Instead of allowing the pandemic to worsen longstanding inequities, New York could seize on the disruption to fix its broken high school admissions practices at all its schools. Several promising proposals have emerged in recent years. Instead of a single exam, Albany could allow the city to use state test scores, class rank and other measures. These important reforms would require the State Legislature to overturn Hecht-Calandra, the 1971 law that explicitly requires three of the specialized high schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School — to use an exam as the only point of entry.
“The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration,” Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in a news analysis.
The mayor’s plan isn’t anti-Asian, it’s anti-racist. It would give working-class parents — including Asian-Americans — who can’t afford and shouldn’t have to find ways to afford expensive test prep programs a fairer chance that their child will be admitted into what’s known as a specialized high school. True, taking a test prep course doesn’t guarantee admission to such a school, but it does offer clear benefits and is widely understood to be essential to test-takers.
Nor is the plan a form of affirmative action.
Follow the money they typically say.
Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, and Richard D. Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup, have for decades had their hands in New York City affairs. Mr. Lauder ran a failed bid for mayor and successfully led a campaign for term limits for local elected officials. Mr. Parsons has been a prominent adviser to two mayors.
Now, they are teaming up to try to influence one of the city’s most intractable and divisive debates: how to address the lack of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and the other elite public high schools that use a test to determine admission.
It’s important to understand the political climate before the NY State legislature decided to pass Hecht-Calandra in 1971. The New York Times does a great job filing in that context.
In 2016, a proposal to send some Upper West Side children — who were zoned for a high-performing, mostly white,
wealthyelementary school near their homes — to a lower-performing school, attended mostly by low-income black and Hispanic students, about a ten-minute walk away, was met with vitriol.
A version of the plan — which ultimately impacted a relatively small number of schools — eventually passed after years of negotiations.
Nearly 900 students have been offered admission to one of New York City’s most elite public high schools. Only seven of those students are black.
New York Times podcast on the SHSAT issue. Audio program reviews SHSAT history to current politics.
Another NYTimes editorial opinion.
Many Asian-American New Yorkers have objected to eliminating the exam, arguing that the mayor’s plan would deny admission to hard-working and high-achieving children in their communities. Many alumni at Stuyvesant and other specialized high schools have argued that dropping the test would lead to the admission of students who could not handle the rigorous curriculum. But where’s the evidence?
An admissions policy that is demonstrably unfair shouldn’t be allowed to continue simply because it has worked for certain groups.
The students — members of the school’s Black Students League and Aspira, the Hispanic student organization — recalled painful memories of having heard racist comments behind their backs at school. They reflected on their shared sense of alienation. They said they worried that adults would allow inequities in the system to persist.
“It’s frustrating to see that nobody wants to do anything, until it’s like, ‘Oh no, nobody got it in,’” said Katherine Sanchez, 17, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic.
Lawmakers considering Mr. de Blasio’s proposal have faced a backlash from the specialized schools’ alumni organizations and from Asian-American groups who believe discarding the test would water down the schools’ rigorous academics and discriminate against the mostly low-income Asian students who make up the majority of the schools’ student bodies. (At Stuyvesant, 74 percent of current students are Asian-American.) The push to get rid of the test, which requires approval from the State Legislature, appears all but dead.