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Urban SuburbanThe Spencerport Central School District held a meeting Tuesday night about possibly joining the Urban-Suburban program. During this packed meeting, many parents expressed concern, fear and anger over the prospect of 70 minority children attending their schools over the next decade. The children would be accepted as space permits and taxpayers would not pay extra.


It’s been almost 20 years since Urban-Suburban generated such controversy.

In 1998, 10-year-old Jessica Haak wanted to transfer from Rochester City Schools to West Irondequoit through Urban-Suburban. When the program administrator found out she is white, her invitation was rescinded. Urban-Suburban, founded in 1965, is only open to students of color. Haak sued in federal court, saying her rights were violated. The district court judge agreed with Haak. But a federal appeals court found reducing racial segregation is a compelling reason to have a program such as Urban-Suburban, and sent the case back to the district court for trial. The court based its ruling on a handful of previous cases dealing with school desegregation schemes.

In their opinion, the judges note why there is de facto segregation in New York:

There is no question that New York State structures its public school system such that each student has only the right to attend the school in the district in which he or she lives. Moreover, the evidence in the record indisputably shows that the (Urban Suburban) Program was enacted in 1965 to deal with racial segregation in the Monroe County schools resulting from this policy in combination with segregated living patterns.

But the judges identify the major flaw with the Urban Suburban program. A concurring judge wrote:

The statistics with which we have been supplied during this appeal suggest that in the 35 years of its existence the minority pupil population in Rochester City School District has increased from 25.6 percent to 80 percent…. It is extremely difficult to see how this program has had any meaningful impact upon the existence of schools or school districts with “a predominant number or percentage of students of a particular racial/ethnic group.”

Therefore, even though the defendants may have had a sufficiently compelling interest to justify the program at its inception, it is difficult to see how the interest continues, given the program’s limited impact. If a compelling interest no longer exists, it seems to me that the entire program may fail as being unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs would have no remedy.

A dissenting judge made the same point:

Therefore, even though the defendants may have had a sufficiently compelling interest to justify the program at its inception, it is difficult to see how the interest continues, given the program’s limited impact. If a compelling interest no longer exists, it seems to me that the entire program may fail as being unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs would have no remedy…I do agree that there is no more effective means of achieving the reduction of racial isolation than to base decisions on race alone. It is the most effective means; in this case, it just is not a constitutional means.

While Spencerport parents expressed all kinds of concerns about Urban Suburban, they missed the biggest one: Urban Suburban doesn’t work. It’s goal is to “voluntarily reduce racial isolation, and the segregation of academic opportunities.” It undoubtedly helps the nearly 600 students who participate every year, and it presumably helps their classmates who benefit from being exposed to children unlike themselves. But as Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski has said, “it’s tokenism.”

Urban Suburban makes participating school districts feel like they’re making a difference, even though our schools are still some of the most racially and economically segregated in the nation. Spencerport parents could have embraced the program for what it is – a small gesture.  Instead, they exposed Urban Suburban for what it is not – true change.


Links of the Day:


– I do not see anything groundbreaking in U of R’s plan to save East High. Implementation and execution will be key.

– Amy Pierson acknowledges all that unity after her husband’s death has evaporated.

– “It’s one of the most shocking documents ever produced by any modern democracy about its own abuses of its own highest principles.”

– The incomes of young Americans are shrinking.

– It takes 146 days to get a dermatology appointment in Syracuse.

– Minorities at Harvard, other law schools seek delays in finals because they’ve been busy protesting.

Corporations have meteorologists, too.

– A Rochester man wants to collect fire patches before he dies. He’s getting a lot of help.

The crows are back!

22 Responses to Urban Suburban’s Flaw

  1. December 10, 2014 at 8:46 am macenzi adams responds:

    Spencerport parents should be ashamed of themselves. I welcome and any all who are concerned into my RCSD classroom to see how scary my students are NOT.

  2. Urban-Suburban is fatally flawed. At a time when we are taught that we should all be “race blind” and not treat people differently because of race, Urban-Suburban does the exact opposite. Race is the sole criterion for the program – ironic since “income inequality” is the big obsession today and income (more accurately lack of income) is not considered at all for the program. It looks as if the program was designed in the 1960s and has not been adjusted since, with the exception of now excluding potential white participants. In addition, Asians are one of the ethnic groups eligible for the program which is ironic given that Asians are so competitive academically that white kids in some California schools are changing to less competitive schools because they cannot compete with them. And Asians out-earn whites. It would seem that Asians have outgrown any “requirement” for preferential race treatment.

