New York City's specialized public high schools—Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Technical, the Bronx High School of Science and the rest—are the most coveted and competitive schools in the country's most segregated school system. It is, therefore, not surprising that they have a persistent and glaring diversity problem. Department of Education data released last week shows that Stuyvesant, which enrolls more than 800 students per class, accepted only nine black students for the 2016-17 school year.
About a third of all white and Asian students who applied to a specialized high school for the coming school year were accepted to at least one. For comparison, only 3% of black students scored high enough to gain entry, although black and Latino students make up the majority of public school students city-wide.
In hopes of evening the numbers, a group of State democrats has proposed legislation that would fund tutoring for the controversial Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). As it now stands, the SHSAT is the only factor in determining admission for Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech—one multiple-choice test, the results of which are analyzed independent of interviews, transcripts, or any other formal application.
Some advocates have called for an overhaul of the application process. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint against the SHSAT back in 2012, and Mayor de Blasio, whose son Dante is a Brooklyn Tech alum, pushed for different admission standards when he was running for Mayor in 2013. But this new proposal more closely resembles one put forth by a group of specialized high school alumni in 2014—that city middle schools should simply do a better job of preparing their students for the test. Improve test prep, not the admission process, they argue.
Easier said than done. The City's Gifted & Talented program, which accepts students starting in kindergarten, has been criticized for branding some students as underperforming from a very young age. And a recent New School study showed that low state test scores tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy—parents with socioeconomic means (by and large white families) tend to steer their children out of local schools that are already underperforming. As a result, the very same parents with the time and resources to invest in their children's schools balk at the very schools that could benefit from their interest.
One of the bill's sponsors, Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, is a Bronx Science alum. "While some have advocated for a more complex admissions process, they are in reality doing a disservice to the students they want to help, and to the premise of objectivity upon which these specialized schools were founded," he said in a statement. "I strongly oppose making any changes to the SHSAT."
The State proposal introduced this week also calls on the DOE to establish Gifted & Talented programs in districts where there currently are none—District 7 in the South Bronx, District 12 in Bed-Stuy, and District 21 in Brownsville according to DNAInfo—and an "outreach coordinator" at each specialized school to focus on informing families at largely minority middle schools about the test.