Advocates and journalists crave dichotomies, and it should come as no surprise that many advocates for school integration in New York City have begun to fall into camps.  Some parent leaders now proudly line up against “school-by-school” integration strategies and for “systemic” strategies.   In this piece, we argue that this dichotomy is false, harmful to underserved families who need access to the city’s most popular public schools now, and harmful to the school-integration movement as a whole.   New York Appleseed has long remained silent for fear of re-introducing the very myths that we hope to dispel, but the argument has now become so public that we have no option but to publish this response.

The problems begin immediately in the very framing of this debate, which posits that individual-school admissions plans for elementary and middle schools do not and cannot take into account their effects (always assumed to be negative) on nearby schools or their community school district, and that so-called “systemic” solutions are in fact systemic and that they are capable of solving all of the problems supposedly caused by single-school plans.[1]  The reality is far more complex…


Background on Single School Plans

As with so many debates in education today, the origins of hostility towards single-school admissions plans today can be traced to debates about the role of charter schools in (or against) public school systems.

It may come as a surprise to those now following the debate that until very recently the vast majority of experts believed that individual-school strategies, especially charter schools, were the most feasible, if not the only, way forward for school integration in most school districts.  In his important and influential book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart, James Ryan, perhaps the foremost legal scholar on school funding and school segregation in the United States, opined that most school districts would want to avoid district-wide programs like the controlled choice plans in Wake County, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts in favor of “less coercive methods.”  He specifically recommended combining neighborhood-school options with choice elements – particularly magnet and charter schools.[2]  The equally renowned Susan Eaton wrote about the benefits of magnet schools in a 2010 piece in The Nation.[3]

Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter wrote in a 2012 report that “The charter school movement is uniquely positioned to lead innovation in this area and demonstrate both the feasibility and benefit of an integrated learning model.”[4]  Former desegregation attorney and school integration expert James Liebman proposed that the way forward was to ensure that all new schools opened in New York City were integrated.[5]  After studying in detail the processes by which schools in gentrifying neighborhoods do or do not begin to integrate, scholar Jennifer Stillman concluded:

What charter schools have as a policy tool is the ability to start as new schools, which are much easier to craft into diverse schools with the right outreach efforts. Changing existing schools, though possible, is very challenging.[6]

Scholar Priscilla Wohlstetter emphasized the promise of diverse charter schools and echoed the sentiments of many experts in writing that, given current realities, “the likelihood of achieving socioeconomic integration throughout all urban schools seems very dim, indeed.”[7]

This line of thinking reflected the reality that most school segregation in the United States today is inter-school district – rather than intra-district – and the opinion that even in metro areas with changing demographics, building political will for school integration in the absence of a court order was at best a quixotic task.

Some advocates in New York City, however, pushed back on an analysis placing charter schools at the forefront of a new movement for school integration insofar as it failed to address realities in this impossibly large and rapidly changing global city.  They pointed out that New York City was one of the few school systems in the nation for which school segregation problem was primarily intra-district.  They resisted the argument that charter schools were uniquely suited to promote integration by noting the highly polarized environment in New York City in which charter schools typically malign the quality of traditional public schools in order to make the case for their existence.  Since integration is by definition a systemic solution, these advocates argued that charters would not be an effective force for integration until they begin coordinating with surrounding schools.  Moreover, to the extent these so called “diverse” charter schools disproportionately concentrated white and privileged students (as many diverse charters did then and do today) the existence of these charter schools was actually exacerbating segregation in the district schools.[8]

Finally, these advocates noted that recent developments in New York City challenged the narrative that public schools were too broken to integrate and the assumed lack of political will in gentrifying areas.  Specifically, they noted the fact that the New York City Department of Education had recently approved a pro-diversity admissions plan for a new school building in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn with virtually no opposition from parents in the community – what is now known as the PS 133 plan.

The PS 133 plan grew out of community concerns about the way in which schools in gentrifying and gentrified Brooklyn would “flip” – that is, they would gentrify very rapidly – seemingly overnight – to a point where there was no longer any meaningful access to low-income students or other underserved populations.  Prior to its receiving a new admissions plan, PS 133 was known as a small school with a strong principal and very popular dual language programs.  Now that it was moving into a brand-new, state-of-the-art building with triple the prior capacity, there was significant and legitimate concern in the community that the new school might draw privileged families from nearby areas and schools — becoming another white and privileged bastion with demographics grossly out of proportion with the demographics of Community School Districts (CSDs) 13 and 15 from which it would draw students.