    “”Among the race groups, Asian households had the highest median income in 2012 ($68,636). The median income for non-Hispanic White households was $57,009, and it was $33,321 for Black households. For Hispanic households the median income was $39,005,” according to the report (the levels were not statistically significant from the 2011 report).” http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-median-income-in-the-us-by-race-2013-9#ixzz3LVMdJnWU

  3. I’m saddened to hear about some of the comments made, and just wanted to put out there that MOST RCSD students WANT to learn. That said, I am happy to know (from what I saw on news coverage) that some residents are willing to embrace the program (flaws and all). While the numbers haven’t been as much as U-S, suburban students at one point in time were allowed to attend School of the Arts. I remember an old teacher talking about how they bused in a student from Newark. In addition, I had some friends that were former city residents, but move to suburban districts (Spencerport was one), but were allowed to continue at SOTA. Maybe it is something that can be looked into again, as far as schools like WOI, Wilson’s IB, and SOTA.

    We also need to be careful with using Asian’s as a “model minority”. While the Chinese and Japanese can tend to out earn, you have other Asian populations (Laotian, Cambodians, etc.) that struggle with the same socioeconomic background as Hispanics/Latinos and Blacks.

    Just my thoughts

  4. December 10, 2014 at 3:07 pm joe in spencerport responds:

    “It’s goal is to ‘voluntarily reduce racial isolation, and the segregation of academic opportunities.’ It undoubtedly helps the nearly 600 students who participate every year, and it presumably helps their classmates who benefit from being exposed to children unlike themselves.”

    Of course it helps the students who participate! Isn’t that the point?

    • December 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Yes. But the court pointed out it has no broader impact other than helping those few students.

    • Charters and moving out of RCSD help students too, but those get blasted because it’s something whites can and do do, whereas U-S is exclusively minority it gets applauded. While the reaction is Spencerport is disgusting, it has caused us to take a look at the U-S program and see it is critically and fatally flawed. As I said previously the students it takes may benefit, but the students left behind are hurt. It removed the students who not only perform well, but also have engaged parents, those students lift up those around them. Between U-S, charters, private school, and moving RCSD is left with the most difficult students to teach.

  5. My thoughts….”diversity” is a ” feel good” political correctness con job. I believe in inclusion of any and all people, but NOT based on race, gender, national origin, or any other specialty characteristic that is popular at the moment. It is solely based on who wants to join in. People tend to want to be with other people who have common interests. They also want to be with people who they know…..such as neighbors. For this reason, I believe a return to neighborhood schools is the obvious choice. Most children would respond and learn in a neighborhood school. There will always be exceptions. The exceptions, for one reason or another, don’t fit into their neighborhood school. Fortunately, there are alternatives. There are private schools. Now there are charter schools. Parents can also MOVE to a different location. The Urban Suburban program is a feel good program for those supporters who need to feel good. Forcing ANYTHING on anyone is never a good thing. The people of Spencerport should be allowed to live their lives as they wish. Nobody should be afraid to voice their true feelings. Unfortunately, the PC crowd and do-gooder crowd are very vocal and loud. They try to intimidate. I applaud the folks who are brave enough to speak out about forced anything.

  6. The U-S program helps the 600 students who participate each year, their families, and some of the people in their direct social circles. As an example, Rochester’s newest city court judge was an U-S graduate.

    Including diversity in schools also helps break down the barriers of ignorance that some of these parents are instilling in their children.

    Ms. Barnhart, what are your suggestions for resolving the racial/economic segregation issues?

    • December 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      My suggestion would be to do a countywide district, but that’s not political feasible.

      • I’ve always liked the idea of Metro/County/Unified schools. It’s been brought up a few times in our area, and the idea was always shot down. As you stated, it’s not politically feasible.

        • December 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

          Even the governor has said it will never happen. Though economically diverse schools are shown to increase student performance. Instead we try all this other dubious stuff.

          • December 24, 2014 at 8:26 am Monkeytoe responds:

            Economically diverse schools may increase some poorer kids performance, but it does not increase the wealthier kids performance. In fact, it decreases some of their performance.

