Legislators coming for the SHSAT 1

Assemblyman Walter Mosley joined a group of legislators committed to repealing the Hecht-Calandra Act, which stops New York City from changing the admissions process at its “elite eight” specialized high schools.

The momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement is beginning to carry over into education reform.

Teens Take Charge, a student-led organization, gathered a group of legislators on Monday to advance their goal of doing away with the Specialized High School Admissions Test to address the disproportionately low enrollment of black and Hispanic students offered in the city’s “elite eight.”

The group hosted legislators from Brooklyn and Manhattan who are committed to passing a repeal of the Hecht-Calandra Act of 1971, a law that stops New York City from being able to make decisions about admissions to its specialized high schools, which the group deemed to be racist and outdated.

“Black lives should matter in situations just like this, where inequities and inequalities are perpetuated in our public school systems – a public school system, which we know is segregated,” said the bill’s co–prime sponsor, Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn).

In 2020, Stuyvesant High School, the most competitive of the eight testing specialized high schools, only offered 10 spots to black students out of 766 total offers. The legislators’ plan to begin changing the admissions in Albany comes after Mayor Bill de Blasio failed to do so last year.

Forty years ago, the Hecht-Calandra Act was created after an Upper West Side Manhattan superintendent of schools asserted that in Bronx High School of Science “‘culturally’ oriented examinations worked to ‘screen out’ black [sic] and Puerto Rican students who could succeed at the school.”

When then-Chancellor Harvey Scribner appointed 23 members to a committee to examine the specialized high schools admission process, Sen. John Calandra, a Bronx Republican, and Assemblyman Burton Hecht, a Bronx Democrat, wrote the bill, which aimed to “protect the current status and quality of specialized academic high schools in New York City.”

The views of the group of legislators and education advocates on Monday, many of them alumni of the specialized high school system themselves, in some cases went beyond the dismantling of the test to questioning the necessity of a specialized high school system.

“All of our schools should be special. All of our schools should get the kind of resources they need because all of our students are special. While I am against this elitist system of education, I support egalitarian education – more socialistic, more equal,” Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said.

Sophie Xu, a student at Queens High School for the Sciences at York College who works with the state’s Asian Pacific American Taskforce, commented on the high proportion of Asian enrollment in many of the specialized high schools. She said that many families see it as a be-all-end-all because of the many socioeconomic obstacles that they’re up against.

“It’s a no-brainer that some Asian Pacific Americans would conform to society and go by a scarcity mindset to survive in the only way they think they know how,” Xu said.

Beyond repealing the 1971 bill, the group of legislators concluded that they believe now to be the right time to push the issue of specialized high school reform back into the public discourse.

“I think that we need to make sure that we make this an issue and ask all of the candidates that are running for mayor in next year’s election, whether or not they support the repeal of the Hecht-Calandra act,” said Sen. Robert Jackson.

(1) comment

stan chaz

As a specialized school graduate (a specialized high school that was filled with the children of struggling, hard-working immigrants - and far from “elite”), here’s my long-winded two cents on the issue.

First of all, the very valid outrage and diverse protests of millions of Americans in response to the shameful murder of George Floyd cannot be allowed to be hijacked. It cannot be allowed to be hijacked by those who would equate it with looters or rioters. Neither can it be allowed to be hijacked by those who would destroy some of the best schools in the city - schools that are open to everyone who can make the grade.

There is no Southern racist Governor or Bull Connor from the sixties standing in the doorway and deliberate discriminating against ANY group trying to enter these specialized schools. Instead, only the hurdles of mathematics, of vocabulary, of logic, and reading & writing skills are “standing in the doorways” of these specialized schools. Only a color-blind SCHAT entrance test is the hurdle, a hurdle that says to ALL: “come, compete and try your best to make the cut”. What’s more American than that? What’s more fair than that? What’s LESS discriminatory than that?

This is the reality — in contrast to the false scenario of deliberate discrimination spread by some opponents of the specialized school entrance exams. Their mistaken call for a fake “diversity” is a siren song that both divides us and distracts us from tackling the real problems of our public school system. Open & color-blind testing and competition is not discrimination - neither racial or otherwise. Instead, it is the essence & foundation of genuine equal opportunity for all.

