Advocating for Integrated Schools and Communities

Victory at Last

New York Appleseed hails today's announcement by the New York City Department of Education suspending the practice of screening young children for access to public middle schools. This decision represents the culmination of over three years of strategic advocacy by Appleseed, Orrick, and IntegrateNYC. Middle-school screens purported to evaluate students on their academic performance and behavior in their first nine years of life. There is no other school district in the nation that uses exclusive admissions processes for middle schools as extensively as New York City. The predictable segregation and unequal access to educational opportunities represented a betrayal of the core promises of public education and acquiescence to our city and nation’s legacy of racial oppression. We are grateful for this leadership from Chancellor of Schools Richard Carranza.

The call for ending middle-school screens came not only from Appleseed, but represented a broad consensus. Essential to today’s outcome were the principled arguments for change from the Alliance for School Integration & Desegregation, the New York City Bar Association, the School Diversity Advisory Group, the High School Application Advisory Council, Community Education Councils, and Council Member Brad Lander. Most important, the persistent advocacy of parents, students, and other stakeholders in Community School District 15 demonstrated to the world that making our public schools truly open to the public is possible.
Appleseed also celebrates the Department’s decision to centralize high-school admissions consistent with the recommendations of the High School Application Advisory Committee--the other part of our two-pronged strategy. These recommendations called for radical changes to the high-school process using a new proposal developed by student leaders. For too long, high schools individually picked and chose students without public oversight. The situation was already ripe for abuse and would have become unconscionable with the added challenges of the public-health crisis. This long-overdue step is an important victory for equity in admissions and public oversight over public education.  

Appleseed is grateful for support from Orrick, The Sirus Fund, and the Donors’ Education Collaborative making these big wins for New York City school students possible.

City Council Introduces Comprehensive Plan Legislation
Appleseed has long recognized that the City's piecemeal approach to planning and development is a major factor in its status as one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Despite being the first city to adopt a zoning ordinance in 1916, New York City now bears the distinction of being one of the last to adopt a meaningful comprehensive planning framework to guide the exercise of those zoning powers. Since the fall of 2018 Appleseed has been working within the Thriving Communities Coalition to advocate for meaningful comprehensive planning that will advance integration and fair housing.

Just this week the Council introduced legislation to amend the city charter and create a "comprehensive planning" framework for the city. The legislation would establish a process to craft a citywide plan to incentivize land-use applications demonstrating consistency with its prescriptions. Appleseed will be working with its coalition partners in the coming months to assess whether the legislation goes far enough to set targets for integration, to influence zoning decisions, and to provide sufficient opportunities for planning at the community level.

For now, however, the introduction of the legislation and the debate about land-use policy it will engender represent a major step toward more integrated communities in New York City.

Holding the de Blasio Administration to Account for a Botched Fair Housing Plan

New York City released it's Where We Live NYC draft report in January, and Appleseed submitted formal comments in March. In short, we were bitterly disappointed: “The City’s failure to follow the very requirements that make the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule what it is renders the Where We Live NYC process and its hype something of a ruse," we wrote in our comments. The City released a final plan in the fall that addressed Appleseed's comments only in cosmetic ways and was possibly even weaker than the draft plan.

Appleseed's comments on the draft report also serve as a comprehensive explanation for the advocacy priorities that Appleseed has assumed since becoming an independent organization six years ago.

Within Our Reach Briefing Updated

This summer Appleseed released an updated 2020 edition of its groundbreaking Within Our Reach briefings on segregation in elementary schools. In 2013 Appleseed demonstrated to New York City that segregation in elementary schools was no mere reflection of neighborhood segregation, but was often the product of policy choices. This fundamental insight remains as relevant as ever, but--thanks in many cases to our advocacy--many City policies have since changed.

Art Advancing Racial Justice:
Continued Partnership with the Epic Theatre Ensemble

Appleseed continued to work with the Epic Theatre Ensemble to advance the conversation around school integration during the public-health crisis. Back in 2018 Appleseed had commissioned the Emerald Group to make a great film of our partner Epic Theater Ensemble's Laundry City. In April our film became a remote learning opportunity for students across the city. We invite you to watch this thought-provoking film here, and consider what your answers would be to the questions posed for the lesson. The film was also screened at a Diversity Equity & Inclusion training held by Community Education Council 15 in December. Appleseed's Nyah Berg led a section of the training and introduced the film.

