The Buffalo School District has failed in its attempt to close the racial gap at coveted City Honors School.
After two years of making changes in the admissions process, the percentage of African-American students at the school has actually dropped.
The hard truth, in a district where half the students are black, is that just 16.4 percent of City Honors students are black, down from 18 percent a couple of years ago. The school is mostly white, although that percentage has decreased slightly because of gains by Asian and multiracial students.
The students who gain admission to City Honors and thrive in its environment of hard work are to be congratulated. Presuming that the admissions process is truly race-blind, then the district is rewarding its best. But it is also failing to provide for other deserving students.
The short-term answer centers on providing an elite education to qualified students of all races. But the larger question remains: How to lift all students in a district where African-American students score disproportionately low on reading and math tests and graduate in smaller numbers.
It is no secret that early childhood preparation sets up a lifetime of successes. That is the reason New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed prekindergarten for all. Early childhood education doesn’t stop the bullets in crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods, but it increases the likelihood students will begin their schooling knowing their ABCs, something middle- and upper-income households are more likely to have the resources to navigate.
Local efforts to improve outcomes have been underway for years. Superintendent Kriner Cash has his New Education Bargain. M&T Bank leads the multistakeholder nonprofit Buffalo Promise Neighborhood. Read to Succeed Buffalo, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Say Yes to Education Buffalo and many other generous organizations have all made their central mission improving the lives of young people through education, while offering families wraparound support services.
These groups understand that children from violence-stricken neighborhoods who attend school on empty stomachs find it hard to concentrate. The support systems in the home may not be there. Teachers have a tremendously difficult task in educating these kids. But it is not impossible.
Preparing all students, no matter what their race or socioeconomic background, for success must be a priority. If we are going to improve education, we need the best teachers working to develop every student. It is the only way that the Buffalo Niagara region will prosper. It is the only way individuals will prosper, and the reason parents and guardians want their kids enrolled in the district’s top school for grades five through 12 – City Honors.
But not all kids capable of thriving in the school’s intensive educational environment make the cut. That has to change.
Complaints about equal access to the district’s criteria-based schools have been long-standing. The District Parent Coordinating Council filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging discrimination in admissions practices at City Honors and Olmsted 156.
The district brought in an expert who made recommendations on how to fix the problem. School officials made some changes and passed on others.
One of the recommendations by Gary Orfield and the UCLA Civil Rights Project that was rejected was to open a second City Honors so that every student who qualified for admittance would have a seat. It makes no sense for the district to limit access to its top-flight education to the number of slots available and relegate other qualified students to decidedly weaker schools.
City Honors is well regarded for its rigorous International Baccalaureate program emphasizing higher standards and critical thinking. Most students are not up to or don’t want that type of education. But those who do deserve the opportunity.
School officials had no problem acting when they realized that they needed another Emerson School of Hospitality. So why is there hesitation to provide more seats for college-bound students who want to learn in an advanced academic environment?
All district schools should have the resources and the commitment to success of City Honors. Sadly, that is not the case.
The district needs to promptly make room for every qualified student seeking an advanced, college-oriented education while continuing to raise the standards and outcomes for every student.