Mayor Bill de Blasio is proposing major changes to the way the city’s eight specialized high schools admit students. The elite public schools, which accept students who score highest on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), have been heavily criticized for their lack of diversity. Black and Hispanic students, who make up 67 percent of public school students, receive only 10 percent of the offers at these specialized high schools.

“Right now, we are living with monumental injustice,” de Blasio wrote in an op-ed in Chalkbeat on Saturday. “Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.” At a press conference today, de Blasio added, “You get one shot only for three hours that determines your future. Nothing could be more insane than that.”

De Blasio’s plan includes expanding the Discovery Program, the summer session for underrepresented students, to offer 20 percent of seats at these specialized high schools to economically disadvantaged students, who just missed the test cut-off. The far more aggressive, and difficult, proposal, will be to lobby the state legislature to get rid of the SHSAT, and instead admit students based on their middle school rank and the result of statewide tests.

Josh Wallack, the Deputy Chancellor for Strategy and Policy for the city school system, said at today's press conference that the plan is to “admit roughly the top seven percent of middle school students from across the city from each middle school.” De Blasio said that if these changes were implemented, it would result in 45 percent of Black and Latino students attending these specialized high schools.

De Blasio has addressed this issue several times in the past. In 2012, when he was campaigning for mayor, he pushed for different admissions standards for these specialized schools, and said in 2014 that these schools “don’t reflect this city."

Yet this plan has come under fire by some people affiliated with these schools. Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation board, said in a statement, “We firmly oppose the amended bill that completely eliminates the test and substitutes unnamed subjective criteria.” Soo Kim, the president of the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association, challenged whether or not this was even legal. “They’re saying these schools are too Asian, so there must be something wrong.”


The mayor called criticism that this proposal was anti-Asian as "wrong and unfair...the current reality—it’s clearly exclusionary.” 52 percent of students at these specialized schools are Asian-American. Stuyvesant, which enrolls more than 800 students per class, accepted only nine black students for the 2016-17 school year.