In the Upper West Side of New York City, Public School 199 stands on West 70th Street as a high-wealth, high-performing, and intensely sought-after elementary school. But this fall, the popular school will usher in a new, different class of students—and the enrollment change has drawn fear, scorn, and fierce opposition from local parents.
In the fall of 2015, the New York City Department of Education announced plans to redraw District 3’s attendance zones with the goal of making schools like PS 199 more economically integrated. The proposed changes would move several elementary-school students from Public School 191—a neighboring, high-poverty, majority-minority school—into PS 199.
Parents at the wealthy school were outraged, and the city’s first attempt to integrate the two schools failed amid the backlash. After contentious debates and heated protests, the city dropped the plan, stating it would need more time to devise a new approach that “reached consensus.”
The city resurrected its proposal the next year and, although the rezoning plan is still fraught with conflict, it somehow muscled its way through the dissension to reach a final vote last fall. District 3’s Community Education Council—a locally elected parent group that votes on zoning policies—had long been in favor of new zoning lines and approved the city’s plan on a 9-to-1 vote.
But parents who are opposed to the plan have continued to fight. Some are placing political pressure, threatening to campaign against any official who supports the new zones. Others have warned that they will enroll their children in private school. Some have even hinted at taking legal action. Overall, the battles roiling PS 199 and PS 191’s elementary-school campuses have proven that, when it comes to school integration, change is no easy task.
One would think Americans are ready for school integration, though. In a new study by my colleague Ulrich Boser and me, we found that most Americans—more than 60 percent—report that school segregation is an important issue for them, and nearly 70 percent of Americans agree that more should be done to integrate low- and high-poverty schools.