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Queens Chronicle

Crowd: The elite HS exam must stay

Test defended by protesters and people testifying at CEC 26 meeting

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Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2018 10:30 am

Gathered on the sidewalk in front of MS 74 in Oakland Gardens last Thursday night, a largely Asian and white group of protesters made their call clear.

“Fix our schools! Fix our schools! Fix our schools!”

Like many other protests in recent weeks, the rally blasted Mayor de Blasio’s plan to abolish the admissions exam for the city’s eight elite specialized high schools, known as the SHSAT. The proposal would require a change in state law, which can’t be done until the Legislature starts its next session in January.

Inside MS 74 while the demonstration took place, Community Education Council 26 was starting a meeting that included a discussion of a resolution calling on Gov. Cuomo, the state Legislature, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and de Blasio to oppose changes to the eight schools’ admissions system.

The test is the schools’ sole criterion for admissions. Racially, the composition of the schools is highly unequal: 51.7 percent of admissions offers this year went to Asians and 26.5 percent went to whites. Only 6.3 percent of the 2018 admissions offers went to Latinos and 4.1 percent went to blacks.

The de Blasio administration’s new plan intends to diversify the schools by getting rid of the test, which would be phased out over three years. Ultimately, 90 to 95 percent of seats at the specialized high schools would be reserved for the top-performing 7 percent of students from each middle school in the city.

Critics of the mayor’s push — a group that includes alumni associations for the schools and Asian American advocacy groups — charge the test is an objective one, being that one’s family or pedigree can’t play any role at all in whether a student gets accepted or not.

And according to the Square Deal Committee, a group named after President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic program that led last Thursday’s protest, the specialized schools’ admissions process should be based only on “merit,” not “race.”

“These programs and these tests and how the kids perform, it goes all the way back to the dynamics of the family,” said Square Deal Committee Founder and President Joseph Concannon, a former Republican City Council and state Senate candidate.

He said the hardworking kids who dedicate weekends and nights to SHSAT prep “may not be the next Wilt Chamberlain or ... Pete Mavarich,” referring to famous former NBA stars. “They may not be the greatest athlete in the world, but these are the future innovators of the world.”

He added that “the future Bill Gates” could possibly be among the kids at the rally.

He said “if the mayor was so concerned about the educational standards in the City of New York,” de Blasio would “appoint a special master” to look at all the five borough’s schools “to make sure that every child ... gets a square education.”

Joining the group was Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), one of city government’s most vocal SHSAT defenders. He discussed the issue at the rally and inside MS 74, at the CEC 26 meeting.

“This is important, and I always stress, the test is the most unbiased way to measure someone’s performance,” Koo said at the advisory panel’s meeting, which more than 100 people showed up to.

A representative of Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) spoke on behalf of the congresswoman, criticizing the de Blasio-Carranza plan.

Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) also defended the test. He lamented how for many Queens students who get into the specialized schools, their commutes in some cases can be around two hours “each way.”

The borough has only one of the eight institutions: Queens High School for the Sciences at York College in Jamaica. It has only 410 seats, while Brooklyn Technical High School has more than 5,000.

Pointing to the relatively small number of spots the Queens school has, Grodenchik said he’s working on securing funding so the School Construction Authority can make “a new school” at the York campus.

Every member of the public who testified to the education council defended the SHSAT.

“Many are immigrants who rely on the objectivity granted to them by the Hecht-Calandra Act to compete on a level playing field for educational opportunities,” said Linda Lam, a board member of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, referring to the 1971 law that legally codified the SHSAT as the means of admission.

Others described the test as a sort of leveler.

“In some parts of the world, the best parts of the world are reserved only for people of privilege,” said Charlie Vavruska. “But not in New York City. The test does not ask you who your parents were. It does not ask you what your race is.”

Opposition to City Hall’s plan wasn’t absolute and universal at last Thursday’s meeting, though.

Karen Rose Scott, a member of CEC 26, came out against the notion that the test should be the only metric used to determine which kids get in.

“I don’t think the test tests everything and I think we all need to be open-minded about what we consider talent and giftedness and working hard,” she said.

Other members of the education council, like Dilip Nath and Recording Secretary Adriana Aviles, defended the SHSAT.

“The mayor and the chancellor are sending the wrong message to families in Queens,” CEC 26 member Sheng Chao Yu said. “And it’s unfair to the kids who work hard.”

The council unanimously voted to have a vote at its July meeting on a resolution that would condemn the proposed changes to the specialized school admissions process.

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1 comment:

  • Atse posted at 4:35 pm on Thu, Jul 5, 2018.

    Atse Posts: 2

    How come the CEC26 meeting was changed to 6pm tonight? Isn't it normally at 7pm?