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Queens Chronicle

Corey Johnson wants more specialized high schools built

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Posted: Monday, February 4, 2019 4:40 pm

More specialized high schools should be built, according to City Council Speaker and Acting Public Advocate Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan).

The lawmaker said so last Thursday at a roundtable with Korean community leaders and Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) at Korean Community Services’ headquarters in Bayside. 

Mayor de Blasio has proposed abolishing the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is used as the sole criterion for admissions into the eight elite schools, in an effort to make their student bodies more demographically representative of the city’s overall one for public schools.

Last year, 51.7 percent of offers to the specialized schools went to Asians and 26.5 percent of them went to whites. African American students only got 4.1 percent of them and Latinos just 6.3 percent.

The mayor’s plan set off an explosion of anger and protests in northeast Queens and other parts of the city with high Asian populations. Defenders of the SHSAT charged that City Hall was pushing a plan that was dividing the city’s ethnic groups.

Johnson, who last week announced he’s weighing a possible mayoral campaign in 2021, blasted de Blasio’s proposal, saying it was “rolled out” in a way that was not “productive.”

“I think that we need to do is, we can recognize that there still is deep segregation in schools across New York City, where there aren’t enough African-American and Latino students who are getting the opportunities they deserve,” said Johnson. “But you can do that in a way that doesn’t sort of pit communities against each other.”

He suggested a variety of policies to help solve the racial disparity at the specialized schools: improving middle schools; implementing school desegregation plans; more Gifted and Talented programs; increasing SHSAT prep; and creating “more specialized high schools, not just the number that we have now.”

Other city leaders have called for building more of the specialized institutions. One of the most vocal ones has been Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), who sits on the Education Committee.

Vallone meets regularly with the roundtable of Korean leaders, and Johnson had agreed earlier in his term to attend one of their discussions, they said last Thursday.

The speaker, whose biological father was half-Korean and born in Seoul, joked that he is probably the only Irish-Korean elected official in New York.

Johnson and Vallone heard a range of concerns from the leaders at the meeting, which included Korean American Association of Greater New York President Minsun Kim and Korean American Association of Queens President Thomas Kim.

One of them was the city’s aggressive fining of Korean-owned small businesses for technical code violations.

Johnson said the Council could “make sure that local government is not nickel-and-diming and fining small businesses in ways that are unnecessary” and worsens their disadvantage against larger companies.

Another issue that came up was the lack of Korean-speaking employees at the city Administration for Children’s Services, a fact that Vallone and Johnson said was shameful. Both said they would work to fix the issue.

Kim of KAGNY said her group would like to celebrate the centennial of the March 1st Movement, a historic demonstration in Korea against rule by Imperial Japan, at City Hall.

Johnson said he would be happy to celebrate the movement and pass a resolution honoring it, but that events at City Hall are never done “for organizations” as a matter of policy. 

“If we wanted to do a sort of broader celebration, if we wanted to recognize this during a Lunar New Year celebration, if we wanted to do it for the Autumn Festival, if we wanted to make it part of that, that’s possible,” the speaker explained. “But our lawyers tell us at the City Council that we can’t set the precedent of saying one organization can come in to use City Hall for an event. Because if we did that, we would get dozens of organizations every year that would have that expectation.”

Amazon’s planned HQ2 facility in Long Island City also came up at last Thursday’s meeting. 

Johnson praised Vallone, who heads the Committee on Economic Development, for chairing the first Council hearing about the project.

The speaker has been critical of the deal Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio made with Amazon. The e-commerce behemoth, whose CEO is the richest man on Earth, is set to get $3 billion in incentives from New York.

Speaking at the roundtable last week, the speaker said those funds would be better used to help fix the troubled MTA or improve deteriorating NYCHA housing.

According to The New York Times, Johnson asked Amazon Vice President for Public Policy Brian Huseman at a Council hearing last week if Amazon would remain neutral if employees tried to unionize. Huseman said the company wouldn’t.

Johnson said he hopes New York’s deal with Amazon changes.

“We’ve been able to put public pressure on them,” he said. “So, I think the public pressure that’s being brought to bear may result in, hopefully, the mayor and the governor getting some greater concessions out of them before they come here. I don’t think the deal is a done deal.”

The speaker brought up how the project will need the approval of the Public Authorities Control Board, a state government panel on which the state Assembly and Senate are represented.

