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.

(3) comments

VBarbour

I am a graduate of one of these elite schools and this is one hairbrained idea. With all of the problems NYC schools have had- some real, some perceived- one steady has been the elite schools. Why mess with it?

To take the test you do not have to be wealthy. You do not have to be from a "good" neighborhood. You do not have to be from any racial or ethnic group. You just need to work hard and study. That is why it has worked so well for so many years.

These schools have a deep base of alumni donors that give to their alma mater schools for advanced programs that NYC will not fund. Messing with them will impact that giving.

Mayor DeBlasio, you have done some head shaking things in your time in office, but hands off the elite schools.

Atse

I am absolutely in favor of diversity but it is not easy to achieve diversity and quick fixes rarely work. To reach this goal, lawmakers must dig deeper into their pockets for funding to improve quality of life in impoverished neighborhoods and thereby improving neighborhood schools by attracting quality teachers and programs. But it takes time, perhaps even a generation or two; a big commitment for one mediocre mayor upon which to build a legacy and fulfill campaign promises. It is much easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. Much, much simpler to blame difficult problems on one target, the SHSAT. The SHSAT has been around longer than this current mayor and will continue to be around long after he is gone. This academic goal, this gateway for a brighter future, this test, is more color blind and more equality driven than anything politicians can possibly dream up. I encourage everyone, of every race, creed, persuasion, and gender to stand up for the SHSAT and not fall sway to half-baked plans delivered in the dead of night and promises built on sand. Fix the schools with issues instead of closing them down, decrease class sizes that have exploded because of school closures, listen to educators on the ground (the ones who do the real work) and do the hard work. Meritocracy Not Mediocrity.

Peter02

De Blasio wants to diversify Specialized High Schools because of their high Asian population. The real reason Asians succeed on this test is not because they are born speaking English and knowing math but instead because Asians are education prioritizing education. If an Asian child spends years going to school on saturdays to study for the SHSAT and a black, hispanic, or caucasian child does not prepare at all, it is fair for the Asian child to attend the Specialized High School. Educational excellence, in my opinion, is not related to race, but instead preparedness.

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