Challengers of Affirmative Action Have a New Target: New York City’s Elite High Schools


This week, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative, libertarian-leaning law firm that has a history of challenging affirmative action policies, filed the first lawsuit against his admissions reform proposal, which he announced this summer.


But the suit does not take on the part of Mr. de Blasio’s proposal that has provoked the most controversy: a plan that would entirely eliminate the exam that is currently the sole means of admission into the city’s elite specialized high schools. The mayor wants to replace the test with a system that guarantees seats to top performers at each of the city’s middle schools, which would guarantee that the schools accept many more black and Hispanic students.

NAACP 2012 Case: New York City Specialized High School Complaint

In school districts across the nation, talented African Americans and other students of color are denied a fair opportunity to gain access to the life-changing educational experiences provided by specialized schools for high-achieving students and gifted/talented education programs.  As a result, elite public schools and programs, which provide key pathways to college and then to leadership locally, regionally, and nationally, are among the most segregated.

In too many school districts, these racial disparities result in large part from admissions policies that rely too heavily or even exclusively on standardized tests, even though the three leading organizations in the area of educational test measurement—the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education—have concluded that a high-stakes decision with a major impact on a student’s educational opportunities, such as admission to a specialized or gifted/talented program, should not turn on the results of a single test. 

Brooklyn: Action Filed Over School Admissions

The first legal challenge against Hecht-Calandra was launched in 1974. Only 3 years after the law was passed. Since then there’s been a number of legal actions.

Here’s one from 2007.

A public-interest law firm in Washington filed a class-action lawsuit against the New York City Education Department yesterday, charging that a program created to increase the number of black and Hispanic students in the city’s elite specialized high schools violates the Constitution by excluding whites and Asians. The law firm, the Center for Individual Rights, filed the suit in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on behalf of three Chinese-American parents whose children were denied admission to the Specialized High School Institute, which prepares students for the test determining admission to schools like Stuyvesant and the Bronx High School of Science.