When we all went to school together  In New York, the most vibrantly diverse place I’ve ever lived, public schools rank among the most segregated in the country. Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t helped. By closing about 140 schools, opening hundreds of smaller academies and encouraging choice and charter schools, kids have had more chances to cluster with others who look like them.

And the stunning academic success of a few charter schools has started a mad race to the lifeboats. By the count of the New York City Charter School Center, more than 64,000 kids applied for 13,000 seats last year. Enrollments are 93% black or Latino.The trend has spread. Nationally, charter school waiting lists exceed 600,000 students.

Maybe these charter groups, famous for choosing students by lottery, can expand fast enough to become the foundation for a new kind of American Dream. But is the best we can aspire to really a separate but equal system?

At Reagan High School in Austin, which is located in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, the student body is now 70% Hispanic. Hardworking teachers have staved off a closure order.

Coach Derrick Davis inspires the basketball team to unlikely successes. A chemistry teacher, Candice Partin, brings the periodic table alive, while sometimes driving students to doctor’s appointments. The music director, Ormide Armstrong, reinvented the marching band as a funk outfit that has appeared onstage with Kanye West.

One by one and together, they’re trying to rebuild a school where all the neighborhood children can come together to learn.

Maybe truly public schools are doomed. But New York, the most gorgeously diverse city on the planet, can surely do better than to abandon our country’s highest ambitions.

Brick, a former New York Times reporter, is author of “Saving the School: The True Story of a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform.

 

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