In response, community members, including principals from surrounding schools and community school-district leaders shrewdly identified new enrollment targets for charter schools promulgated by the New York State Education Department.[9]  These targets had been developed pursuant to a 2010 change in the New York State Charter School Law and were required to set so as to be “comparable to the enrollment figures” of students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program “attending the public schools within … the community school district, in which the proposed charter school would be located.”[10]  This change in the law was occasioned by a fear similar to the one expressed above — namely that charter schools were “creaming” or concentrating the most easy-to-educate students in their own schools.   Community members requested that PS 133 be held to the same targets to protect surrounding schools even though it was a traditional public or “district” school.

The NYCDOE in responding to this request, reasonably borrowed from the primary mechanism charter schools were then using to comply with the new law – the “set-aside” admissions plan.  The surprisingly complex mechanics of set-aside plans are described in another piece, but their effect is simple:  they dramatically boost admission rates for students in priority populations (and, conversely, decrease the chance of admission for students not in those priority populations).

For the purposes of this briefing, it is important to understand that the percentage of seats set-aside for a special lottery for underserved students is NOT the same thing as the school’s goal or “target” (even though they are frequently mischaracterized that way) and in many cases has little to do with the number of underserved students who will actually be admitted. These set-aside percentages are best understood as floors, below which underserved students are granted absolute guarantees of admission.

The resulting PS 133 plan was therefore an attempt to prevent the kind of disproportionate concentration of affluent students that this enticing new school building with extra capacity and very attractive programs would likely precipitate – precisely the problem that advocates had criticized in the so-called “diverse” charter schools.  School-choice policies in New York City made it inevitable that PS 133 – both before and after its expansion – would draw students who might have attended other schools, but with the set-aside mechanism in place, the school could maintain its diversity while forcing privileged students to spread themselves across more than one school — in other words, to integrate.  Thus, this type of plan, from the beginning, was simultaneously inward-looking and conscious of systemic enrollment patterns.

Almost immediately, several other schools began requesting similar plans.


Benefits of Set-Aside Plans

                The primary and most obvious benefit of set-aside admissions plans is that they provide more equitable access for underserved children to some of the city’s most dynamic and popular schools.  These plans help to correct for the documented disadvantages that underserved families have in any school choice process.  In a gentrifying school, set-asides will help a school maintain diversity that is representative of the areas from which it draws (usually the CSD).  In an already gentrified school, set-asides (if properly calibrated) can help a school claw back to representative diversity.

Countering the effects of gentrification in a school is no small thing in a city like New York with few effective mechanisms for managing neighborhood change.  The pace and threat of gentrification in New York City are staggering.  The white population in Bedford-Stuyvesant increased from approximately 3000 whites in 2000 to 41,000 in 2015 – a 1235% increase. [11]  When schools are prevented from losing their diversity, they are less likely to gain rarefied status and distort parents’ housing choices – an important cause of the hyper-gentrification of certain neighborhoods.

Part of the reason that set-asides maintain diversity is the admissions process itself in which underserved children are given preference.  A separate but related reason is that these plans can change recruiting practices at a school.  Prior to the implementation of a set-aside, it was both a waste of time for the volunteer parents on whom recruitment typically falls and cruel to underserved families to affirmatively promote a school with an applicant pool utterly dominated by privileged families.  The chance that the families touched by these recruitment efforts would actually gain admission to the school was all but nil.  With the introduction of a set-aside plan to the school, however, recruitment efforts stand a real chance of success because underserved families who apply to a school have a real chance to gain admission.[12]

Changes in an admissions policy and augmented recruitment efforts in turn provide a third benefit of signaling the school’s values of inclusion.  The admissions plan makes a strong statement of a school’s values of inclusion both to the school community and to the community outside the school.  Parents from schools that have successfully completed the process of obtaining a set-aside plan often report favorably on the ways in which the process and the resulting plan have contributed to a new sense of mission for the community.  This reinvigorated sense of mission often then leads to examination of school policies, pedagogy, and practices that can be just as significant as the actual changes in enrollment.  Finally, for parents often put off by schools dominated by affluent whites, the hope is that these set-aside plans send a strong signal that “YOU BELONG HERE.”  And to parents with children at majority-white schools, these plans give the lie to the excuse that segregation is inevitable.

