NYC Mayor de Blasio Wants More Access to Elite High Schools

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking for an end to a 43-year-old policy restricting admission to New York City’s elite high schools to those with the highest standardized test scores.

De Blasio, along with the city’s teachers union, would like to see other measures such as grades and attendance records be introduced as entrance criteria.

“I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people,” de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. “We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair.”

A 1971 ruling made test scores the only criteria used to gain entry to the schools.

The eight elite schools offer college-preparatory courses.  Some of the esteemed alumni have gone on to be Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

De Blasio’s goal is to create a more ethnic, economic, and academic diversity among New York City students while still placing a high standard on academic outcomes.

“We cannot have a dynamic where some of our greatest educational options are only available to people from certain backgrounds,” de Blasio said at an April news briefing.

De Blasio has publicly argued that using the test scores creates a “rich-get-richer” effect that only benefits those who can afford the expensive tests and the preparation that goes along with them.

This scenario however, is not the case.  The majority of the students who do well on the exams and are admitted to the schools, about 73% at the Stuyvesant School, are poor and working-class Asian-American immigrants, writes Dennis Saffran for The New York Post.

According to former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, high-stakes testing provides students with an example of the pressures they may face in their working lives.  He also says the tests are the most reliable method of measuring student and teacher performance, writes Henry Goldman for Bloomberg.

The Bronx High School of Science, one of the schools in question, wrote a letter on June 20 asking  the legislature to reject the changes to test requirements.

“We stand for an admissions process that is a pure meritocracy, with one standard that is transparent and incorruptible,” the board wrote. “Preserving the objectivity of the admissions process is necessary to maintain the high educational standards of the specialized schools.”

De Blasio is not the first to ask for a change in the requirements.  More than 40 years ago, former Mayor John Lindsay asked for a change, but was met by opposition from parents and alumni.

There are some cities that have successfully broadened their enrollment methods.  While the 10 selective schools in Chicago still base admission on test scores, they do reserve as much as 5% of spots for principals to fill “outside of the regular selection process.”

Selective Boston school have increased requirements to include a student’s grades as “part of an effort to be more holistic and level the playing field, because some people do well on tests and some don’t.”