Federal Civil Rights Complaint Brought by Parents and Community Groups
Parents and community groups filed a complaint
with the federal Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, on May 20,
2013. They charge the New York City Department
of Education with using a high school admissions process that sets minority
students up for failure, and they call for an investigation.
"For at least seven years, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has known that its high school admissions process denies African American and Latino students equal opportunity, and DOE has done nothing, said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center, which filed the complaint on behalf of New York City parents. "That must be corrected," she added, "so that all New York City students, no matter their race or national origin, have the opportunity to graduate from high school and lead productive lives."
The complaint calls for an overhaul of the current system through a controlled admissions policy that would ensure increased equity and make it possible for the public to understand and monitor high school admissions.
"I'm frustrated with a process that leaves parents in the dark and with just an inkling of hope that your child may end up in a decent high school. Where is the transparency and equality?" said Carmen Rojas, a parent at A. Phillip Randolph High School in Harlem and a complainant.
As reported by Ben Chapman in the New York Daily News, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said, "This administration inherited an unequal system, where zip code often determined a child's fate." He pointed to a narrowing of the gap in graduation rates and said that closing that gap has been a "core goal" of the administration.
This is the largest federal civil rights complaint of its kind against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's DOE. It reveals that black and Latino students are more likely than white students to end up in high schools with high concentrations of high-needs students (overage/under-credited students or students with low proficiency levels). In fact, 87% of the schools with the highest concentration of high needs students are predominately minority schools (over 90% African American and Latino), and those schools have a 47.5% graduation rate, as compared to the city's average graduation rate of 65.1%.
New York City's public school system educates 1.1 million children in K-12 classes and has hundreds of high schools. Of the 386 high schools at issue in this complaint, 242 schools have a student population that is more than 90% African American and Latino. Thirty-seven of the 386 high schools (or 10%) have a student population that is more than 24% white, double the percentage of white students in the district.
The complaint also alleges that the NYCDOE ignored its own evidence that the high school admissions process sets minority students up for failure. First in 2006, and again in 2008, the NYCDOE hired the Parthenon Group, an outside consulting firm, to examine high school admissions. Parthenon's reports formally put NYCDOE on notice that concentrating students with the highest needs in any one school reduces the overall chances for students to graduate and leads to school closure. Yet, despite this evidence NYCDOE has continued to concentrate its highest need students and assigns them, disproportionately, to minority schools.