A fourth benefit is that set-aside plans are easy to implement.  The DOE has now had over four years’ experience in implementing set-aside plans, and the existing menu of plans is relatively easy to tweak to the circumstances of individual schools.  Some advocates have decried the small number of schools to which they currently apply as against all schools in New York City, but it is worth noting that the total number of majority-white schools in New York City is also small.  It bears reflection that, because of the high correlation between income and race, if what happened to PS 133 was applied to a mere 70 schools, we could immediately eliminate the incidence of majority white elementary schools.[13]

Because they are easy and fast to implement, set-aside plans offer a sixth benefit – that of placing a finger in the dyke until more comprehensive integration plans can be implemented.  Set-aside plans prevent the destabilizing effects of losing federal Title I funds, which require a minimum of 60% of students to be eligible for Free & Reduced Price Lunch.  Furthermore, as a recent rezoning in CSD 3 demonstrated, by far the largest impediment to CSD-wide plans is the presence of majority-white schools which normalize segregation and foster well-organized constituencies of parents who believe that integration would require taking something away from them.  Set-aside plans prevent schools from losing their Title I funding and then gentrifying to the point that they become bulwarks against larger-scale integration efforts.


Arguments against Set-Aside Plans Summarized and Addressed

Reaction to the PS 133 plan in the small community of integration advocates was mostly positive during its first few years of its existence.  Towards the end of 2014 and, especially after the DOE announced an admission pilot program essentially extending PS 133 plan to seven more schools, criticisms began to emerge.  The critiques have not been consistent, however, and have in fact been contradictory.

In the first wave of criticism, some integration advocates began to assert categorically that any school-level individual plan necessarily “exacerbated” segregation in surrounding schools.[14]  These advocates never explained how or why expanding access for underserved students to a school in danger of gentrifying could exacerbate segregation, except by noting vaguely that one school’s enrollment patterns affect those of nearby schools.

While it is undeniable that one school’s enrollment patterns affect those of nearby schools, these critiques oddly do not acknowledge the likelihood that such an effect would be almost entirely positive in the case of set-aside plans.  Indeed, a common pattern in gentrifying areas of Brooklyn is that when privileged families are unable to gain access to a desired school or schools, they often begin attending other traditional public schools.    (An entire book has been written about the process by which this happens.[15])

This first critique against set-aside plans appears to have borrowed the language of the argument advocates used against concentrating disproportionate numbers of white and affluent students in individual schools without comprehending its logic.  Since set-aside plans do the opposite of concentrating privileged students, they are most likely to have an integrative effect on surrounding schools.

A second assertion against set-aside plans is that they divert energy away from more systemic efforts.  Intuitively, this might seem to be a danger, but, empirically, we have seen just the opposite.  Almost immediately after the PS 133 plan was announced, CSD 13 created a task force to address school segregation across the entire CSD.  Similarly, CSD 1, which has a higher concentration of school-level diversity plans than any other CSD appears to be close to adopting a CSD-wide plan.  In CSD 17, a school-level admissions plan for PS 705 seems to have been the impetus for CSD-wide efforts underway now.  If anything, it appears to be the case that school-level plans instigate interest in broader efforts by calling public attention to the possibility of more equitable student assignment strategies.

Additionally, as we have already noted, since the largest obstacle to CSD-wide plans is entrenched privilege and “investment-backed expectations” at desirable schools, school-level plans play a critical finger-in-the-dyke function, by preventing schools from becoming privileged bastions before CSD-wide plans can be implemented.  And finally, set-aside plans don’t require much effort on the part of the DOE; by this point, it is practically a matter of flipping a switch.

The notion that set-aside plans will divert significant resources away from more comprehensive efforts is not supported by the evidence.

A third set of assertions against set-aside plans came in a piece published under Valerie Strauss’s byline in The Washington Post.  The authors asserted that in New York City, set-asides capped the number of underserved children at individual schools.  Since set-aside plans are not caps, but floors, however, the argument was simply a misstatement of fact.[16]  A similar misunderstanding appears to have underpinned criticisms from some parents that the set-aside percentages were “bogus” because too low.[17]  As explained above, the set-aside percentages are not targets or goals even though they are often called by those names.  Put in the most generous light possible, these pieces were arguments that the set-aside percentages at some schools were initially set too low to provide sufficient boost in the admissions lottery to priority populations.  If so, we agree.

