How did New York City become one of the most segregated public school districts in the country?

Our exhibit will examine the question by examining the past, present and future of New York City’s school districts.  An historical text from the late 1800s provides information about how New York City public schools were established.  Recent literature published by New York City’s Department of Education (Guide to the Reorganization of School Districts) provides additional information about the past and provides data about how school districts have developed and evolved.  Photographs of students in their classrooms from the past in historic New York neighborhoods provide a visual impact,  raising the question of diversity in classrooms more poignantly than words.  

Nationwide, schools were impacted by the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), calling for the desegregation of schools.  A poignant work of art is included to illustrate an outcome of this decision, exemplifying the adversity that  some children faced to have access to an equal education.  Since the Supreme Court ruling, New York neighborhoods have been divided along shifting ethnic groups and fluctuating socioeconomic levels; diversity in schools has degenerated to levels that are problematic.  A video, map and an article clearly illustrate the lack of diversity in today’s New York.   

Current articles and a video address how New York’s political and educational leaders are handling this issue. An article describes the efforts being made to diversify a school in Brooklyn.   A timely article in the New York Times Magazine, entitled, “Choosing a school for my daughter in a segregated city”, provides a personal account of the challenges and concerns faced by a Brooklyn parent.  Change is necessary if the laws that call for equal educational opportunities for all are to be truly upheld.  

Will New York City public schools become more diversified in the future?  Studies show that diversity is beneficial for students. Everyone, regardless of ethnic background, wants the best for their children, the best education above all.   

If you have children, where do they go to school and do you feel that they are in a diverse school environment?  If you don’t have children yet, where would you send your children to school?  What would you do or what are you doing about addressing diversity?  Do you care about diversity?

Can one person make a difference?  As educators, as parents, as citizens of New York City, the choices that we make matter.

Curated by:  Kimberly Middleton, Lisa Macauley, and Meaghan Ryan

Ornate Divider

Research k-12 integration and diversity

John Kucsera; March 26,2014

This is a video that compiles many research findings about diversity in NYC public schools. It shows how NYC publics schools are going backwards and not forwards.


Elite, Separate, and Unequal

Richard Kahlenberg, June 22, 2014

This New York Times article shows the most elite public schools in NYC and takes a closer look at the cultural make up of each school. This artifact helped to put the problem into context with data driven opinions.


Map How Diverse or Not Is Your Kid’s Public School

Amy Zimmer; December 10, 2014

This artifact gave a visual representation of the current diversity within the New York City public school system. The map shows how the schools in NYC are not diverse and continue to go backwards.


Photograph, PS130

Chinese – American Planning Council. Inc.

Contemporary photograph of school children on the playground at the Baxter Street School, PS130 in lower Manhattan, a school that serves the Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities of New York City.


Guide to the Reorganization of School Districts

Department of Education, May 27th, 2015

“The manner in which school districts are organized in New York State remains largely a matter of local determination. While this condition carries a tremendous responsibility for boards of education and district residents, it also provides a unique challenge and opportunity to serve the educational needs of youth and adults in each area of our State.  The primary issue facing the community is not whether the concept of reorganization is good or bad, per Se, but whether combining available resources with a neighbor will provide a better and more cost effective educational system to serve the future needs of young people and adults within the communities involved. This can only be determined by careful study, committed leadership and an involved and informed public.”


History of the Public School Society of the City of New York, With Portraits of the Presidents of the Society

William Oland, History of the Public School Society of the City of New York, With Portraits of the Presidents of the Society, W.M. Wood & Co.: New York, 1870.

“…your memorialists respectfully request the patronage and assistance of the Legislature in establishing a free school, or schools, in this city, for the benevolent purpose of affording education to those unfortunate children who have no other mode of obtaining it. . The personal attention to be bestowed on these children for the improvement of their morals, and to assist their parents in procuring situations for them, where industry will be inculcated and good habits formed, as well as to give them the learning requisite for the proper discharge of the duties of life, it is confidently hoped will produce the most beneficial and lasting effects.” (New York, 25th February, 1805). In 1831 the Society had under its charge 23 schools and 7,383 pupils (p. 154). School property was in the care of the society until it was passed to the Board of Education in 1853 (p. 156).


World Yearbook of Education 1970: Education in Cities

Edited by Joseph A, Lauwerys and David G. Scanlon, 1970

“A good school…would be defined not by the kind of children that attend it, but by the quality of the education offered by the school…The goals of integration, therefore, must be broadened to restore a quality that has been sidetracked in the emphasis on the scholastic-acheivement goal of desegregation. That is, we must reaffirm our commitment to connect with one another as human beings. We must recognize that viewing diversity and differences as assets rather than unfortunate barriers to homogeneity has as positive an effect on human growth and development as the teaching of academic skills.” (p. 140)


“The Problem We All Live With”, oil on canvas (36″ x 58″)

Norman Rockwell, 1964

This Norman Rockwell painting is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The painting depicts 6-year old Ruby Bridges on her way to the William Frantz Elementary school, an all-white public school on November 14th, 1960. She is escorted by deputy U.S. marshals because of the threats and violence against her. Ruby Bridges is able to attend the school because of the landmark “Brown vs. Board of Education” ruling of 1954, which changed the face of our nation’s schools.


How the Other Half Lives; Studies Among the Tenements of New York

Jacob Riis, 1914

Jacob Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives and his photography depict the poor of New York City, decrying the injustices suffered by the people living in the tenements and slums of New York City. Riis’s photography gave rise to the ideas about social and educational reform expressed in his writing.


Photograph of school children

James Van Der Zee, 1920-30

Jacob Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives and his photography depict the poor of New York City, decrying the injustices suffered by the people living in the tenements and slums of New York City. Riis’s photography gave rise to the ideas about social and educational reform expressed in his writing.


Choosing a School for My Daughter in Segregated City


This NY Times Magazine article chronicles the difficulty decisions some families face when making the choice to send their children to segregated schools and the families who are most greatly affected by the cities de facto school segregation do not have a choice at all. It also outlines a history of the segregation, integration and “re-segregation” of the NYC public school system using P.S. 307 as a case study. The author writes, “One person can make a difference. Where we decide to send our children to school, how we regard our students as teachers, choices that we make every day have an impact – not always positive”.


What Happens When you Design a School to Be Diverse?

Miriam Hall; June 10, 2016

What Happens When you Design a School to Be Diverse?” describes Brooklyn Prospect Charter School and its diversity by design model which includes “embedded honors that integrate students of different ethnicities and academic levels in the same classes. The teachers and school leaders recognize that it is not enough to simply place students of different ethnic and class backgrounds in close proximity to each other. This is hard-to-come-by example of a school in NYC actively working to close the racial achievement gap.


There is a Segregation in Education by Zip Code

Hon. Diana C Richardson; May 18, 2016

This video shows Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson’s address to Mayor De Blasio and the New York State Assembly about school District 17 in Brooklyn. Richardson highlights the reasoning behind her vote to not support mayoral control of NYC schools. Instead, she urges those in power to look to discover best practices because “there is a segregation in education by [your] zip code.”