Parent-led coalition aims to bring representation of diversity to NYC schools

New York City’s largest public school parent coalition, the Coalition for Educational Justice, held a rally with 75 parents, youth, elected officials and advocates with the intention of publicly releasing a new curriculum analysis with the aim of creating a culturally responsive curriculum in New York City schools.

CEJ works to ensure that all NYC schools are teaching subjects that reflect the histories and backgrounds of NYC students, starting in the earliest grades, in every course. They also require that all schools, pre-K to 12th grade, offer dual language programs. The main aim is to reflect diverse cultures, languages, abilities, religions and identities in the classrooms.

“As a city that prides itself as a beacon of diversity and inclusion, NYC public school students deserve a balanced and realistic portrayal of history that is reflective of our city’s rich multiculturalism,” said City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “As a young Latino student in the NYC school system, I learned a lot about Christopher Columbus, but never about the rich, pre-Columbian histories of nations like Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thanks largely to advocacy by the Coalition for Educational Justice, the de Blasio administration has taken a step in the right direction toward culturally responsive education by investing in implicit bias and culturally responsive education training. Now, the de Blasio administration must take the next step by creating and adopting a culturally responsive education curriculum.”

The City of New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world and research reveals that when students see their culture represented and being taught in a way that they see themselves, they are more likely to excel academically. They become more excited about learning and achieve higher levels.

“I want my children to get a culturally responsive curriculum so they can learn about their history and ancestry— not just the food, but also their culture, customs and the heroes from our culture,” said CEJ and Masa parent leader Yenny Cepeda. “When students know where they come from, they feel more motivated to achieve. I want this for all children.”

The CEJ analysis of racial/ethnic diversity in two elementary school’s English Language Arts curricula, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Curriculum and Pearson ReadyGen found that NYC public schools’ authors of stories and books, as well as the characters on the covers, were not diverse. Story authors were 85 percent white, 4 percent Black and 2 percent Latinx and Asian according to the Scholastic Elementary Booklist. For Teachers College Reading and Writing, 94 percent of authors were white, 4 percent were Black, 0 percent were Latinx and only 1 percent were Asian. For Pearson ReadyGen, 83 percent of the authors were white.

“I never saw Black people in my curriculum as a child, and had to find out on my own about all the incredible things Black people have done when I got into my 20s,” said Derrick Owens, CEJ and New York Communities for Change parent leader. “I don’t want the same thing to happen to my daughter, but that’s what I still see in her curriculum today.”

The CEJ said that story cover characters were also mainly white, followed by Black, Latinx and Asian representation in all three of the analysis. In depicting indigenous Americans, only one book did so in the 123 Pearson ReadyGen curriculum.