A fourth set of assertions, however, suggests that set-aside percentages are too high.   Instead of asserting the illogical idea that set-aside plans exacerbate segregation, some detractors now simply say that these plans “may harm” surrounding schools.[18]  The argument runs as follows:  when underserved students, who (we are asked to assume) would have attended kindergarten in certain other schools in a CSD, are given the chance to attend a popular school, the schools they didn’t attend are “harmed” by the loss of students (and therefore funding) attached to those students.  To work, the argument must make a further assumption that the more affluent students who do not get into the school as a result of the set-aside plan will not themselves attend any of the schools we are asked to assume the other students would have attended.  (Underscoring the extent to which all of these critiques are based on hypotheticals, there is actually yet another argument that the problem is that these plans do in fact cause privileged parents to send their children to the nearby schools. The problem, according to this critique, is that these schools are not usually prepared to accommodate the demands often made by these affluent parents.)

The argument of “harm” to surrounding schools is not wholly illogical, but, at bottom, it is an argument for segregation.  In fact, it is the precisely argument for segregation that New York City has likely made to itself for decades:  namely that underserved children benefit from the funding and public support that comes from keeping affluent students in the system, and therefore, attempts to coddle those students through special programs and special schools are justified.  It is nothing but a new form of the argument that New York Appleseed has been fighting against for years that integration will cause white flight.

It is of course impossible to predict with certainty the effect on parent choices of any plan — whether at the school level, the CSD level, or citywide.  Even if this were not the case, determining the “harm” or “benefit” of a plan’s effect depends to large extent on which baselines are selected.  If an existing school was previously concentrating large numbers of privileged students (that is, arguably, drawing them away from other schools), is it fair to say that the “harm” to surrounding schools began only at the moment we begin to provide access to underserved children?  It is more accurate to say that any harm is caused by the school’s mere existence and by school-choice policies rather than by principled attempt to mitigate the effects of these realities.

Perhaps most importantly, the effect – positive or negative – is likely to be negligible on surrounding schools because the number of students at issue at each set-aside school, while significant for the set-aside school, is negligible in the context of total numbers of kindergarten applicants in a CSD.[19]

In any case, such “harm” is not a problem that any of the “systemic” solutions now on the table will solve.


In Search of a Systemic Solution

The primary objection to a systemic solution to school segregation in New York City is that none exists.  If, as we have shown, the best school-by-school plans contain meaningful considerations of systemic effects, the best of the solutions New York City advocates currently call “systemic” have strong inward-looking elements.  In fact, these proposed solutions are not systemic at all if the “system” at issue is the New York City school system.  And they are susceptible to precisely the same criticisms that advocates raise against set-aside plans for individual schools.

With over a million students, the New York City school system comprises more students than several U.S. states in total population.  The city’s population is highly segregated racially and economically and sprawls unevenly over 302.6 square miles of 30 islands and one peninsula – meaning that many students would have to travel great distances and traverse at least one body of water to achieve integration across the entire school system.  Moreover, the city’s density warps traditional rules of time and space.  Public transportation makes some parts of the city highly accessible – even from a distance – while traffic congestion, bridges, and tunnels turn neighborhoods that are geographically nearby into very remote locations indeed.

On top of all this are students’ racial demographics.  New York City’s public schools are approximately 14.9% white, 15.8% Asian, 26.5% African-American, and 40.4% Latino (although the percentage of white students is somewhat higher in elementary and middle schools).   Even if it were possible to balance the student demographics across all schools in the city, the resulting integration – presumably obtained at enormous financial and political cost – would look a lot like the segregation that occurred previously.  This fact was painfully in evidence when the NYCDOE recently released a preliminary goal for “racially representative” schools, defined as schools between 50 and 90 percent African-American and Latino.  This goal was practically a retort to poorly articulated demands for “systemic” integration.[20]

Faced with these realities, most advocates have quickly reached the conclusion that truly systemic integration is in fact impossible and that integration efforts will look different in different parts of the city.[21]  There is, however, no unproblematic way to break up the city.  Even the city’s five boroughs are themselves enormous both in population and land area, and effective integration by borough could require long bus trips for small children.

