Annenberg Institute releases report: “Is Demography Destiny?”

This month, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform released a disheartening report on the correlation between race, income, zip code, and college-readiness.  As you probably know, New York City high school students are not mandated to attend their local high schools.  Students apply to schools anywhere in the city, and can commute throughout.  This system has made it difficult to track student achievement with geographic location, but this is precisely what the Annenberg Institute did for their study “Is Demography Still Destiny?”  Through linking zip codes and demographics to college readiness, the report concluded that yes, demography is still “destiny.”

A few unfortunate facts unearthed from the report:

  • “The higher the percentage of black and Latino residents in any city neighborhood, the lower the college readiness scores of the students residing in that neighborhood.”
  • “The mean income level in each neighborhood was particularly strongly correlated with students’ college readiness scores – the lower a neighborhood’s mean income, the lower the college readiness scores of the students living in that neighborhood.”
  • “Only 8 percent of students from Mott Haven graduate ready for college, while nearly 80 percent of students from Tribeca do.”

While we feel there are several important pieces to draw from this report, we don’t agree with the notion that demography and college readiness is one’s destiny. Destiny is something that is unchanging, pre-determined, and takes any subjectivity out of our hands.  While race and class impact our lives through multiple mechanisms, we still have power to shape our own lives.

That being said, the report did highlight important information regarding the ways racism impacts students in our city.  The city, as a result of racism and classism, is clearly organized in a way that cuts off resources to students in some neighborhoods (often higher percentages of people of color) while provides opportunities to other students (likely in white neighborhoods).

School admissions processes can perpetuate this inequality with more prestigious schools giving preference to students with privilege. School admissions might give priority to students who have attended an open house or information session, for example, which might perpetuate the inequality of who can attend the school.

The authors recommend that schools:

Significantly increase the number of educational-option seats to ensure that students of all academic levels and all neighborhoods have a fair shot at seats in the high schools that are most likely to prepare them for college.

Authors of the report also call for community reinvestment  such as counseling programs and adding resources to struggling schools (not simply shutting them down).

As housing organizers, we also call for increased investments in our communities.  Poor housing, like college readiness, is also linked to lower-income neighborhoods and race.  Through our own research, we have seen that buildings in foreclosure with high code violations are overwhelmingly in neighborhoods of color.  We need to invest in those neighborhoods- stabilize housing, ensure permanent affordability, and provide access to resources that historically have been denied.  We hope that through continued research and organizing efforts- within buildings and neighborhoods- communities can gain power and demand those resources!

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