Now that the Stuyvesant High School cheating scandal has gotten a principal canned (maybe), made national press, and seriously embarrassed the "crown jewel" of the New York City public school system critics have decided to pile on. Yesterday a number of groups including the NAACP filed a complaint against the city and its eight specialized high schools saying that their admissions process (which is just one single SAT-style multiple-choice test) is racially discriminatory. Our mayor however, is not really worried. "Life isn't always fair," he responded to the complaint.
The complaint against the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) that students take to get into the city's specialized high schools is not a new one. For years there has been public concern about the fact that the test seems to favor certain Asian and white populations over black and Hispanic ones. For example, "of the 967 eighth-grade students offered admission to Stuyvesant for the 2012-13 school year, just 19 (2%) of the students are African American and 32 (3.3%) are Latino." For context, 70 percent of the city's public school students are black and Hispanic.
The complaint doesn't explicitly say the SHSAT is culturally biased, but it does point out that it has led to racial disparities as long as it has existed and that there is no hard data to show that it predicts a student's future success. And for the first part, the city doesn't necessarily disagree, it just doesn't think changing the test or the process is the way to go. According to DOE spokeswoman Deidrea Miller, the department "has launched several initiatives to improve diversity" including free-test prep courses aimed at poor students.
But our billionaire mayor from Boston was far more forceful when asked about the issue. "We’re not here about equal results. We’re here about equal opportunity," he said when asked about it yesterday. "Look, an awful lot of kids were a lot smarter than me in school. That’s just the way it was. There’s nothing you can do about that.
"It’s strictly on merit, and it’s one of the bright lights in our school system. There’s nothing subjective about this. You pass the test with the higher score, you get into the school, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background."
"I don’t know how you would take away the right to get tutoring or how the public could pay tutoring," he went on. "We have tutoring for all our kids. It’s called the public school system. We do it five hours a day, roughly five days a week."
So, in case you aren't clear on how Mayor Bloomberg feels about this, one more time: "you have to let the test decide."
Meanwhile, if you are curious about what all the fuss with this test is about, why not spend your lunch hour (plus another hour and a half) taking this practice exam? Does that seem racially discriminatory to you?