School Desegregation: Yonkers and Coral Gables

posted on June 6th, 2008 filed under: Real Estate News

Miami, 1971.  A court order desegregates the public school system.  Sort of.  It’s a big, county-wide system, so as a practical matter, desegregation can be ordered only at the margins.  Schools deep inside black areas are too far from white areas to bus blacks out and bring whites in, and schools far out in white areas are too far from black areas to bus whites out and bring blacks in.  So the desegregation plan focuses on communities like Coral Gables, where the all-black and all-white schools are close enough that their student bodies can be scrambled.  Carver Elementary (all-black), Coral Gables Elementary (all-white) and Sunset Elementary (all-white) are grouped into a single school-choice district.  A lottery determines school assignments.

Yonkers, 1984.  A court settlement desegregates the public school system.  It’s a big city, but it’s not a whole county, so scrambling the entire city’s student population is somewhat feasible.  A lottery is instituted to determine school assignments.

Fast-forward to 2008.  Coral Gables Senior High is a "C" school, failing to make adequate yearly progress, with 39% of students reading at or above grade level.  In Yonkers, three of the five high schools occupy the bottom spots in county-wide average SAT scores.

There are two problems with the well-meaning but wishful thinking that underlies these desegregation plans.  First, they are limited to the districts’ borders.  Whatever problems the Gables desegregation system aims to solve are unimportant to residents of the adjacent and increasingly wealthy community of Pinecrest.  And whatever problems the Yonkers desegregation system aims to solve are of utterly no significance to residents of the adjacent and uber-wealthy community of Bronxville.  In America, the ties that bind apparently end at the city line.

Second, families are free to send their children to private and religiously affiliated schools.  In Coral Gables and Yonkers, the practice is routine.  About one-third of students at Coral Gables Senior High qualify as economically disadvantaged — in a city with one of the highest median household incomes in the state.  Yonkers, meanwhile, keeps its property taxes strangely low — arguably to enable families to stay in Yonkers while paying for private or religious schools.

This is the point where it would be nice to offer a simple solution.  Sorry.

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