The city’s Asian American community, along with a number of elected officials are pushing back hard against Mayor Bill de Blasio plan to eliminate the admissions test to get into the city’s eight elite academic high schools, also known as Specialized High Schools (SHS), so that more black and Latino students can get admitted to the schools.
The eight SHS that require passage of the admissions test for entrance as per state law are The Bronx High School of Science; The Brooklyn Latin School; Brooklyn Technical High School; High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; Staten Island Technical High School; and Stuyvesant High School.
These schools enroll 15,540 students. Of these students half are low-income, 62% are Asian, 24% are white, 6% are Latino, and 4% are black, according to city data. In the public system overall, 68% of high school students are Latino or black. Roughly 12 percent of the city is Asian, according to the 2010 census.
The de Blasio Administration’s two-part plan includes eliminating the use of the single-admissions test over three years, which would require state legislation. By the end of the elimination, the SHS would reserve seats for top performers at each city middle school. Based on modeling of current offer patterns, 45 percent of offers would go to black and Latino students, compared to 9 percent currently; 62 percent of offers would go to female students, compared to 44 percent currently; and four times more offers would go to Bronx residents.
“If somebody wants to get into the elite schools, they must pass the test. That’s how it is. So you study hard. They always say, how do you get into Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you get into specialized schools? You study, study, study,” said Female Democratic District Leader Nancy Tong (D-Bensonhurst, Bath Beach), the only Asian elected official of any kind in Brooklyn.
Tong noted that many Asians, particularly in Brooklyn, are very low-income. “They know the road to success for them is to study. They don’t want to be like their parents. Is it fair for punish those that study real hard to get into specialized high schools while other that go out to play real hard get into the high school? Don’t punish these children when their first and only road to success is to study,” she said.
Stanley Ng, a former Community Education Council member, and activist who works with Brooklyn’s large and growing Chinatown along the Eighth Avenue corridor in Sunset Park, said that according to data he received thanks to a 2016 Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, Asians score the highest in SHSAT tests with a 424.5 average and have the highest admit number, 2,554, compared to black students with the average SCSHAT score of 349.9 and admit number of 221.
Ng also noted that according to the NYC Government Poverty Measure 2016 report, the Asian population has the highest poverty rate in the city at 24.1 percent compared to 13.4 percent for white, 19.2 percent for black, and 23.9 percent for Hispanic.
According to Tong the issue has been all the rage over Wechat (Chinese social media). Wechat also lists all the lawmakers who support de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the test, and includes the message, “They often go to the Chinese community to ask for money, remember: no money. Taking our money and getting our children killed.”
The Chinese Political Club of Brooklyn also put out a release saying they strongly oppose Assembly bill number A10427A to phase out the Specialized High School Admissions test (SHSSAT), which guarantees admission solely on the basis of merit. “While we believe that much can – and must – be done to increase diversity in these schools, the approach that Mayor de Blasio has proposed in A10427A is absolutely not the answer to this issue,” the club said in an emailed statement.
“If you support this bill that clearly discriminate against Chinese community, our club and other members of the Chinese community will be watching you. This is a very hot topic for the Chinese community and we will be watching each of our state legislators, and they will have to answer to the Chinese voters of their districts. This is an election year for state legislators and this time the Chinese community will not sit back & let their local state legislator support outside agitators and outside group’s interests over the needs of the Chinese children of their district,” the statement added.
Among the lawmakers who oppose the plan are City Council Member Peter Koo (D- Bayside, College Point, Flushing, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Fresh Meadows, Whitestone in Queens) and Assemblymember Ron Kim (D-Whitestone, Flushing, Murray Hill in Queens).
“Weakening the admissions criteria for schools that are selectively designed for academically gifted students is counterintuitive and works against the original intent of specialized high schools. A test that focuses on such empirically unbiased subjects like math, logic and reading comprehension cannot be blamed for failing at diversity. If the city were truly concerned about diversifying these schools, it would do more to provide opportunities for robust testing prep in underrepresented schools,” said Koo.
“Over the last few years, I’ve encountered countless immigrant and Asian American families with clear and strong views about the SHSAT and admissions process for our city’s Specialized High Schools. For the most part, these families feel excluded from the ongoing dialogue over reforming and changing the admissions criteria. The overwhelming majority of these families come from minority and low-income backgrounds, yet they feel as if their plights don’t matter. Instead of engaging Asian American families to be part of the solution, they have been excluded and pitted against other minority groups. Unless all immigrant groups, including Asian American families whose children represent a significant portion of test-takers as well as the student bodies in our Specialized High Schools, are part of the decision-making process, I can’t support A10427A or any efforts to reform the admissions process,” said Kim.
City Councilmember Mark Tryeger (D-Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Gravesend) chair of the council’s Education Committee and a former public school social studies teacher, said anyone who has looked at school enrollment data knows that segregation is a serious, systemic problem throughout public schools, but solutions cannot be piecemeal, and they cannot be developed without thoughtful dialogue with communities, stakeholders, and experts.
“This plan—which I’m still processing, since the council and many communities were not involved in this conversation—impacts schools which serve only five percent of high school students, and one percent of all students. We need a comprehensive equity plan for our students, not just partial attempts at integrating our school system. We need to look to recommendations from the School Diversity Advisory Group, an inclusive panel of experts from a variety of fields and communities, who have been soliciting public input at Town Halls. We need considered, meaningful, holistic solutions that address the full spectrum of diversity of our students,” said Treyger.
“A child in Coney Island should be able to receive the same educational opportunities as a child on the Upper West Side. A child who attends Lincoln High School has the same right to a top-tier education as a student at Stuyvesant. Stakeholders in all communities deserve to have a seat at the table, to discuss how best to solve an incredibly pressing issue for our educational system,” he added.
Assemblyman William Colton (D-Gravesend, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst) wants to mobilize parents to oppose the elimination of the SHSAT.
“We must not let this proposal distract us from the failings of the current Department of Education in providing for the needs of high achieving students throughout the system,” said Colton. “High caliber education, developing the best and brightest students possible, is under attack. They are lowering the standards instead of investing in schools and districts by providing gifted and talented programs to serve all children, in all neighborhoods.”
State Sen. Martin J. Golden (R-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach) said de Blasio’s plan to set aside 20% of the ninth-grade seats for low-income students who missed the test score cutoff, starting in the fall of 2019 is a mistake.
“Currently, the specialized high schools are open to all based on test scores. Any changes to the current admissions system should be vetted. All stakeholders should be heard, and a consensus reached, before radical changes are made to a system, which has been successful. If these changes require state action to implement, it is my current intention to oppose them. By arbitrarily setting a percentage of students who failed to make the test cutoff, the mayor will be denying students who earned a seat in these schools,” said Golden.
Golden noted that while state law mandates the sole use of the test as the mechanism for selecting students for these schools, it also allows for the admission of disadvantaged students who just missed the cutoff score and attend a summer Discovery Program – where they are prepared for the college-level coursework they must handle in their first year at a specialized high school.
“This move by the mayor is going to start a race for the bottom. At a time when there is a focus on science and math degrees, the mayor is turning back the clock. Now is not the time to recklessly change our specialized high schools, which have been producing some of the best and brightest students. By opening up our specialized high schools to students who failed to make the cut, we are sending the wrong message. Every student who wants to go to a specialized high school deserves a chance, but by instituting random quotas we are sending students the wrong message – your parents’ income is more important than your intelligence,” said Golden.