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Council passes new measures to increase school diversity

November 18, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A pair of bills passed by the City Council Thursday could help desegregate New York City public schools.

The first piece of legislation codifies and maintains Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group, while the second would require the city’s Department of Education to reveal the demographics of its staff.

Since its creation in 2017, the mayor’s advisory group has released two reports: one with a whopping 67 systemic and curriculum-focused recommendations, almost all of them approved by the Mayor’s Office, and another that focused largely on the city’s gifted and talented program.

The first bill, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and six councilmembers, would appoint new members to the group, consisting of council, public advocate and mayoral picks. As it has done in the past, the group will be tasked with examining factors as they relate to school diversity. They would also be required to provide a public report to the mayor each year, in hopes of establishing a multi-year plan that can be adopted by the DOE.

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“I’m a New York City public school baby, and I’m proud of that fact and the education I received,” Williams said in a statement, “but despite that pride and because of that history, I know that our deeply segregated school system, and our students within it, are in desperate need of reform. The School Diversity Advisory Group is critical because it involves taking the input of these people experiencing our education system up close in order to change it.”

The second bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Treyger and seven others, would amend local law to require the DOE to report on the demographics of all school staff in city schools. The agency would be required to report on its employees’ gender, race or ethnicity, length of employment and experience. According to Treyger, a former educator and the chair of the council’s Education Committee, 40 percent of New York City public school students are Hispanic, 25 percent are black and 15 percent are white.

A draft report recently released by the state’s Education Department says that, since the 2011-2012 school year, parts of the city — and Brooklyn especially — have seen a significant decline in educators of color.

“This crucial information about teacher diversity is a wake-up siren for leaders in Albany and City Hall. Policy leaders must now seize the moment to invest in diversifying the teaching workforce,” Paula White, executive director of the New York chapter of Educators for Excellence, said in a statement.

Educators for Excellence has long fought for a more diverse teaching staff within the city and state education departments.

“Our focus is really around diversifying the teacher workforce,” White told the Brooklyn Eagle in June, shortly after the mayor accepted most of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s first recommendations. “We’re looking at putting money where our sort of policy mouth is, if you will.”

Treyger hopes that his bill will do just that.

“We need culturally responsive curricula, and our school system should reflect the rich diversity of our student populations,” the councilmember said in a statement. “We need to know whom we are hiring to better understand the gaps in retention and recruitment of DOE faculty and validate the experiences and the work of our students in our school system, and [this bill] will get us a step closer.”

The bill requires the DOE to submit a report for the 2018-2019 school year to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office no later than Dec. 1, 2020, and post its findings on its website.

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