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.

At some point it must be asked more generally: Why expend all this effort preserving an exam whose validity and legitimacy are dubious? There are better predictors of SHS performance—such as middle school grades, or scores from state exams (for which preparation is universally built into the curriculum and, unlike the SHSAT, are taken during school hours). These alternatives would satisfy SHSAT defenders’ own requirements for admissions based on academic merit. But they oppose them—because it’s really not about defending objectivity, but protecting the most privileged routes to the SHS that exist because of the SHSAT.