Appleseed also commissioned three short films featured in the Epic NEXT Film Festival Invisible Child, Welcome Freshman, and Winning a Battle Doesn't Mean Winning a War. Watch these and other of Epic's films that explore how systemic racism manifests itself in education and the arts.
New Briefing on
Fair Student Funding

New York City's system of Fair Student Funding is in many ways an admirable attempt to ensure equitable funding to our public schools based on actual student need. To contribute to public understanding of this important program, Appleseed released a new briefing explaining the program's history and mechanics and calling attention to its flaws - specifically its unwarranted bonus for thirteen elite schools and an arbitrary and uneven application of the formula.

Black Lives Matter at the Lefferts
Historic House Museum

Students in New York City learn not only in schools, but also throughout the city's constellation of museums. And just as important, public understanding of New York's history of racial oppression is critical in order to build support for addressing the terrible legacy of that history through the policy choices we make today.

For over three years, Appleseed and community members have been in talks with the Prospect Park Alliance to identify relatively inexpensive changes to interpretation of the Lefferts Historic House--a post-revolutionary-era house museum that receives over 40,000 visitors each year. Currently, the Alliance interprets the Lefferts Historic House as the residence of the Lefferts family and does not state clearly that people enslaved by the Lefferts were likely occupants of the structure during the post-revolutionary era--sometimes the more numerous occupants. The Lefferts family was one of the largest slaveholding families in Kings County during the period when it was the "slaveholding capital" of New York State.

To call more attention to these issues, Appleseed's executive director, David Tipson, and local activist and writer Kelly Bare penned an op-ed for the Daily News calling for an overhaul of interpretation at the museum that will allow visitors to engage with the full history of the structure and will call attention to ALL of those who used to live within the building.

As a result of our op-ed, the Alliance has agreed to begin raising funds to overhaul the interpretive scheme at the museum. Meanwhile, Appleseed has added more appropriate context to the Wikipedia entry on the Lefferts House so that members of the public have access to information they cannot get from the museum itself.

The Background Work of Integration:
Supporting Community School Districts

Over the past year Appleseed's Integrated Schools Project, led by Nyah Berg, has supported different school integration processes in community school districts across the city by lending our leadership and expertise as communities study the best way to desegregate and integrate their schools.

Much of our work has been in District 28 (central Queens) supporting community members as they continued to navigate a community engagement process to improve equity and inclusion in their middle schools. Read the articles below to learn more about Nyah's work:

Centering Youth Voice in the Integration Movement

Appleseed's Nyah Berg and Lena Dalke have continued to support IntegrateNYC in their roles as coaches with both high school and middle school youth. This work represents an important part of our commitment to center our work around students' experiences in school and to ensure that their Real Integration framework continues to guide policy.
Selected Presentations

  • Nyah Berg helped to organize a powerful presentation this summer called Segregation is Killing Us, in which IntegrateNYC and Territorial Empathy demonstrated how Covid has exacerbated inequalities relating to racial and economic segregation.

  • Nyah Berg presented at the Design for Equity series during the Conscious Cities Festival this fall in a talk about equity in education. Her presentation focused on the history of segregation in New York City and the movement toward integration.

  • Last week Executive Director David Tipson was a panelist with Karla Narvaez from IntegrateNYC, Faraji Hannah-Jones from Community Education Council 13, and Rene Kathawala from Orrick in a program sponsored by the Association of Pro Bono Counsel on the role for pro bono lawyers in supporting movements for racial justice.

New York Appleseed is a part of a nonprofit network of 16 public interest centers in the United States and Mexico with a network office in Washington. Appleseed centers are dedicated to building a society in which opportunities are genuine, access to justice is universal and equal, and government advances the public interest. Click on the links below to explore the Appleseed network:

Advocacy victories like the suspension of middle school screens take years of careful planning, strategy, focus, perseverance, and daily follow through--usually without a lot to show in the interim. Check out our new story map to learn more about the role of New York Appleseed in the twenty-first century movement for school integration.

If you believe in the value of this kind of disciplined advocacy--advocacy that accepts nothing less than actual policy changes uprooting systemic injustice, please consider a donation to New York Appleseed today.