NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently unveiled plans to get rid of the test for New York City’s specialized high schools, the SHSAT, in order to increase diversity at those top-ranked specialized high schools. The test is known to be difficult, but in recent years, all standardized tests have come under fire for their limitations, including the fact that they do not measure a student’s progress but only current knowledge.
In an op-ed piece in Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization, the mayor wrote, “The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.”
“If we want this to be the fairest big city in America,” Mayor de Blasio noted, “we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.”
He pointed out that, “the prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.
“There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.”
Many have voiced concern over the mayor’s plan, including parents like Dr. Stella Lymberis who spoke with The National Herald about the opposition to the plan. She told TNH, “Among all the disastrous effects the mayor’s plan will have on public schools in the city, people do not realize that the plan will hit hard children in private schools, including kids attending the Greek parochial schools: Currently, 13 percent of students in specialized schools come from private schools. Under the new plan, they will only be eligible for 5 percent of the seats, and those will be assigned by lottery.
Dr. Lymberis continued, “So if you want your kids to speak Greek you will have a difficult time to even get into these schools… Great way to impact diversity in a negative way, since this also applies to Jewish students, Catholic students, and other ethnic private schools which will now have limited entry… It is time the Greek community placed some political pressure on the New York State Senate and Assembly to ensure the availability of quality educational options for our children.”
She also noted the students who were featured in TNH’s recent graduation coverage who will be attending specialized high schools next year, including “Olga Latoussakis, my daughter, graduated The Cathedral School and was accepted to Bronx Science, one of the specialized high schools affected by the di Blasio plan.”
The opportunity for deserving students from Greek community schools may not be there if Assembly Bill A10427 is passed. The full text of the bill is available online: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a10427.
A petition on change.org to keep the SHSAT as the sole specialized high school admissions criterion has already been signed by over 18,000 concerned citizens and cited Department of Education data in its description, “34% to 61% of the current student body in these specialized high schools are eligible for free lunch ($35,000 annual income for a family of four) and more than three-quarters of the student body at Stuyvesant (one of the specialized schools) are either first- or second-generation immigrants where English isn’t their first language.”
The under-representation of African-American and Latino students in the specialized high schools is unacceptable, but critics of Mayor de Blasio’s plan believe that getting rid of the SHSAT is the wrong solution to the problem. On social media, some are calling the plan “anti-Asian” since some of the specialized schools have an Asian majority, including Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant High School whose alumni associations have denounced the plan, NY1 reported.
Brooklyn Tech Alumni President Larry Cary was quoted in the New York Post, “The solution isn’t to kill the test. It’s to improve the quality of education offered in African-American and Latino communities.”
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, a former Brooklyn Tech teacher, also criticized the mayor’s plan, the Post reported, noting that “to assume African-American and Latino students cannot pass the test is insulting to everyone and educationally unsound. Many Asian-American students come from families who live in poverty.”
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis said in a statement, “Instead of focusing on real problems like fixing the MTA and combating the opioid crisis, the Mayor is more interested in being a progressive hero by villainizing a merit-based system that has set generations of gifted and talented students, many of them minority and low income, on the path for lifelong success. Staten Island Technical High School in my district consistently ranks as one of the highest-performing schools in the nation, and I am proud to represent many of its current students and families. But if the Mayor’s absurd plan moves forward it will send the message that political correctness is more important than hard work, aptitude, and the actual education a student receives in the classroom.”