The other obvious option is the city’s system of 32 community school districts, but less than half of these CSDs have any sizeable white or affluent student population.  As scholar Pedro Noguera once asked a packed forum, “Who’s going to integrate a school in Brownsville or East New York?!”[22]  In some cases, the CSD lines are logical and conducive to integration, but in other cases, the district lines enforce racial and economic disparities.  In Manhattan, CSD boundary lines effectively wall off the Lower East Side (CSD 1) from the far wealthier CSD 2, which envelops the small CSD on the north, west, and south.

Nevertheless, most advocates (including the authors of this briefing) have concluded that CSDs are the appropriate geographical units to begin integration efforts.  New York City parents are already used to the idea that their CSD of residence largely determines the schools available to them, and solutions that do not disrupt that expectation seem likely to have a greater chance of acceptance.  Put another way, it is bad enough that school segregation exists across the whole city, but it seems particularly unacceptable when it occurs within the same CSD.

Yet to laud CSD-wide strategies as “systemic” while tarnishing individual-school strategies as ineffective creates too sharp a distinction between strategies that are similar in the kinds of benefits and drawbacks they offer.  Individual CSDs — particularly the smaller ones — represent tiny portions of the entire New York City school system.  CSDs 1 and 13, where plans for CSD-wide integration are currently underway, represent 1.2 and 1.4 percent respectively of the city’s K-8 student population.   Indeed, many reporters and even experts have difficulty discerning a difference between set-asides and controlled choice.[23]

As strong supporters of these CSD-wide efforts, we are concerned that the critics of set-aside plans are in fact elevating and legitimizing the very myths that can be used to attack CSD-wide plans.


Set-Aside Plans Versus CSD-Wide Controlled Choice Plans

As discussed above, the argument that set-aside plans exacerbate segregation in surrounding schools is untenable logically, mathematically, and empirically.  If it were a plausible critique, however, it would apply with even greater force to CSD-wide plans, because one CSD’s enrollment patterns will affect those of nearby CSDs in much the same way that one school’s enrollment patterns affect those of surrounding schools.

Even if the DOE agreed to take away the ability of students to cross CSD lines (something both unlikely and unwise in our opinion), many of the CSDs are oddly shaped and awkwardly situated such that it is entirely possible for families to live in close proximity to as many schools out of their CSD as in.  Parents in New York City have the right to send their children to a public elementary or middle school in the community school district in which they reside, but longtime school-choice policies allow parents the right to seek placement in any school subject to preferences for in-district families.  A 2013 DOE advertising campaign emphasized the scope of choices available to parents:  “70,000 Kindergarteners, 900 Options.”[24]

As with the “diverse” charter schools with disproportionately high numbers of more affluent students,  CSD-wide plans would presumably normalize higher-than-citywide-average rates of enrollment of more affluent students by setting those rates as targets for all schools.  Necessarily, other CSDs in the city will have lower-than-average rates of those students.

A second critique of set-aside plans is, as we have seen, grounded in the double premise that underserved students will be pulled “from” surrounding schools to traditionally popular schools and that privileged students denied access to the popular school by virtue of the set-aside plan will not enroll in any of those surrounding schools.  The result of this hypothetical is a net loss of students (and funding) for the CSD schools.

Again, the critique that privileged parents will not attend other schools in a district after having been turned away from a popular school by virtue of a set aside applies with equal force to CSD-wide plans.  If, as the set-aside critics claim, we can assume that families who are shut out of a popular school because of a set-aside are not going to attend surrounding schools, simply making a plan CSD-wide will not alter families’ resistance to attending those same schools.  If those families would leave the CSD altogether because of set-aside plans at a few schools, it is even more likely that they would leave the CSD if there were limits placed on their presence at every school in the district.

In fact, even in situations where the controlled choice plan covers the entire school district – as in Cambridge, Massachusetts – the same problem can exist.  Some schools have smaller class sizes with higher percentages of low-income students simply because the more affluent students assigned there choose to attend private schools or find other options instead.[25]

At bottom, as many have pointed out, no admissions plan — whether at the school-level or the district-level – can force privileged parents to send their children to a school they deem highly undesirable for their children.    Against all this, we believe that privileged families will and do in fact try other schools in a CSD when shut out of popular schools, and we have seen it happen – most famously and beautifully at Park Slope Collegiate in District 15.  Park Slope Collegiate was once a segregated school, almost entirely children of color.  When privileged families did not receive their first choice at some of CSD 15’s popular middle schools, ten of them decided to try Park Slope Collegiate.  In a period of just a few years, the school has become more and more integrated and is now known for its groundbreaking work modeling successful and responsible integration to schools across the city.