Competition is the American way, the fair & just way. No guarantees, just a path where if you work hard, you’ll have the opportunity to advance and fully achieve your potential. It’s often a tough road, but it’s a road where anyone can take the SHSAT test, and it doesn’t matter how you look, where you live, or how you sound in an interview; Of course everyone can’t make the grade. If everyone were given a free pass to do so, it would be a meaningless, cruel and worthless scam. It would just be another fake Trump University. Just step right up, step right up, and get your diplomas! Diplomas that are not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Unwise plans to do away with the SCHAT specialized school entrance exams will not improve educational opportunities. Instead, these schemes will serve to undermine & destroy some of the finest free public schools in the State, and perhaps the nation, all in the name of a false & divisive “diversity”. Should we likewise “diversify” the NBA with white players in proportion to their segment of the population? And while we’re at it, shall we also do away with testing these potential NBA players for their qualifications, and give everyone the “equal opportunity” to play?

The SHSAT entrance exam has for many decades proven to be an efficient, effective & highly accurate method of selecting those applicants who can best survive and benefit the most from the rigorous learning environment, the strict discipline, and the unique & limited resources of these acclaimed specialized schools. It’s a very difficult school environment where constant testing is at the very core of a highly successful curriculum. In other words, if you can’t survive the SCHAT entrance test, you won’t be able to survive four grueling years in these schools. Period. Or would you rather have students go through the humiliating process of failure?

Divisive words are easy. Destroying testing is easy. Lowering standards is easy. Cheap & divisive rhetoric is easy. But achieving actual progress and improvements in our public schools is hard. It’s time for the Chancellor and politicians in the City & State to start doing exactly that and truly earn their salaries. Instead of lowering the admission standards of these top-ranking high schools we need to raise the capabilities of the test-takers. Our goal should be to lift everyone up, instead of watering down standards to the lowest common denominator. If we do that we will never prepare our students for the real world, for work, for life - and will ultimately fail them. In other words: raise the students instead of lowering the standards! Schools should mold the students - not the other way around.

Asians are the majority in these schools, many of them coming from poor struggling immigrant families. They are shining examples of the immigrant experience, of the American Dream come to fruition -- where if you work hard, you’ll have the chance to advance in society. Should we punish these successful Asian applicants for trying so hard to better themselves? Caucasians are a distinct minority in these specialized schools. Should they also demand lowered entrance standards to ensure their greater numbers in these schools - or should everyone just try harder to pass the test?

Of course EVERY parent wants the best for their children. But parents should realize that their children will be subjected to all sorts of legitimate testing and selection throughout their lives, and not just in school. This is not discrimination, it is reality. Parents need to prepare their children for the real world, for the harsh world, if they want them to compete and succeed in life. Therefore all parents & students should support these specialized schools, their high standards, and their rigorous admissions & testing. The alternative is to water down the standards of some of the best public high schools, in the name of an ultimately destructive cry for a false “diversity”.’

I’m not claiming that black children do not continue to suffer genuine racial discrimination in society. I’m not saying that there is not gross & increasing inequality & powerlessness for all too many- in a rigged system that perpetuates itself. I’m not saying that the shameful legacy of state-sanctioned slavery - the stolen wealth, the shattered families - does not hurt & hinder many black families to this very day. However, what I am saying is that you don’t make that better by tearing down non-discriminatory standards and tests to create a false “diversity”. Instead you need to force the targeting of Federal, State and City resources to help these communities and schools, so that their children can better compete on a more level playing field. To do otherwise is shortsighted, cruel and foolish. And it only hurts out children, no mattorer their race or ethnicity,

In the short term we need to increase the number of specialized schools, for all students who can make the grade, as several of our legislators have suggested; as well as providing free assistance & preparation to all who wish to compete for the limited spaces available. Instead of falsely scapegoating the entrance test we need to create quality public schools throughout the city, throughout the middle and lower grades , through increased funding, infrastructure, resources and quality teachers.

Mayor DeBlasio’s universal pre-K is a praiseworthy effort towards this ultimate end, a step, but far far from enough. The Chancellor and like-minded politicians should unite this diverse city instead of further dividing us. Heal this city and help bring us together, instead of dividing us by shamefully pitting one group against another. This is not an “us versus them” narrative. For everyone wins, all New Yorkers win, and all students win, when we preserve some of the best and most successful schools in our public educational system for all to apply & compete - instead of undermining their admission standards, their reputation & their value.

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