New York City High School Admissions Policy Biased, Lawsuit Claims

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, New York City parents and activists are arguing that the high school admissions policies used in the district are discriminatory against Latino and African-American students.

According to the plaintiffs, the process that determines which students are assigned to which public high schools disproportionately pushes minority students into chronically underperforming schools with low graduation rates, substantially hobbling their chances of academic success.

Attorney for the Education Law Center Wendy Lecker – who filed the complaint this Monday with the federal Office of Civil rights – says that in NYC, African-American and Latino students are assigned to schools where they are less likely than their white peers to graduate with a diploma.

Education officials have battled for decades to close the so-called achievement gap in public schools.

In 2011, 59% of Hispanic students and 60% of black students graduated from city high schools in four years, compared with 79% of white students and 83% of Asian students. That year, the latest for which complete data is available, 13% of black students and 15% of Hispanic students met college readiness standards, compared with 29% of students overall.
City high schools admit students on the basis of academic records, state test scores, attendance, student preference, available space and other factors.

This is the second civil rights complaint filed against the city in the past 12 months, according to the New York Daily News.

Responding to the filing, education officials are arguing that the disparity in graduation rates between schools with more black and Hispanic students is a side effect of an unequal system “inherited” by the administration of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg. According to Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, the NYC Department of Education has worked to reduce the existing achievement gap, including adopting a policy that allowed students to apply to any school in the city regardless of zip code.

Sternberg also pointed out that the reforms undertaken by the Bloomberg administration has borne fruit. The achievement gap has shrunk by more than 25% since 2005.

The previous lawsuit filed with the United States Department of Education argued that a similar racial bias exists in admissions policies for the city’s elite specialized high schools. High schools like the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan have long battled allegations that the test-only admissions criteria results in a student body that is not representative of the student demographics in the city.

Because of the disparity, city officials have previously considered adding additional admissions criteria, but protests from parents, the majority of whom where white, according to NYT, has led to a state law that only the exam can be used to determine admission to specialized schools. After the complaint surfaced, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at a news conference and said that it isn’t a problem that schools designed to serve some of the best students in the city would use an exam to identify such students. In short, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the admissions process and didn’t think there was any cause to amend it.