Yesterday, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) announced the results of its high school matching process. Over 5,000 students across the city were offered admission into the eight Specialized High Schools, which include long-standing top schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, as well as newer elite ones such as The Brooklyn Latin School and Staten Island Tech. Yet, just ten percent of those getting offers, 524 students in total, were black or Latino students, despite the fact that these youth comprise more than two-thirds of all students in the city’s public school system. Sadly, these dismal numbers are no longer a surprise, as they represent the continuation of a pattern we have seen over the years, one that has slowly but steadily worsened under Mayor de Blasio.
Social justice advocates, such as ourselves, have been calling for change for years. We joined a legal complaint filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund with the Federal Office of Civil Rights several years ago. We published a joint report with the NAACP LDF about why the current admission policies for those schools—a separate, unvalidated exam, completely disconnected from student middle school performance—was biased and unfair. Our organization later produced our own specific proposal for how to double the numbers of black and Latino students at the Specialized High Schools without reducing standards, but rather increasing levels of proficiency of students attending those schools. Mayor de Blasio came into office promising to do something to buck these trends. And we believed him. Surely the mayor would listen.
After a couple of years of inactivity, his DOE announced last year a plan to increase diversity at the Specialized High Schools. But his plan focused on expanded access to the test itself and public test prep programs. We offered vocal opposition, and data that showed that previously similar efforts made no impact. If anything, they worsened the problem, as students whose families have resources tend to benefit most from their expansion while representation of qualified black and Latino students in the city’s premier high schools remain unchanged.
We argued that the only thing that would increase diversity is an admissions policy that takes context into account. Our proposal does so, and creates incentives for high achievement among low-income youth and students of color, by guaranteeing an offer to students who finish in the top three percent of their middle school classes. Such a plan, which would only change about nine percent of seat offers, would double the numbers of blacks and Latinos, while actually increasing overall proficiency levels on existing validated Math and English Language Arts assessments. Surely the mayor would listen.
But, no, the mayor and the DOE went ahead with their test prep expansion alone, with the mayor himself claiming that “this strong package of reforms is an important step forward.” We are left wondering whether he actually believed those initiatives were, in fact, “strong,” or whether he just wanted the topic off his agenda for another year. Well, Mr. Mayor, another year has passed, and your symbolic efforts had no effect. We wonder what his response will be now. We will be here, ready to help you implement meaningful change, if and when you decide you are ready to lead it.