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Amid uproar over specialized high school admissions, Mayor de Blasio suggests adding more seats

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza
Alex Zimmerman

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the education department to expand the number of spots at “high quality” high schools, including New York City’s elite specialized schools.

During his weekly appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio said he has directed schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to “create a plan to maximize the number of seats in the specialized high schools and a range of high quality high schools.”

“He’s going to come back with a plan in the coming months,” the mayor added.

Those comments come amid fierce debate about de Blasio’s plan to boost racial diversity at eight specialized high schools by eliminating the single test that determines admission and replacing it with a system that guarantees a seat to top students at every middle school.

Critics of the plan argue that the entrance exam at the specialized high schools is an objective measure of merit, and it’s unfair to displace students, most of whom are Asian-American, in favor of boosting the proportion of black and Latino students. (Many others argue that the test is not an objective measure, especially since many students spend thousands of dollars preparing for it.)

Officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how many slots the city might create, or what the goal of expanding specialized high schools would be.

But creating more slots could help de Blasio diffuse some of that backlash: By adding seats to competitive high schools, he can assure families that there will be other good options if they don’t get in to a specialized school under his proposed admissions system. Adding seats to specialized schools could potentially allow the city to enroll more black and Latino students without displacing as many Asian students.

“We have a lot of great high schools that a lot of parents don’t even know about,” de Blasio said. “We gotta get that out there — we have to keep growing those and the number of seats in those schools.”

But expanding selective high schools could also have serious drawbacks. Roughly one-third of high schools screen students based on previous academic performance, a process that has contributed to extreme racial and academic segregation. Adding seats to those schools could contribute to the problem the mayor is purporting to address, and Chancellor Carranza has said public schools that screen students are “antithetical to what I think we all want for our kids.”

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