If the DOE wants to get rid of the test, it can, at least for the majority of specialized schools. At five of eight specialized high schools, the City has the sole authority to end the use of the test for enrollment.
In its place, the City could develop a more equitable model of assigning children to excellent schools—holistic assessments of their capabilities and potential—or they could drop academic tracking altogether, and ensure that every high school class has a diverse blend of needs and talents.
But even if the diversity rationale falls out of favor with the U.S. Supreme Court, New York City’s revamped Discovery program should not. The law that created the program and the manner in which it is applied are class-conscious, not race-conscious. And if the conservative members of the Court ultimately do rule against the City in McAuliffe, they will have demonstrated in plain sight that their support for class-based affirmative action was a rhetorical smokescreen, after all.
The points made in this article cannot be overstated. The Hecht-Calandra Act may be an unknown, obscure law to many Americans, including New Yorkers. But this law may be the small crack in the armor that allows conservative legal groups to defeat all race-conscious equity schemes.
McAuliffe PTO is just the latest federal case involving Asian American plaintiffs (though funded and orchestrated by conservative legal strategists Edward Blum and the Pacific Legal Foundation) alleging that racial diversity efforts in admissions discriminate against them, and we can expect more such cases to be filed in the future.
New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. However, its schools remain some of the most segregated. The crown jewel of the City’s public education system, Specialized High Schools, are among the nation’s top public institutions. But in a city where over 60 percent of children are Black or Latinx, less than 10 percent of the students admitted into these prestigious schools come from these communities. Due to a 1971 New York state law, admission into the Specialized High Schools is granted solely on the basis of a standardized exam, the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which students can opt to take during their eighth grade.
Repeal of the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act and transferring control of admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools to the City. The Hecht-Calandra Act made the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test the single metric that can be used to admit students to specialized high schools. By giving control of specialized high school admissions back to New York City, there are opportunities to move beyond the test as a determining factor, which has resulted in a lack of diversity at these schools.
“We’re not calling for any policies, we’re just saying the state should stay out of it,” said Assembly Member Charles Barron, a co-sponsor of the legislation introduced Wednesday.
The previous bill never made it to the Senate, where Sen. John Liu was seen as an obstacle to getting legislation through the New York City education committee, which he chairs.
The new effort, spearheaded by the advocacy group Teens Take Charge, comes on the heels of sweeping protests against racial injustice that advocates hope will shine new light on segregation in city schools.
“The recent protests really did show all of us racism is a really big issue and that we need to do better in improving integration in this city,” said William Diep, a 16-year-old Teens Take Charge member, and senior at Brooklyn Latin, one of the city’s specialized schools.
This new bill calls for the repeal of the Hecht-Calandra Act.
At present, there are nine specialized high schools in New York City, one of which – Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts – focuses on the arts. The other eight schools 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.
In an attempt to appeal an earlier district court preliminary injunction decision plaintiff lawyers argue that the Discovery Program is somehow racist.
It should be noted that…
- …that the Discovery program was started in the 1960s and predates the SHSAT exam and Hecht-Calandra itself.
- also, the Discovery program was reserved roughly 15% of offers in 1971.
- and that it was the express legislative intent of Hecht-Calandra to give the mayor unlimited control over the level of offers in the discovery program.
This paper gets a few of its core premises wrong. The SHSAT exam does NOT strongly predict academic performance nor ability. Papers put its validity at 20%. Which basically means it’s only predicting 20% of what makes a student successful. GPA comes in at about 40% as a comparison.
Unlike Mayor de Blasio’s plan, this Note’s proposal would preserve the SHSAT, for evidence shows that it accurately and strongly predicts academic success in high school. However, unlike the present system which relies solely on the exam for admission, my proposal would evaluate students based on four factors measuring academic performance: (1) SHSAT score; (2) GPA; (3) rank in eighth grade graduating class; and (4) rank among eighth graders citywide.