Long Island Schools: Integration or Segregation?


Last month, Alan Singer, a Social Studies teacher at Hofstra University, spoke on the "State of School Integration on Long Island" at a Black History Month event held at the Lakeview Public Library. The event ...

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Last month, Alan Singer, a Social Studies teacher at Hofstra University, spoke on the "State of School Integration on Long Island" at a Black History Month event held at the Lakeview Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Save-Our-Sons Network, a mentor program for boys based in Lakeview.

In a blog entitled, “Integrate Long Island Schools”, posted on March 19th, Singer points out that 75 percent of the approximately 5,600 people living in Lakeview in 2007 were black and that 85 percent of the approximately 8,900 people living in the town of Malverne are white.

Lakeview is part of the Malverne School District, which includes Malverne proper. In light of these facts and demographics, it would seem that the student population of the Malverne School District should represent a healthy heterogeneous cross-section of the residents of these communities; but that is not the case. As Singer points out, over 75 percent of the students in Malverne schools are black and Latino; and many of the white students are enrolled in private schools or attend school in other nearby communities.

Singer’s blog chronicles the racial history of the Lakeview-Malverne area, dating back to the 1920s through the 1950s when middle class black families were “redlined” by lenders in efforts to keep them out of most suburban Long Island communities.

Redlining is an illegal, discriminatory practice whereby financial institutions or other lenders refuse to grand loans, mortgages or insurance to those they consider poor financial risks, without taking their qualifications or creditworthiness into account. Lenders target neighborhoods, often with a high concentration of minorities, draw a red line around them, and refuse to lend money to the people living in them. Though prohibited by law, redlining is still practiced by some lenders today.

Singer goes on to point out that during the 1960s some of the sharpest battles to racially integrate Long Island schools were fought in the Lakeview-Malverne School District with confrontations that included demonstrations, boycotts, protests and arrests.

Committed to racially integrating public schools, Singer says, “In an era when school reform and budget savings are championed by representatives of both major political parties, Long Island cannot economically, politically, or culturally afford to maintain small racially segregated school districts”—and the citizens of Long Island are uniting around these critical issues to effectuate change.

Launched in 2001, ERASE Racism is an independent, Long-Island-based not-for-profit organization. Through research, education, policy advocacy and the civic engagement of Long Island leaders, organizations and residents, ERASE Racism addresses the ways in which policies and practices of government, businesses and others affect racial equity on Long Island.

ERASE Racism’s vision is to create transformed, integrated communities in which no person's access to opportunity is limited by race or ethnicity—and one of its core issues is public school education.

A visit to the organization’s website reveals some alarming statistics.  Here are a few:

  • Long Island has 124 school districts:  Nassau County has 56 and Suffolk County has 68, placing them seventh and fourth—out of 3,066 counties nationwide—in the number of districts per county. Each of these 124 school districts acts as a completely autonomous taxing authority. This makes it impossible to effectively allocate resources to meet the needs of every student.
  • 75 percent of Long Island school districts have fewer than 5,500 students. Long Island has some of the highest property taxes in the nation; and for the amount that is spent on taxes, the quality of education should be much higher. Inefficiencies in school spending are largely the result of the region’s segregated school districts. In comparison to the rest of the State, and the nation, Long Island is unusual, both in how many school districts it has and how economically segregated they are.
  • On average, wealthier districts spend nearly $8,000 more per student per year than poorer districts.
  • Long Island is the third most racially segregated suburban region in America. Our racially segregated neighborhoods produce racially and economically segregated classrooms. This means that black and Latino students are systematically denied access to well-funded schools and as a result are denied the opportunity for a high quality education.

ERASE Racism has determined that if Long Island school district lines were redrawn along town and city lines, a total of 15 districts would result, which would be far less segregated by race as well as income. Singer points out that if Malverne, Lakeview, and Rockville Centre were combined into one school district, the student population would be 53 percent white, 30 percent black, 13 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian.

And these are not merely implausible, idealistic goals. ERASE Racism reports that research shows that when classes are mixed by race and ability, all students benefit.

After biology classes in Rockville Centre were more fully integrated in 2001, along with a more rigorous curriculum, the number of white and Asian-American students that passed the State Regents exam rose from 85 percent to 94 percent and the number of black and Latino students that passed the exam shot up from 48 percent to 77 percent.

Research has also shown that students that learn in more heterogeneous settings become more critical thinkers, learn more overall and are ultimately more prepared to live in an ever-increasing diverse society.

Springer concluded his blog by saying “On Long Island, our diversity is one of our greatest resources. It is time to finally racially integrate our schools.”