The Times reported on Monday that state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) was appointed to the panel by Democrats in his chamber. The PACB has three voting members, and any one of them would be capable of stopping a proposal before the board.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • manturtle posted at 7:03 am on Wed, Feb 13, 2019.

    manturtle Posts: 6

    @JDFDJB The 7% solution won’t make the specialized schools more desirable to the top Latino and Black students. If anything, it would make the schools less desirable to that subset of the population. Everybody knows that each community has their top, Class A students (those of highest talent ability) Class B students (midrange talent and ability) and Class C students (those of lowest talent and ability). The specialized schools attract Class A Asian students but only Class C Latinos and Blacks. No educational advisor with any sense would recommend applying to a specialized public school to Class A Latino or Black kid. They have better options, with greater odds for success, outside of the public school system. Meanwhile the odds of success for Asians outside of the public schools are extremely low. Too many maximum quotas on Asians with the bar set higher for them. Even Harvard doesn’t want Asians. The simple facts are that the low SHSAT ‘attendance=application’ rates combined with the low SHSAT performance scores of the Latino and Black students is indicative of a Class C subset of the Latino and Black student population. The best and brightest Latinos and Blacks are pursuing their successful futures outside the public school system altogether.

  • JDFDJB posted at 3:48 pm on Tue, Feb 12, 2019.

    JDFDJB Posts: 3

    @Manturtle: Thanks.That is very important info which I saw only hinted at in the Brooklyn Eagle (See the post by Izzy which I answered on Disqus. I wonder what would happen if the black and Latino kids knew they could get in by being in the top7%. Would they go then? Syed Ali has a suggestion that De Blasio decertify the bottom 5 schools or some of them and then admit the top 7% to those schools. He is on a you tube 20 minute video moderated by Maya Wiley. That would be a great experiment.The kids would have to be really challenged in middle school, however. That is not an easy task when so many of NYC schools don't even assign homework. Thanks again. That explains a lot!!

  • manturtle posted at 8:10 am on Tue, Feb 12, 2019.

    manturtle Posts: 6

    @JDFDHB The top twenty info comes from the top 100 schools chart as posted on Patch who got it from Niche. You always have to take such lists with a grain of salt, of course, but with 80% of the top twenty schools private and 74 % of the top 50 private it adds in to the preponderance of the data.
    Black and Latino community perceptions of the “elite eight” are different and opposite of Asian community perceptions. For the best and brightest Blacks and Latinos the specialized schools are schools of last resort. For the Asians the specialized schools are the only option.
    Latinos do not apply to the specialized schools in anything close to their population percentage. In fact if you remove all the Asians and students of other backgrounds from the calculations over the last four years, each year the Latino applicants still fall short of their 40% population percentage.
    People are assuming that the best and brightest Blacks and Latinos are taking the SHSAT. There is no evidence supporting that assumption.

  • JDFDJB posted at 10:53 am on Mon, Feb 11, 2019.

    JDFDJB Posts: 3

    You raise important points, but admitting the top 7% of the middle school students will obviate you criticism. The top 7% could automatically go to the new specialized schools. My idea and Corey Johnson's seems to be that we use different criteria for the extra schools. The idea is that there are many ways to be smart: the SHSAT is one way and the GPA is another. The important thing is to make the new schools run on a basis that succeeds with kids with different talents and kinds of intelligence. That should create diversity, especially if all the middle school kids at the top 7% are admitted not just the top 25%. Where did you find your info about the top schools in the city? I would like to see that chart. Has anyone identified a number of black and Hispanic kids who go to other schools instead of taking SHSAT? What are their GPAs? In another post in the Brooklyn Eagle someone said that the overlap between those who succeed at the top in the SHSAT and the top GPA kids do NOT overlap. It is clear that the GPA chooses one set of talents and intelligence and the SHSAT chooses another. These are very important facts to take into account.

    Edited by staff.

  • manturtle posted at 7:32 am on Mon, Feb 11, 2019.

    manturtle Posts: 6

    Building more specialized schools won't work as planned. The Asian community applies for admission to the present schools at a very high rate; a rate of 52 per 1,000 in 2018. In 2018, the Latino community applied at a rate of 15 per thousand; Blacks at 19 per 1,000. For the last four years Latino students have had the lowest application rate to the specialized schools, Blacks the second lowest and Asians the second highest.

    The reality is that the best and brightest Black and Latino students pursue their futures elsewhere. like at the City's private schools. The Asians pursue their futures at public schools. Only four of the City's top twenty schools are public schools and no public school makes it to the top five.

    If the Queens Chronicle really wants to open up the debate over the lack of diversity at the specialized schools they need to publish the application numbers and rates by race/ethnicity. There is no diversity in the applications to the specialized schools and until all know that simple fact the real debate has not yet begun.

  • pvrjr posted at 9:08 am on Sat, Feb 9, 2019.

    pvrjr Posts: 278

    Of course fixing the MTA is always a hot buttoned issue every time he goes. [innocent]

  • JDFDJB posted at 12:26 pm on Tue, Feb 5, 2019.

    JDFDJB Posts: 3

    Corey Johnson seems to be on the right track: Leave the SHSAT alone and make new schools that admit students on a different basis! The 7% solution is very good but limiting it to the top 25% in the city will exclude many kids who are talented and bright, but are living in possible conditions of poverty. We must learn how to teach them and challenge them in middle school! The University of Texas uses the top 10% of all the high schools in Texas. It is working well according to reports.NYC should do the same with 7%.