A working group convened by the de Blasio Administration is set to release a plan for improving school diversity on Tuesday. And student activists say they’ll be looking for progress not just on who’s admitted to the schools, but what’s taught and who’s doing the teaching.
“The fact of the matter is New York City is one of the most diverse places on Earth,” said Obrian Rosario, 17. "But our school teachers, our school staff, our school administration do not represent the diversity as a whole.” He said he has not had a teacher of color since he started in the public school system.
According to a report from NYU’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools, non-white men accounted for under 10 percent of teachers in recent years.
Leanne Nunes, 16, said her black history lessons have focused too much on slavery and not enough on the contributions and achievements of African Americans. "I am someone that comes from a people who are proud and strong and powerful and I’m powerful too,” she said to cheers at a recent rally outside the Department of Education.
Rosario and Nunes joined students from across the city in a week of action called Black Lives Matter At School. They demanded more teachers of color, better black history and ethnic studies courses, fewer suspensions, and more counselors in the schools than police.
A DOE spokesperson said many of the improvements students want were underway. For example, the NYC Men Teach initiative is working to bring 1,000 teachers of color into city schools. Lengthy suspensions, particularly of black students, were down dramatically, while the number of counselors was up. The department has invested $23 million to help teachers make their classes more culturally responsive and fight implicit bias.
he New York City school system is among the most segregated in the nation. The de Blasio administration has said increasing diversity is a priority. But some parents have sued over its plan to change admissions at the city’s specialized high schools, and efforts to increase diversity on the District level have proven controversial.
“Chancellor Carranza has prioritized advancing equity, reducing racial disparities, and expanding culturally responsive education across New York City public schools, and we’ve made progress but acknowledge there is more work to do,” the DOE spokesperson said in a statement.
But Black Lives Matter in Schools organizer Tarilyn Little told WNYC’s Jessica Gould that the city wasn’t moving fast enough.
"Having rallies like this holds our system accountable to their promises," she said, adding that when the diversity plan comes out students will hold the city accountable for fulfilling those promises, too.
Jessica Gould is a reporter in the newsroom at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @ByJessicaGould.