What’s Better Than School Diversity?

And what does the word diversity mean to most Americans? Who is it important to and what is the point of focusing on it?

These are questions I find myself asking as my youngest prepares to go off to high school in September. In New York City, getting into a good high school is a long, stressful, arduous process. My son wanted to go to one of the ‘specialized’ high schools, one of the eight in the city that bases admissions on a single test score, so he spent a year of Saturdays preparing for the test. All students must also fill out an application that includes twelve other schools that they might like to attend. Of the 1,700 schools to choose from, about a third of them are screened, meaning they can choose which students they accept based on criteria such as grades, test scores and attendance. Seats in screened schools are very limited, some of them with curriculums as rigorous as the specialized schools. Khev was admitted to one of these, located in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan.

I was attracted to it and put it on his application because it was highly recommended. Nearly all of its students graduate on time and are ready for and accepted to four year colleges without needing any remedial help. In its description it also prided itself on its diversity. Here is a graphic depicting the schools various demographics:

It would seem from this graphic that the student population is quite diverse. But let’s not forget that this school is screened for grades– not only that, the entire student body population is only about 450 kids. So while the school may be diverse in the racial sense it is not in the metric of performance. When I look at this graphic with its blue wheel of 75% low-income families, I see a school full of like-minded students, a school where not many struggling with academics in any way are even admitted. What does that mean? It means that the students are not necessarily diverse in all of the ways exposure to different kinds of kids is even relevant. And as that thought runs through my head, I am not that surprised when I encounter the next graphic:

This is because screened high schools with wonderful programs and high graduation rates just don’t have kids in them that need extra help. Therefore kids who do attend don’t necessarily learn to deal with kids with different learning abilities. And why is that important to me as a mom? Real life after high school and college are going to be full of all different kinds of people.

From Connie Mathiesson : “…nonwhite schools are segregated by poverty as well as race, creating an unstable, often dangerous education experience, with high teacher turnover and scant resources. According to UCLA researchers, “These are the high schools that account for most of the nation’s ‘dropout factories,’ where a frightfully large share of the students, especially young men, fail to graduate and too many end up virtually unemployable.”

These are the other young men my son will be sharing space with, since neighborhoods are often segregated by color as well as socioeconomics. These are the middle school friends that are attending the neighborhood school while he gets on the train and travels to Chelsea every day, that’s why its important to me. Maybe like educator Derrick Gay says, diversity shouldn’t be what we are striving for but rather inclusion that promotes equity.

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