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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Better Choices for Buffalo's Students: Expanding & Reforming the Criteria Schools System

  • Author(s): Orfield, Gary
  • Ayscue, Jennifer B
  • Ee, Jongyeon
  • Frankenberg, Erica
  • Siegel-Hawley, Genevieve
  • Woodward, Brian
  • Amlani, Natasha
  • et al.

This report examines educational opportunity in Buffalo’s system of criteria-based schools of choice, which offer their admitted students special opportunities not available in the regular schools. This system is a direct descendant of the nationally famous system of magnet schools which Buffalo Public Schools created in the l970s and l980s under the court-ordered desegregation plan, following the ruling that the school district and the city government had discriminated for many years against students of color and had contributed directly to the housing conditions that made Buffalo one of the nation’s most segregated cities. School choice has been a central element of educational policy in Buffalo for 40 years. In contrast to cities like Boston, which experienced major conflicts in the civil rights era, Buffalo achieved a high level of diversity and created a number of very desirable public schools with little overt conflict. In l995, however, the federal court ended the plan and cut off the funding from the city that had been essential to the success. The idea of widespread school choice remained, although many of the tools for creating high quality diverse schools disappeared, and a reduced choice system came to rely on a number of standards or criteria for selecting their students. Among those schools was the famous City Honors school, one of the first two magnets created in the desegregation plan whose opportunities produced strong competition and struggle in a city still divided by race and poverty and with a great many intensely segregated and deeply impoverished schools branded as failures by the state government’s rating system.

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