New York City's Principals are demanding that Governor Cuomo take control of the city's schools because of the incompetence of Chancellor Richard Carranza and the city Department of Education.
At the same time, misguided Albany legislators are carrying Carranza's water to change the law and give him complete control over the city's best high schools—Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and five others—so he can eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test and have the unfettered right to socially engineer their admissions as he sees fit.
Carranza, who has repeatedly said he opposes any kind of enriched education in the school system, even could eliminate them as STEM schools specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Currently, state law mandates the existence of Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, and Science, as well as an unbiased competitive test to determine who gets in. The city voluntarily added the five "little" specialized high schools about 15 years ago. The DOE has the unfettered right to eliminate the use of the test at these five smaller schools but has refused to do so.
History of Success
These schools have outstanding outcomes. All eight are ranked by US News among the top 10 schools in New York State. They are ranked among the top 100 out of 25,000 high schools in the nation. Virtually every student graduates fully college-ready. Virtually all the students graduate and go on to college Two-thirds of the city's public high school students attending Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are graduates of Tech, Stuyvesant, and Science. Fourteen graduates of these three schools are recipients of the Nobel Prize, more than most nations.
By comparison, less than half of the city's public-school students score proficient or above on state annual assessment tests for math and language arts. Many graduate unprepared for college-level work. At CUNY's community colleges, 75 percent of the students, almost all public-school graduates, take at least one remedial course, and some take three.
For Black students, the situation is worse. The longer they are in the city's schools, the more their performance on the math assessment test declines. In third grade, about 12 percent of Black students score above proficient. By eighth grade, only 7.7 percent are scoring as high. About 25 percent of students never graduate high school.
The test-in schools are havens for the underprivileged: Many, if not most, students attending the big three schools come from underprivileged backgrounds, the children of working, minority, poor, and immigrant families. Many are immigrants themselves. Notably, this year's graduating class at Brooklyn Tech received over $135,000,000 in scholarships and financial aid, attesting to both their academic qualifications and their socioeconomic backgrounds.
At Brooklyn Tech, the largest high school in the nation (6,000 students), nearly two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the metric used to measure poverty. Four-fifths are members of minority groups. Two-thirds are Asian, with students from China, Bangladesh, Korea, India, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, and beyond. About 12 percent are Black and Latino. About 20 percent are white, many from immigrant families fleeing oppression from Eastern Europe and former Soviet states. Many speak a foreign language in the home.
Fifty years ago, New York State mandated the existence of the big three STEM high schools and use of the SHSAT for admission. Each year, nearly 30,000 students take the test. The top-scoring 5,000 applicants are selected for 3,800 seats. Some decline the offer and attend schools with a less-rigorous curriculum.
These schools are under fire because some blame the test for the underrepresentation of Black and Latino students compared with the total public-school system. While no school matches the demographic percentages of the school system as a whole, frequently the academically better selective high schools, which use subjective criteria instead of the test for admissions, either mirror test-in schools for Asian representation, or are more-white and wealthier.
'Racism' Cry Stifles Debate
Calling the test racist inhibits a fair and rational debate about the issue. This is not the case. The independent company creating the test vets questions for bias. For nearly 20 years until 1994, most students at Brooklyn Tech were Black or Latino, and for many years after that, were a large part of the student body.
What changed situation was the city's decision to systematically eliminate honors and Gifted & Talented programs in the schools serving the Black and Latino communities. Until the early 1990s, most middle schools had honors programs. Their elimination prevented high-potential students in segregated Black and Latino communities from getting the education they deserved. Today, this situation continues to prevent them from doing better on the test. We advocate changing this.
Some immediate efforts can successfully improve demographic diversity of the schools. The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, which I head, with the financial support of National Grid, has run a pilot pipeline program for six years aimed at underrepresented middle-school students to prepare them for academic achievement and a successful test.
Our program's outcomes are better than every program run by the city. Two-thirds of participants completing the program admitted to Tech are Black, Latino, and/or female, another underrepresented group. We have urged city officials to adopt our model and scale it up, but they seem disinterested. To read our report on Creating a STEM Pipeline for Middle Schools, go to www.bths.edu/alumni/STEM_Report.pdf.
It is foolish to think the State Legislature should turn over to the city full control over these test-in schools when the city's Principals have no confidence in Chancellor Carranza's ability to even open the schools while keeping the children safe from the virus.
Mr. Cary, a Manhattan lawyer, is the president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Association.
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