            This idea that I am going to learn better if I’m around someone poorer or if I’m around someone of a different race is nonsense. The reality is that kids from bad family backgrounds do better around kids from better family backgrounds, because a) there is discipline in the classroom and b) they observe kids actually caring about their education.

            If we could change the City communities to care about family, to value education, and to be disciplined and responsible, the City schools would do just fine.

            the issue isn’t wealth, it is social values. Do you believe in respecting authority (teachers, principles); respecting other students; valuing education; working hard; and being accountable. With those values it doesn’t matter how poor the kids in the school are – they will learn.

            If we go to very poor schools 50-70 years ago, there were not these current learning problems. We dance around the real issues because it is politically incorrect to say that the problem is the inner-city value system. So we pretend it is merely about “wealth” versus “less wealth” or “diversity”. That somehow being around a white kid if you are black will make you learn better. The color of the skin has no bearing – it is the values of the community that control. And the values in the inner-city are broken and backward. But we are not allowed to say that. Yet that is exactly what urban-suburban implicitly admits.

  7. Who is the author of this article? And is the author trying to say they are for, or against, Urban-Suburban? I’m confused.
    I believe if it helps SOME kids, then it is a worthwhile program. Are they saying that the only way it is legally justified is if it can be proven to help a large part of the City School community? Also, I thought it was supposed to be about adding diversity to the mostly white schools, and giving the students there the experience of that interaction also.
    I think it is pretty horrendous that some of the parents voiced concern for ‘the safety of their kids’. Especially since it is just a handful in the program. If that’s not racism, I don’t know what is.

  8. Just go the a county school system and be done with it. The U-S program by it’s own requirements seeks out high performing kids. By having to jump through extra hoops it also selects for kids with involved parents (same ways charters do), so the program removes kids from RCSD who probably have a positive affect in the classroom. Everything we’re doing is taking the best out of RCSD, so many students with good performance and/or involved parents are going to charters or the ‘burbs, no wonder why the graduation rate is so low. It’s a valid point, U-S helps the kid who gets selected, but also hurts those left behind.

    • I agree, Bill. North Carolina, including Charlotte where I lived for 12 years, has the county system. It doesn’t completely get rid of the inequality and diversity problems, of course, but it helps. And it just makes sense.

  9. If U-S is seen as such a good program, why not go back to neighborhood schools in the city and just shuffle some kids from poorer neighborhoods into better well off neighborhoods through an IntraUrban program? Wasn’t the whole school choice and city wide busing thing proposed to desegregate Rochester? If a few city kids are enough for the suburbs to pat themselves on the back, why not let Rochester’s more affluent neighborhoods keep their schools and just bus in a few kids. Besides, those city neighborhood schools will be far more diverse than any suburban school is. Maybe it’ll help stem the exodus of families from the city.

  10. December 24, 2014 at 8:16 am Monkeytoe responds:

    You miss the biggest issue with urban/suburban. It is an open admission of the failure of liberal policies. According to this program, the only way for City kids go get a good education is to send them to non-city schools. Democrats have controlled the City School Board and the City for quite some time, always pursuing the same failed ideas. And, the Dems in the State legislature (aided by liberal republicans) passed all kinds of union-desired nonsense laws protecting teachers from any accountability for either poor performance or misconduct. All the while, teacher salaries go up. City Schools spend more per pupil than most suburban districts.

    And then we need to look at why the black family has disintegrated in the last 40 years.

    In all, the urban/suburban program is a stunning admission by the left of its own failure. Yet they will never understand this. In their mind if we just “spend more money” we will solve the problem. Or, better yet, let’s make a county-wide school district! All the same old failed ideas and thinking.

  11. December 24, 2014 at 9:31 am Monkeytoe responds:

    I used the wrong email address for my comments awaiting moderation – the one I used for this one is correct.

  12. I say rewrite the urban suburban program making it an equal opportunity. If the program allows for 50 city school students….choose 10 blacks, 10 whites, 10 Asians, 10 Hispanics and 10 other nationalities such as Jamaicans, Africans,Russians,Indians,etc. Every kid that wants to succeed in life deserves a chance. Just because a parent is always absent from that child’s schooling shouldn’t be one of the qualifications. Some of the most intelligent, stable people come from unstable parents.

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