The History and Challenges of the Harlem Education System

December 2, 2015 by  
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By Phineas Upham

During the early 1990s, New York City was facing a major problem with a large section of its population. The economic decimation that the 1980s brought to New York changed the city for the worse in a way that non-natives have a hard time grasping. Black Americans felt these strains the hardest. Their communities lost businesses, which meant people lost jobs as more manufacturing and packaging was moved to other parts of the country.

Those who didn’t leave the city were stuck in places like Harlem. By 1993, Harlem was predominately black and most of its residents lived well below the poverty level. As a result, East Harlem was consistently testing in the bottom rungs for math and reading.

By that time, institutionalized racism had largely been abolished but the effects of a segregated New York were still being felt. Overcrowding in the 1930s led to racially segregated schools. As a result, it was difficult for students to find racially mixed high schools and that lack of diversity was not working out to Harlem’s favor.

New York’s response to this challenge has been to open greater numbers of charter schools. This has both negatives and positives. Education quality has gone up, but the statistics behind graduation rates have not improved (or have proven to improve under conditions, such as not counting the number of incarcerated students who drop out of school). Harlem has recently put more emphasis on teaching talent, which is good considering the district was once used as a punishment for teachers that the New York School District wanted out. There are also rumors that Columbia University will seek expansion into the area, citing blight as a factor for eminent domain.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.