Since the early 1990s, the percentage of African-American and Latino kids in the student bodies of New York City’s specialized public high schools has decreased. There are nine specialized high schools and all but the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts require applicants to take the SHSAT, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Families of African-American and/or Latino students are concerned with how their children are selected, or more accurately not selected, and in June, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed an idea: scrap the test entirely.
Before forming an opinion on this potential change, as it has not yet been made, it is important to get a full scope on what Mayor de Blasio’s plan would entail, and why the change could be necessary. First of all, the removal of the SHSAT would mean that an entire new system would need to be developed, which in no way is an easy accomplishment. Instead of one test, the Department of Education would select the top-performing students who applied from each middle school, as well as reviewing their standardized test scores. Students and their guardians who fall under these minorities believe that it wouldn’t favor students who have the privilege to enroll in pricey test prep courses, or like our school, have access to an in-school test prep program: what we call APL, a term invented by our own Gino Crocetti. They think that instead of learning an entire new test, it would let students focus on the schoolwork itself and not favor privileged individuals. Instead, this system would reward students from all different areas of New York who may not excel in the SHSAT, but perform at the top of their class.
While this may seem like a system that clearly would benefit minorities, many Asian-Americans have qualms about this, as they are the current racial majority in many of these schools, for example Stuyvesant, who's student body is predominantly Asian. They argue that the test is an objective measure of talent and that Mayor de Blasio’s system would essentially take much-sought-after seats away from Asian students, who are often disadvantaged as well. This doesn’t mean they believe it is ok that less than a tenth of the specialized schools are African-American or Latino, but just that maybe the test isn’t the issue. To put things into perspective, thirty years ago there were about four times as many African-American and Latino students attending schools like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science. So what was different?
The answer lies in “gifted-and-talented programs,” which are the equivalent of honors programs for young children. These still exist, but slowly deteriorated, and under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani there was a sizable budget cut from the education system of New York City. A former middle-school honors teacher said that funding for these programs, as well as aforementioned in-school test-prep programs, had “dried up,” according to the New Yorker. In conclusion, before the SHSAT is removed, it is crucial to give our attention to New York City’s middle-schools, so low-income neighborhoods get the attention their kids deserve for high school applications.
This decision to fundamentally change the SHSAT will impact children at City & Country, as seven XIIIs are taking the test this year, but the full story is not told unless we as a community can shift our focus towards the often silenced minorities of our city. While one may be a student, family member of a student, or faculty member, in the end we are New Yorkers and what is New York without its children? This is why Bill de Blasio’s idea, while not universally liked, has been successful in discussing an issue related to education, a topic not only ignored by past mayors, but often damaged, like when Mr. Giuliani cut two billion dollars from the education system. As the verdict has not yet been reached on this matter, New Yorkers will continue to debate on whether the SHSAT truly is objective, and if it is unfair to Asian students to try to cater to other ethnic backgrounds, when they have performed spectacularly on the test.
The Atlantic: What’s Going On With New York’s Elite Public High Schools?
The New Yorker: The Complex Disadvantages Underlying New York City’s Specialized-High-School Dilemma
City & State New York: A Guide to the Controversy around NYC’s Specialized High Schools