New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the country, continues to see significant racial disparities in admissions to its most selective public high schools, “which have long been seen as a ticket for low-income and immigrant students to enter the nation’s best colleges and embark on successful careers,” The New York Times reports.
Stuyvesant High School, the most selective school in NYC, accepted only seven Black students this year, down from only 10 Black students the year before. Overall, only 10 percent of students admitted to the city’s most selective schools for next year are Black or Latinx, despite the fact that students from those groups make up 70 percent of the city’s public school population—continuation of a trend that has sparked significant debate about the right way to address the discrepancy.
Is the test the problem?
Students are admitted to the eight specialized schools based on how well they perform on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which “[s]ome students spend months or even years preparing for,” according to the Times. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed to eliminate the test and instead admit the top students from each public middle school, but the proposal has met stiff resistance..
Alumni organizations from the specialized schools oppose the change, fearing that abandoning the test will result in lower academic standards at the schools, as do groups representing the interests of Asian-American students, who make up the majority of students at the selective schools and many of whom are low-income. “A desegregation plan can only be effective if the problem is viewed as a whole, and one that is not formulated to the total exclusion of Asian-Americans,” John Liu, the state senator from Queens, told the Times.
Newly elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams agrees. A Black graduate of one of the selective high schools, Williams says that although the admissions numbers “are abysmal,” the critical question is how to address the discrepancy “without needlessly pitting communities against each other.”
City pursues other steps to improve equity
While debate about the test rages, DeBlasio has taken other steps to integrate specialized schools for underrepresented students. The city recently introduced the summer Discovery program, which helps prepare students whose test scores fell slightly below the acceptance score for admission and sets aside 20 percent of seats at selective schools for Discovery students. Although no data has yet been released about the results of the new program, the Times reports that it’s expected to “roughly double the number of black and Hispanic students in those schools.”