With a 7-1 vote, Community Education Council 26 passed a resolution Thursday night against the de Blasio administration’s plan to kill the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
“The CEC resolution is to call upon Gov. Cuomo and New York State legislators to vote against removing, limiting or changing admissions criteria, such as the specialized high school admissions test for admissions into specialized high schools in New York City,” council President Alan Ong said. “And to stop Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza’s assault on standardized, objective admissions criteria for the specialized high schools.”
He voted aye.
As Ong announced the decision, the crowd of dozens gathered in the MS 74 auditorium cheered. Many in the audience held up signs they’d brought with slogans like “KEEP SHSAT” and “THE TEST IS NOT THE PROBLEM.”
Many in the largely Asian audience had been at the group’s last meeting. At that one, the council heard from the public on the mayor's proposal to eliminate the SHSAT and establish new admissions criteria for the city’s eight specialized schools, with the goal of enrolling more black and Latino students. Overwhelmingly, those who testified said they’re totally opposed to de Blasio’s proposal.
The panel's members did not discuss the rationale for their votes Thursday, having done so in June.
Karen Rose Scott, the only member to vote against the proposal Thursday, had argued then the exam doesn’t “test everything” and that people should be more open-minded about what constitutes hard work, giftedness and talent.
As with June’s meeting, a group on Thursday protested against Mayor de Blasio’s plan outside of MS 74 before the vote. Some were at the previous rally, too.
Mayor de Blasio’s plan, which would totally abolish the test after a three-year period, requires the passage of a bill in Albany because the existing admissions process for the schools — which involves only the test — is a matter of state law.
Being that CEC 26 is a purely advisory panel, its vote has no legal effects. The ball is still in the court of the state Legislature, which doesn’t start its next session until January. But with the 7-1 vote, the council joined a chorus of people who want to stop de Blasio’s plan dead in its tracks.
Announcing their proposal early last month, de Blasio and Carranza framed the plan as one to improve diversity at the overwhelmingly Asian and white specialized high schools. This year, 26.5 percent of offers to the schools went to whites, 51.7 percent to Asians, 4.1 percent to blacks and 6.3 percent to Latinos.
District 26, which includes neighborhoods like Bayside and Little Neck, has a mostly Asian and white student body.
At the protest before the vote on Thursday, the speakers had some tough words for de Blasio and the other elected officials pushing his plan to ax the SHSAT.
“Vote them out! Vote them out! Vote them out!” they chanted.
“We’re going to vote out all the ones who don’t support the SHSAT,” one of the speakers, Linda Lam, said of politicians.
Many elected officials who represent northeast Queens have come out staunchly against the plan.
“This is going to go through the state Legislature,” Anthony Lemma, a staffer for Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), said at the protest. “Assemblyman Weprin is one hundred percent for the test. There’s no question about that.”
A heckler interrupted Lemma, saying that Weprin had changed his mind on the SHSAT. The lawmaker was the co-sponsor of a bill that would've introduced other factors aside from the test into the eight schools' admissions process, but dropped his support of it after the legislation was amended so it would get rid of the exam completely.
“Everybody changes their minds. I change my mind every day,” Lemma shot back. “Today, I was going to have a meatball hero; I decided to have a chicken club with parmesan.”
Republicans at the rally, like state Senate GOP primary candidate Vickie Paladino, spoke out against de Blasio’s plan, too.
“This does not have a race, a color, or a creed,” she said of the test. “This is based on ability.”
In response to those who say the existing test-only admissions policy favors only well-off kids, some of the city’s SHSAT defenders have pointed to the Asian community’s high poverty rate. An Asian American Federation report released last month found 70 percent of the city’s poor immigrants are Asian.
The Republican candidate she’s facing in a primary race, Simon Minching, is also a supporter of the SHSAT, as is the incumbent both of them want to unseat, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).
Many of the city’s Asian American leaders criticized Carranza for saying he doesn’t “buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.”
Nonetheless, the chancellor doubled down on the statement in an interview with The New York Times. “If you choose to be offended as an Asian resident of New York City, that’s a choice you make,” the publication quoted him in a July 4 story. “If you choose to not be offended, that’s a choice you make. But the statement is true: No one owns it. The City of New York, taxpayers, own the public school system of New York City.”
If one asks Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), an SHSAT defender, he’ll tell you Carranza’s comment to the Times — and the earlier controversial one — are extremely offensive.
“I am extremely displeased at Chancellor Carranza’s remarks where he suggested that Asian Americans think that they own the schools,” he told the Chronicle in an interview after the vote Thursday. “Nobody owns New York City public schools. And certainly, Asian Americans don’t believe that they own them. They have done very well on these tests but we should never generalize people and I think he owes people an apology.”
In a statement to the Chronicle, the Department of Education defended the mayor’s proposed changes and said Carranza’s comments weren’t focused on any ethnic group in particular.
“The Chancellor’s quote is clear and is not referring to any specific ethnic group, nor does it suggest that any ethnic group thinks that it owns admission to the schools,” the agency said. “The Chancellor believes that students should have access to the specialized high schools regardless of their background.”