New York education leaders are obsessed with one number: seven. That’s how many black students received an offer to attend Stuyvesant High School this year, based on results of the annual admissions test, known as SHSAT.
It’s a small, dismal figure, to be sure, but Stuyvesant is one high school among more than 400 run by the Department of Education; it educates a little over 1 percent of public high-school students in the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, need to spend a lot more time worrying about the 99 percent.
To be clear, Stuyvesant kids are very different from the economic “One Percenters.” Many are either immigrants or first-generation Americans. More than half qualify for free and reduced lunch. They hail from China, South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Only in New York in 2019 would such a group be referred to as “one ethnic group.” As in: “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any ‘one ethnic group’ owns admission to these schools.” Carranza actually said that.
He was more on point when he recently said to a largely Asian audience, “The notion that you can only receive a quality education at a specialized high school is false.” The audience wasn’t pleased, but Carranza was right.
The specialized high schools aren’t the only game in town. That’s the title of my latest Manhattan Institute report, though the chancellor and I likely differ on its implications. He wishes to assure parents that their children will be educated well — even if they are barred from the specialized high schools due to admissions-policy changes he and the mayor are proposing. He may well be right, but the issue cuts both ways.
My report documents that, based on high-school outcomes like SAT scores and college readiness, there are other good public high schools in New York City with similar outcomes that also happen to serve more racially diverse student bodies.
This is evidence that, despite the mayor’s and chancellor’s fixation on the specialized high schools, there are avenues of opportunity for all students. The problem is that there aren’t enough such avenues.
If the mayor’s plan were enacted — moving top black and Hispanic students from the ranks of “just missed” into the specialized high schools — those students would likely have otherwise attended the other high-performing schools documented in my report. And existing research suggests they might not benefit all that much from the placement in the specialized school.
Researchers from the Chicago Federal Reserve and the Chicago Consortium of School Research studied the Windy City’s attempt to overhaul the admissions policy for its selective high schools. They concluded that, “when it comes to test scores, attending a [specialized school] has no statistically significant impact — not even for students from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods or for the highest achieving low-income students who would be admitted even without place-based affirmative action.”
In other words, we should temper our expectations as to how much students admitted to the SHSAT schools under a new admissions policy will benefit.
The existence of other high schools with diverse populations that are well-performing suggests a more promising area for the mayor and chancellor to explore. Might the students in some of those schools benefit from investment of resources and curricula upgrades to make their performance closer to that of the specialized high schools?
The two men might also rethink their opposition to the city’s charter schools, which currently produce high achieving black and Hispanic students in numbers out of proportion to their relative size. More of those high-flying charters might deliver more black and Hispanic students who pass the SHSAT.
Meanwhile, there is no way to increase the representation of black and Hispanic students in the specialized schools without reducing the Asians, which might be the real civil-rights issue here. And there is no way to reduce the number of Asians without eliminating the SHSAT itself.
It’s no wonder that the mayor’s proposal to eliminate the SHSAT is meeting with strong resistance from the city’s Asian communities: The scheme is openly designed to reduce their numbers.
Albany faces a crucial choice: Will it squeeze Asians out of selective schools? Or will it throw this back to the mayor with an admonition that he do something meaningful to increase educational opportunities for the vast majority of black and Hispanic kids?
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Ray Domanico is the director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute and author of the new report, New York City's Specialized High Schools: Not the Only Game in Town.
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