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Comments of the week: Selections on selective high schools

Friday afternoon is normally where great news goes to die, but last week’s important story about selective high school admissions was kept alive by our readers. Fewer black and Hispanic students were accepted to the the city’s eight specialized high schools than in previous years, a total that sparked debate over diversity, socioeconomics and educational access.

Performance on a single test determines high school admission, but critics believe it’s not the fairest measure. Ms. v, a teacher who said she is familiar with materials used to prepare students, said it would be difficult to do well on the tests without prep:

In many cases, even with my advanced degree and above-grade level reading habits, I found at least a couple of answer choices arguable, and most of the passages needlessly dry, poorly written, and seemingly difficult for difficulty’s sake. The test is inequitable because it really does require outside prep, and as many commenters have pointed out, that is costly and not equally available to all.

One commenter read the admission numbers and said that the admissions process discriminated against members of certain racial and ethnic groups.

Yes, they admit black and Hispanic students but certainly not enough. The test ensures that black and Hispanic students can’t get into the school.

“How are they racist?” one reader asked. “If the student, regardless of race, passes the test, he/she gets in. That’s it.”

The situation pits one American value — diversity — against another — equality, wrote A.S. Neill. To reconcile “these sometimes apparently conflicting goals,” the solution “for over half a century has been some kind of Affirmative Action program.”

But what does that mean for students who are otherwise qualified to attend the specialized schools? One reader, parenttk, worried that they would end up in “a crappy school and be picked on and neglected academically.”

That comment drew rebukes from several teachers. One example from Former Turnaround Teacher:

The idea that the specialized High Schools are the only schools in NYC where high performing kids can be successful is just straight up wrong. There are many of schools across the city (a great deal of which are zoned large comprehensive High Schools) that offer just as many AP classes as the specialized High Schools. In fact many of these schools offer more AP classes than the smaller specialized High Schools.

Car11220, a reader who didn’t offer a full name but identified as a parent with personal experience about the admissions process, chimed in on the debate:

I am a low income Asian, my son is going to [Stuyvesant High School] next year. He never had any prep class and he is absolutely not a genius. But i take care his homework everynight since pre k. How can you call it unfair? Yes, many Asian Kid go prep class , but many of them are low income too. They save as much as they can , then spend it on their Kid education.

A.S. Neill acknowledged that accepting more underrepresented students would force others to give up their seats. But “courts and most educated people accept this as a fair value in the interests of creating a successful racially diverse American society that benefits everyone in the long run, especially since those qualified non-minority students now denied admission will not be seriously impacted since their qualifications will allow them equivalent opportunities elsewhere. Having not been accepted to Stuyvesant, some may have to go to Brooklyn Tech.”

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