City council members on Wednesday grilled education department officials on school segregation at a joint hearing of the Education Committee and Civil and Human Rights Committee.
The sharp questions and answer session took place just weeks before the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
The atmosphere was a stark departure from just five years ago, when council members questioned education department officials about diversity issues in a school system that remains among the most segregated in the country.
The lawsuit, brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation ostensibly to contest alleged discrimination against Asian American students, targets changes to the city’s expanding Discovery Program. It allows students attending low-income middle schools to receive an offer to one of the city’s elite high schools if they score just below the admissions cut-off on the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
Fortunately, a district judge ruled Feb. 25 that the preliminary injunction the plaintiffs sought to halt the plan was not warranted. But the Pacific Legal Foundation appears prepared to take its case all the way to the U.S.
There’s no doubt that the exam is a clean-cut way of making admissions decisions — and clarity is rare in the New York City high school admissions system, where sought-after schools can all have different criteria and students are eventually admitted by an algorithm.
But we also know that not all eligible New York City students are taking the SHSAT, and its use shuts out lots of students who can’t afford test prep. Students also have to know how and when to sign up to take it.
Still, the study doesn’t address key questions about whether the SHSAT is any better at predicting student success than the alternative system de Blasio put forward. And it can’t get at the heart of the debate about the importance of diversifying the elite schools.
The study uses data from every single eighth grade student who took the SHSAT between 2005 and 2009, looking at whether a student’s score seemed to predict early success in high school. It finds a relatively strong relationship between SHSAT scores and early high school performance.
First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.
However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.