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The allure of testing lies in its apparent neutrality—its democratic indifference to a student’s background and wealth. But this is not how the current system functions. Success correlates closely to socioeconomic advantages and access to test preparation. Pricey services offer tutoring to ever younger children. (There is a niche industry of consultants who help two-year-olds ace their preschool admissions assessments.) Yet many defenders of testing believe that more subjective forms of evaluation present their own unfairness. 

Outside the neutral language of policy reports, the issue of testing is debated in a context of winners and losers, of model minorities and problematic ones.

Segregation Has Been the Story of New York City’s Schools for 50 Years

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, wealthy elementary 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.

New York City High Schools’ Endless Segregation Problem

The public schools in New York State are the most segregated in the country, according to a 2014 study from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. That’s largely driven by New York City.

The selective high schools are by no means the only places where inequality exists in the system, but they are the most visible, the easiest apple to pick. The black enrollment at Stuyvesant peaked in 1975, according to state records highlighted in a 2012 profile in the Times, when there were 303 black students out of 2,536 total.