A third critique of set-aside plans is that they may undermine more systemic efforts.  As discussed above, we believe that set-aside plans are likely to instigate rather than mute calls for more comprehensive integration planning.  If, however the opposite is true, then it is likely also to be true for CSD-wide efforts.    While the original diversity in admissions pilot program was derided by critics for only addressing 8 of some 700 hundred elementary schools (1%), it is worth noting that individual CSDs are themselves tiny proportions of the NYC school system.  Moreover, many of the most promising CSD-wide planning efforts are occurring in CSDs that are smaller on average precisely because their size seems to make CSD-wide student assignment more plausible.  The most promising CSD-wide planning effort currently underway is in CSD 1, which has a small population representing just 1.2% of the total K-8 student population.

If the concern is that promoting diversity at individual schools somehow relieves pressure on DOE to address segregation across the system as a whole, then the CSD-by-CSD approach is likely to be just as, if not more, damaging by providing the illusion of systemic reform that in fact affects a relatively small number of students.  Against this argument, we assert that both school-by-school and CSD-by-CSD efforts will only spur more rather than less integration planning.

Recall that the fourth argument against set-asides rested on the factual misrepresentation that set-aside plans capped the number of low-income students in schools.  Interestingly, while set-aside plans merely boost the chances of admission to a school for underserved students and do not cap in any way, the integration plans currently contemplated by advocates in some CSDs would in fact need to cap the number of underserved students at schools within those CSDs in order to work.  It is not clear what such caps would mean for underserved children trying to apply to schools within that CSD from less affluent CSDs.



In June of this year the New York City Department of Education released its “plan” to diversity its schools.  The plan was notable – even groundbreaking – for its inclusion of a policy statement in support of school diversity – a major policy goal for New York Appleseed.

Even more remarkable in some ways was its goal of racially representative schools.  For anyone following the progress of school-integration advocacy in New York City over the last five years, the fact that NYCDOE would set for itself a goal of racially representative schools was nothing short of astonishing.  As recently as 2015 NYCDOE was challenging the legality of integrating schools even by income-level as possibly impinging on constitutional constraints on student assignment for racial diversity.  This new conceptual framework represents a major victory for advocates and an instance of institutional growth by NYCDOE.

What was less than remarkable, however, was the preliminary definition given to “racially representative.”  This, we believe, was a failure of advocacy.

The excessively negative reaction to the DOE’s pilot program to apply set-aside admission plans to individual schools led precipitously to an ill-defined call for “systemic” solutions.  In our zeal to criticize the small scale of the “school-by-school” approach, we ignored the substantial similarities between school-by-school and CSD-by-CSD approaches and called for something we didn’t understand.

NYCDOE gave us what we asked for:  a vision of systemic integration and one in which the goal is to increase the number of schools that are 50 to 90 percent Latino and African-American regardless of local context.  While more “systemic” than anything proposed so far, this approach would likely leave untouched the schools representing bastions of privilege that set-aside admissions plans seek to address with surgical precision.

With respect to elementary and middle schools, school-integration advocacy needs to return to its values of community-led planning.  By definition, these planning efforts will not be systemic, but they may yet lead us in that direction.  A true commitment to community-based planning, however, whether at the school level or the CSD level, requires keeping minds open and eschewing the rigid ideologies and false dualisms that provide openings for NYCDOE to sidestep its moral duty.  Not every integration strategy will be appropriate for every community, but it is critical that our assessments about what is best for our own communities not harden into simplistic and categorical judgments.

Like most advocates, the authors of this briefing maintain a clear preference for CSD-wide “controlled choice” plans over school-level strategies.  As we have shown, however, by creating a false dichotomy between these two types of strategies that share much in common, we are inadvertently marshaling a panoply of arguments that – however weak – can and will be employed against CSD-wide plans.




[1] The majority of set-aside admissions plan now in use in New York City apply to non-selective elementary and middle schools.  The arguments in this briefing pertain only to non-selective elementary and middle schools.  New York Appleseed has consistently expressed concern about the use of set-aside admission plans to mitigate the inherently segregative effects of academic screens.

