Photograph of children in a pre-k classroom in NYC.
Photograph of children in a pre-k classroom in NYC.
Volume 6 of 9

Equity and Excellence in Education

New York City will have a diverse and fair school system that delivers a high-quality education to children of all backgrounds and serves as a national model.
OneNYC 2050 : Volume 6 of 9 : Equity and Excellence in Education

New York City will have a diverse and fair school system that delivers a high-quality education to children of all backgrounds and serves as a national model.

Read The Story

The school classroom is a cornerstone of our society and an essential component for creating the next generation of compassionate, considerate, and caring adults.

School is where students first learn they are powerful, their thoughts have value, and their lives matter. Our City has made great strides towards providing an excellent education for all New York City children. More children than ever are enrolled in our Universal Pre-K programs. A more diverse group of students are having conversations about college and accessing high-level college-preparatory coursework. And our high school on-time graduation rates are at a record high.

Still, our school system faces challenges. An elementary school student with limited access to a wide vocabulary at home struggles to read at grade level. A child who could benefit from a free 3-K program cannot find an available seat in their neighborhood. A student at a high school without access to restorative practices is removed from class and misses key instructional time.

Not all of our classrooms are created or valued equally. Inequities exist in the way resources are distributed to some classrooms. Further, New Yorkers’ opinions about a school are often informed by where a school is located or the demographics of the students in that school. As a result, many schools that are located in or serve students who come from historically underserved communities are unfairly written off as lacking, while schools in middle to upper income, white communities are perceived to be of high quality. The reality is excellent schools with dedicated staff exist in all of our communities.

OneNYC 2050 lays out a strategy to continue our City’s work of building a school system that ensures students in every borough, district, neighborhood, and school have the tools they need to achieve their dreams. In this plan, we formulate policies based on our understanding that excellence is more than a goal, it is the birthright of every child in our city. OneNYC 2050 lays out our commitment to doing the hard work that truly delivers the promise that every child, no matter who their parents are or what zip code they live in, deserves an excellent education.

Chart of indicators used to measure education excellence and equity in NYC.


The New York City school system is the largest in the country, with more than one million students in more than 1,800 schools. This sprawling system includes many outstanding schools that for decades have provided a springboard for students’ self-actualization and social mobility. However, the legacy of government-facilitated housing segregation has created a system wherein too many of our neighborhood schools are socio-economically, academically, and racially segregated.

This segregated system, together with both underinvestment in the city’s communities of color and academic screens historically rooted in excluding entire populations of students, has led to stark inequities in our public schools. Neighborhoods with large numbers of students of color (especially those with disabilities) and low-income families have borne the disproportionate burden of punitive suspension and disciplinary practices, inadequate learning facilities, and limited access to advanced placement (AP) courses.

Ensuring every child has access to an excellent school requires a commitment to addressing the root causes of inequality, while redoubling our efforts to ensure every New York City child has access to the resources they need to thrive from birth until graduation.


New York City’s public school system has made substantial progress since 2002, when the State legislature enacted mayoral accountability over City education. The shift away from the prior system — which was bankrupt and devoid of an overarching vision — to one focused on what is actually best for all kids, has led to more investment, equity-focused policies, and positive momentum toward expanding educational opportunities and improving outcomes. In addition, to improve the way it works with students, parents, and communities, the Department of Education (DOE) has realigned its structure, bringing leadership in closer contact with students and teachers, and establishing clear lines of communication and accountability.

Since Pre-K for All launched in 2014, the City has more than tripled the number of children in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K, with nearly 70,000 four-year-olds enrolled today, compared with 19,000 in 2014. Today, after starting in two districts, 3-K for All provides free, full-day, high-quality early childhood education to more than 5,000 three-year-olds in six districts in New York City. We are outpacing our rollout schedule, with as many as 20,000 three-year-olds expected to be enrolled in 14 districts within all five boroughs by 2020. We continue to expand access to bilingual and dual-language programs, career and technical education, sports programs, and postsecondary opportunities as we develop holistic approaches to improve the way we teach all learners. Suspensions are down across the board. In 2018, we saw the highest-ever number of New York City students taking and passing AP exams, with more than a 10 percent jump in students taking — and students passing — at least one AP course over the previous year.

Seventy-six percent of students graduated high school in 2018, the highest rate in the city’s history, and we are well on our way to exceeding the original target of 80 percent by 2026. In fact, we will raise the target to 84 percent by 2026, in line with the national high school graduation average of 84.6 percent. At 7.5 percent, the class of 2018 also had the lowest dropout rate of any class since New York State started keeping records.

We are increasing college readiness, with 70 percent of students today prepared for higher education, compared with just 47 percent five years ago, and nearly 60 percent of the class of 2017 (around 45,000 students) having enrolled in college. Overall, the baseline experience of what it means to be educated in New York City has increased dramatically, with more low-income students of color offered opportunities long enjoyed by their more financially well-off peers. Today, every student has access to more educational opportunities than those of a generation ago — from birth to  high school graduation.

Zip codes should not determine educational attainment.
- Resident of Kingsbridge Heights, Bronx


Still, there is much work to be done. While English language arts and math test scores have improved, disparities in performance across racial lines remain. Though the graduation gap between black and Hispanic students and their peers continues to narrow, it remains far too wide. For black students, the gap narrowed from 17 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in 2018 compared with white peers. For Hispanic students, the gap narrowed from 19 percent in 2014 to 14 percent in 2018 compared with their white peers. Overall, gaps in student outcomes from graduation rates to test scores correlate too closely to race/ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, and language. We continue to work toward a future when these gaps no longer exist.

We must view every school, no matter what community it is in or what kinds of students it serves, as a place where all students can and will succeed. To remake our school system around this vision, we will focus on expanding early childhood development programs, achieving the highest on-time high school graduation rates in line with the national average, improving college readiness, and, by 2026, achieving universal literacy by the second grade. OneNYC 2050 is a blueprint for every student to achieve equity and excellence in education in every neighborhood — and at every level — so they are ready to succeed in the 21st century.

What we heard from New Yorkers

Thirty-eight percent of the more than 14,000 New Yorkers who responded to our citywide survey selected education as one of the greatest challenges facing our city. Their priorities included increasing public school funding and educational equity, adapting curriculums to support job opportunities, offering more AP and gifted and talented education program options, and increasing support staff for teachers and students while decreasing classroom size. As one respondent said, “Environmental stewardship/sustainability should be an integrated part of education from kindergarten and up.” Another shared, “Vocational schooling within the high school system is important for those that will work right after graduation. College is not affordable or the right fit for everyone.” Another advocated, “All of our schools should have advanced classes, such as gifted programs, so that families will be more willing to stay in their zoned schools.” Finally, a respondent called for “more focus on student well-being” through increased support staff.

Photograph of two children working on a laptop in a public school classroom.