Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to better integrate New York City’s specialized high schools was met with fierce pushback but also pledges of support after the mayor announced Saturday he would work to overhaul admissions at the elite schools.
The reaction foreshadows the battle that lies ahead if de Blasio is going to convince lawmakers to sign off a key piece of his plan.
Considered the Ivies of the city’s high school system, eight of the nine specialized high schools admit students based on the results of a single entrance exam (the remaining performing arts school requires an audition.) The most significant but controversial change de Blasio is proposing is to scrap the test in favor of a system that offers admission to top students at every middle school, which requires a change in state law for some of the specialized high schools.
Many alumni from those schools have fought fiercely to preserve the entrance exam requirement, worrying that changing the admissions rules will lower academic standards.
We already have that...it's based on merit, it's based on a test. That's an academic standard, not your socioeconomic background. The schools are free. I grew up with little money and graduated from Bronx Science. Let's not dumb down one of the few good institutions left.— crownrockNYC (@PetarMiskovic) June 2, 2018
Many made the familiar arguments that the city should instead focus on improving the quality of middle schools, or expand access to gifted programs, to serve as a feeder into top high schools.
How does helping 3% of your top students do anything to fix the root of the problem? You are failing your grades 3-8 kids from minority groups miserably from a young age @MarkTreyger718 @Felixwortiz @bradlander @JumaaneWilliams pic.twitter.com/0wK66ogS6T— TheKnickspert (@Ivez) June 3, 2018
Alumni who would like to see the Specialized High School Admissions Test remain in place likely have many lawmakers on their side. New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, a Democrat who represents several Queens neighborhoods, released a statement that she “couldn’t disagree more” with the mayor’s proposal.
The reaction also captured concerns about how the changes could impact Asian students, who make up a disproportionate share of enrollment at the specialized high schools. Those students are also likely to come from low-income families.
Why is it that "fixing it" always comes at the expense of poor, immigrant Asians who are not recognized as "disadvantaged", if we value education & hardwork we should be denied a spot. The dialogue is that "rich kids" pass the test Come to Chinatown, u guys r purposely blind.— Jenny Li (@jennyjenli) June 3, 2018
But others took to social media to support the mayor’s proposal. Specialized high schools have enrolled an increasingly shrinking share of black and Hispanic students: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students.
Mayor de Blasio's proposal for specialized high-school admissions is a good step forward to addressing school segregation that locks African-American and Latino students out of opportunity. Segregated schools can't teach inclusive democracy. https://t.co/RxjfeXiUSM— Brad Lander (@bradlander) June 3, 2018
Some thanked the mayor for taking action after campaigning for years to make changes.
THANK YOU @NYCMayor for these important steps. Changing the admissions to specialized high schools is looooong overdue, but it's always the right time to do what's right. We're with you and ready to call our state reps!!— Teens Take Charge (@TeensTakeCharge) June 2, 2018
And not all alumni were against the changes. Also included in the mayor’s plan is an expansion of Discovery, a program that helps admit low-income students who just missed the cutoff score on the entrance exam.
Mayor Deblasio is going to require NYCs specialized high schools to have 20% of incoming students come from lower income families who just missed the cut off score. As a Bronx Science alum who also came from a lower income family and who almost didn’t get in, this sounds GREAT— Angela Luis (@angiemarinaluis) June 2, 2018