The admissions test used to determine entry into New York City’s “elite” high schools has never been validated as a predictor of success in school. Yet no other factors are allowed to count. Teacher assessments, academic achievement, or the fact you come from an economically distressed household or community – none of these matters.
The results: of the 5,229 students accepted to the city’s eight Specialized High Schools this year, only 618 were black or Latino, a decline of nearly 16 percent in one year alone. Latinos make up just 2.4 percent of students at Stuyvesant High School.
The “test prep” industry is having a profound impact on admissions while generating many millions in profits. Test prep used to be only for college or graduate school, but it has spread to preparation for the city’s Specialized High School admissions test and even for admission to the city’s “gifted and talented” kindergarten program.
It is evident that these admissions programs significantly advantage young people whose parents can afford the cramming programs that give them an overwhelming edge in scoring well on the standardized admission tests. The costs for taking these prep courses are staggering, well outside the reach of low-income New Yorkers. Typical costs are $1,350 for prepping a 4 year-old to take the “gifted and talented” test, and $1,500 and more for the Specialized High School admissions test.
Half of low-income respondents in the Community Service Society’s latest annual survey of New Yorkers said they have less than $500 in total savings and half living in unassisted housing report spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent alone. For these families, the impossibility of spending over $1,000 to get one’s 4 year-old ready for the gifted and talented test is patently obvious.
The impact on the racial composition of the Gifted and Talented program is made plain in a recent Wall Street Journal article. The city reported that only 29 percent of students in these elite kindergarten programs were black and Latino, even though they make up over 70 percent of the overall elementary school population. Once again we seem to be slipping into an educational system supported by taxpayer dollars which favors those with the most resources.
Last year, the Community Service Society joined with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. We are challenging the city’s use of a single test to determine admission to New York’s elite Specialized High Schools because the admissions process works to exclude black and Latino students. This filing was met with outright hostility by our mayor.
To use scarce public resources to reinforce unequal access to the best in public education is not something we should strive for in this, the most racially diverse city in the world. We are creating a dual system of education which leads directly to a dual society.
New York City now has the highest level of income inequality of any city in the nation. We should not be contributing to that problem by denying New Yorkers of limited means – many of whom are black or Latino – access to the best our public education system has to offer.