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being able to make decisions about admissions to its specialized high schools, which the group deemed to be racist and outdated.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.