[2] James E. Ryan, Five Miles Away, A World Apart:  One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America, 2010, 296-7.

[3] Susan Eaton, “The Pull of Magnets,” The Nation, May 27, 2010,

[4] Richard Kahlenberg and Haley Potter, “Diverse Charter Schools,” May 2012,; see also Sarah Carr, “The Integrationists,” Next City, August 20, 2012,

[5] James Liebman, “School Integration: Revisit a Good Idea,” letter to the editor, NY Times, May 21, 2012.

[6] Jennifer Stillman, “Charter schools no silver bullet for integration, but a start,” Chalkbeat, July 5, 2012; Stillman published a book based on her research, Gentrification and Schools:  The Process of Integration When Whites Reverse Flight.

[7] Priscilla Wohlstetter, “A New Solution to an Old Problem: School Integration,” Huffington Post, Nov. 23, 2015,;

[8] Khin Mai Aung and David Tipson, “Op-Ed: Aim for Diverse Schools, But Don’t Leave it Up to Charters,” Next City, Feb. 28, 2013; Khin Mai Aung and David Tipson, “School Integration Requires Cooperation:  Lessons from New York City,” Poverty & Race, May/June, 2013; David Tipson, letter to the editor, NY Daily News, Sep. 8, 2015.


[10] New York State Charter Schools Act of 1998 as amended, Sec. 2852(9-b); available at

[11] Andrew Small, “The Gentrification of Gotham,” CityLab, April 28, 2017,

[12] Michele Greenberg, John O’Reilly, and Steve Quester, “It’s not about quotas: The real story behind how two Brooklyn schools have begun to diversify,” Chalkbeat, June 9, 2016;

[13] The 2016 School Diversity Accountability Act report from DOE, 2015-16 school year:

[14] Patrick Wall, “After year delay, city will allow diversity plans at several schools,” Chalkbeat, Nov. 19, 2015,; and more recently, Gail Robinson, “Policies Shift, Neighborhoods Change, but Elementary School Segregation Holds On,”, March 6, 2017;

[15] Jennifer Stillman, Gentrification and Schools:  The Process of Integration When Whites Reverse Flight. 2012.

[16] Valerie Strauss, “A disturbing trend in school integration programs,” Washington Post, March 15, 2016;

[17] Lisa Colangelo, Ben Chapman, “Critics say New York City schools’ diversity targets are bogus,” NY Daily News, Oct. 25, 2016.

[18] Amy Zimmer quoting David Bloomfield, “Diversity-Based Admissions Coming to 12 More City Schools,” DNAinfo, Oct. 20, 2016;

[19] It is important to point out that the negligible effect of a set-aside plan does not mean that effect of the school itself on enrollment in surrounding schools is negligible.  Total kindergarten enrollment at a popular school is in fact likely to have a significant impact on enrollment at surrounding schools.   But it is critical to distinguish the effects of a popular school on surrounding schools’ enrollment from the effects of the set-aside plan, which will be insignificant across a CSD, and, in any event, are specifically designed to mitigate the most harmful of the effects of the popular school — the disproportionate concentration of privileged students.  This distinction appears to have been lost on advocates who make the claim that PS 133 is drawing students from neighboring school attendance zones as an example of how it is “affecting” surrounding schools.  PS 133 had for years before the implementation of the set-aside plan drawn students from surrounding school zones. Removing the set-aside plan would not change that reality, but only allow more privileged students to benefit from it.

[20] NYCDOE, “Equity and Excellence for All:  Diversity in New York City Public Schools,” June 6, 2017, p. 4.

[21] David Bloomfield, “How to desegregate New York City’s schools. Now.,” Chalkbeat, July 18, 2016;

[22] Quoted by Jeff Coplon, “New York State Has the Most-Segregated Schools in the Nation,” NY Magazine, April 23, 2014,

[23] See, for example, Geoff Decker, “In Brooklyn’s District 13, a task force aims to engineer socioeconomic integration,” Chalkbeat, Feb. 12, 2014, describing controlled choice as determined by “set-aside lotteries;”; and District 15 Community Education Council, “Resolution on Diversity,” June 2014,, describing the PS 133 plan as providing “a useful framework in assessing future controlled choice admissions proposals.”


[25] Interview with Jeffrey Young, former superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, Oct. 5, 2016.