assessment given in 2016 to third- through fifth-graders. At each school, it looks at the race of the test takers and estimates their household income using census information about where they live.

The report illustrates how closely race, income and academic performance are tied in this city. Almost all students in the study with estimated household incomes below $30,000 were black or Hispanic, while students with household incomes above $80,000 were predominantly white. And the poorer the students were, the lower they tended to score on the test, even when they went to the same school as wealthier children.

Take Public School 8, the Robert Fulton school in Brooklyn Heights, which the Center for American Progress identified last year as having one of the richest Parent Teacher Associations in the country, and which has a relatively diverse student body. While 64 percent of its students passed the state math test in 2016, compared with 36 percent of students citywide, black students at the school were nearly a full proficiency level behind their white peers.

Black students at the school also had significantly lower estimated incomes than white students.

Nicole Mader, co-author of the study, said the lingering achievement gap demonstrates that just having different kinds of students together in the same building is not enough to have true integration. Students must be in the same classrooms, have the same quality of teachers and be disciplined in the same way.

“This is the way we need to start talking about integration,” she said. The study, she said, “shows diversity, and whether a school does or does not have diversity. But there’s a big leap between having diversity and having integration.”

There were schools that defied the study’s overall trends. Those from the Success Academy charter network, which has significantly outperformed district schools on state tests, did so again, showing extremely high test scores for its students who are mostly poor minorities. In its more diverse schools, like Success Academy Cobble Hill, the achievement gap is quite small, with students doing equally well despite racial and socioeconomic differences. Students at Concourse Village Elementary School in the South Bronx, who are almost entirely poor and black or Hispanic, also scored exceptionally well on the 2016 math test.

The report also showed that very low-income black and Hispanic students usually go to school almost entirely with one another, encountering very little racial or socioeconomic diversity.

Will Mantell, a spokesman for the Education Department, said that while this report focuses on just one measure, the gap in high school graduation rates has shrunk in recent years, and dropout rates are at record lows. He also highlighted city initiatives that aim to improve educational outcomes for all students, like the vastly expanded pre-K program and an increase in Advanced Placement and computer science courses.