Legislators Propose Diversity Fix for Elite NYC High Schools

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A group of Democratic New York state legislators are supporting a $5 million bundle of actions that would increase the number of Hispanic and black students attending New York City’s highly-selective public high schools.

The plan is to better-prepare students of color for the eighth-grade admissions test. Students desiring to attend the “specialized” high schools are accepted by test scores alone, writes The New York Times’ Kate Taylor.

The number of Hispanic and black students admitted to the elite schools has been small in recent years and is currently on the decline. A mere 4.1% of pupils attending the schools are black, and Hispanic students made up 6.3% of the student bodies. These numbers were down from last year’s 4.9% and 6.8%, respectively.

In all city schools, 28% of eighth-graders are black and 41% are Hispanic. The overall number of black and Hispanic students admitted to specialized schools this academic year was 530, while last school year it was 595.

Stuyvesant High School requires the highest score for admission, and last year only nine black students and 14 Hispanics were accepted. The number of blacks and Hispanics who took the school’s admissions test declined by over 500.

In 2012, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint with the US Education Department claiming that the process for admission to these schools was racially prejudiced. Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son attends one of the specialized schools, said when he was a candidate that he would work to influence the schools to examine a mixture of factors such as grades, in the process of admissions.

But a 1971 law mandated that the Specialized High School Admissions Test be the only means by which a student could be admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Tech. Five other schools also use the test, and Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School uses auditions as its admission evaluation.

The new proposed legislative package includes hiring “outreach coordinators” for all middle schools where elite schools select. This team would encourage students of color to at least take the test, says Robert Schoon of the Latin Post.

The proposal also includes a plan to raise the number of gifted and talented opportunities in elementary and middle schools located in underrepresented and low-income communities.

Another program has already been used to encourage test preparation and science education so that black and Latino young people can apply and be admitted to Brooklyn Technical High School.

A solution suggested by specialized high school alumni in 2014, according to Emma Whitford of Gothamist, argued that the NYC middle schools should improve the job they are doing of preparing kids for the test. Improve the preparation, say the alums, rather than watering down the admissions process.

The New York Daily News’ Ben Chapman quoted Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), who is a supporter of the program:

“We have to enhance the number of black and Latino kids who can get into the specialized high schools, so they can move onto stellar careers,”

The plan would also stop the system, which has been in place for a lengthy period, of starting gifted programs in preferred districts, a practice that left neighborhoods populated with large numbers of black and Hispanic kids without gifted programs of their own.