Mayor de Blasio’s plan to lower admissions standards to the city’s “elite eight” specialized high schools would certainly diversify their student bodies. It also would ruin the schools.
The goal, of course, is noble: to make the schools better reflect the city’s population. The numbers are striking: Of those offered admission to the schools in 2018, 51.7 percent were Asian, 26.5 percent were white, 8.3 percent were “unknown,” 6.3 percent were Latino, 4.1 percent were black and 0.6 percent were Native American. Those figures do not at all reflect the city’s demographic breakdown. White children are underrepresented, blacks and Latinos extremely underrepresented and Asians wildly overrepresented.
What’s going on here? Is the Department of Education discriminating against certain minorities? Are parents buying their kids’ way into the schools through political influence or bribes? What subjective criteria are being used to create student bodies so out of sync with the real New York?
The answer is none whatsoever. Admission to each of the eight schools is determined by one factor alone: an eighth-grader’s score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test. And that’s what de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza want to change. They must be stopped.
Luckily they can and probably will be. The use of the SHSAT as the sole determiner for admissions to the schools is enshrined in law. The 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act required that the three specialized high schools that existed at the time — legendary Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech — continue using the SHSAT. That was in response to a push back then, nearly 50 years ago, to do the same thing de Blasio and Carranza want to do today: lower standards in the name of racial equality. Not equality of opportunity — all students can take the SHSAT — but equality of outcome.
The law also applies to any other schools so designated in the future. Five more, including Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, have been created since then.
Under the main element of de Blasio’s plan, announced Sunday, instead of the top scorers on one comprehensive, color-blind test getting into the eight schools, the top 7 percent of students in every middle school in the city would be offered seats. That would mean subjective measures coming into play: Not every school is of equal quality, not every teacher grades the same way. A single test is far more fair.
A bill to implement de Blasio’s plan just barely made it out of the Assembly Education Committee Wednesday, but it’s unlikely to become law, even according to Gov. Cuomo. De Blasio may just be doing this just to rally his base.
That would be insidious, as the controversy he’s created is scaring families who have been working hard under the system’s existing rules to achieve excellence — and is stoking racial tensions. Carranza actually said on Tuesday, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.” No, none does. Asians are succeeding at higher rates than others on their merits. His comment prompted U.S. Rep Grace Meng of Flushing, a Stuyvesant grad, to say in a prepared statement, “I am insulted, and these comments are false. Asian Americans aren’t trying to own admission to these schools.”
The city should do all it can to improve K-8 education for all children, especially the minority students so underrepresented at the elite eight. It can offer free SHSAT prep and help children prepare for the exam — and the curriculum — in any way possible. It should not water down the education these world-renowned schools provide and change their very nature. They must remain meritocracies. They’re producing many of our nation’s future leaders at this very moment.