Brown’s Lost Promise: Segregation & Affirmative Action In New York City Specialized High Schools

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.

The System that Segregated NYC Schools

Although the mayor’s proposal is modest, opposition to it has been enormous. Opponents defend wholeheartedly the use of the SHSAT. It’s their belief that this high-stakes exam is objective, merit-based, and fair. This opposition movement is largely backed by lobbyist groups funded by CEOs, and alumni associations with deep pockets. Its ranks also include self-described progressives such as Jumanee Williams, alumnus of the specialized school system and current New York City Public Advocate. Instead of scrapping the SHSAT, they believe the city should instead expand access to the exam, invest in SHSAT preparation services, and open more SHS.

Whose Side Are Asian-Americans On?

Hsin, the sociology professor, told me, “If you were to put aside any concerns about goals of diversity at all and you just wanted to come up with mechanism for identifying the most talented individuals to be admitted to specialized high schools, you would never come up with the admissions policy you have now.” Grades, which are repeated measures over time, are considered better indicators of academic acumen. It’s also been shown that they are better than standardized test scores when it comes to predicting success for black and Latinx students.

Closing gap at specialized high schools

Ultimately, the city has to do more to improve educational opportunities for everyone, not just the admission process to the top schools. More middle schools need to be high-achieving ones, more gifted programs are needed in the younger grades, and the city should add more specialized high schools, too.

There’s no guarantee that the city’s plan will close the gap. But if city officials think boldly, they could transform these schools into places that give all students the opportunity for something special.

Fair and objective or useless and biased? A Chalkbeat guide to the case for and against New York City’s specialized high school test

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.

Who Wins, and Who Loses, in the Proposed Plan for Elite Schools?

Dr. Caceres, the Bronx principal, said that half of his eighth-grade students already take advanced math and science classes, and have the ability and work ethic to thrive in a challenging school like Bronx Science. His students do not do well on the SHSAT, he said, in part because most of their families cannot afford tutoring. When the results came back this spring, some of the students were so disappointed they cried.

“Don’t you think it’s embarrassing that Bronx Science is in the Bronx and only a handful of students are from the Bronx?”

Specialized high schools and race

Another overview.  Adds a DoE spokesperson quote.

According to New York City Department of Education spokesman Will Mantell, the citywide average GPA of students in the top 7 percent of their classes is 94 out of 100, the same average GPA of students offered a spot at the elite high schools. Additionally, he said their state test scores are comparable, an average of 3.9 out of 4.5 for the top 7 percent versus 4.1 for those admitted to the specialized high schools.

Questions raised about aptitude tests

Fox news interviews students and other stakeholders about the SHSAT

“It’s not the right way to evaluate a student’s merit,” said Muhammad Deen, no other college uses one single test.

Deen says he came just below the cutoff to get into Brooklyn tech and instead ended up attending a charter school. He and Morales support the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate the SHSAT and instead admit students to the elite schools based on GPA and state test scores.

“It is more of a way of looking at the student as a whole, rather than this one simple test score that didn’t really showcase what a good student is,” Deen said.

NYT Editorial Board: It’s Time to Integrate New York’s Best Schools

New York’s elementary and middle schools do not prepare children for the test, all but ensuring that students seek out extensive test preparation. Many Asian and white students have done so for thousands of dollars apiece. Black and Latino students are likely to walk in with little or no test preparation.

Of all elite public high schools in the country, only New York’s use a single exam for admission. Researchers and others have said this approach is less predictive of success than grades, particularly for black and Latino students.