Today, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) released its initial plan to increase diversity in New York City’s public schools. Above all, it is important to see the DOE formally recognize the value of diversity in our schools, and set goals by which to increase it. The plan contains some laudable objectives, including moving 50,000 students into school environments that are more representative of citywide diversity. Some of the initial methods to achieve those goals also deserve praise. Easing application challenges that low-income families face, such as required school tours, which are often difficult for families to accommodate during the workday, will remove some existing barriers to more diverse enrollment. Other options for schools that allow them to set aside seats for underserved groups in their communities will also help.
But there is clearly more bold work to be done. One case is the Specialized High Schools, whose stunningly low levels of black and Latino representation remain a black eye to this public school system. Efforts to increase prep and access to the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), also part of this plan, will neither improve outcomes (just as they have not in the past), nor do they represent a public acknowledgement that the SHSAT, is not the mechanism by which merit can be fairly assessed, particularly when there are objectively stronger ways to do so.
One other announcement in the DOE plan is the creation of a task force to determine how this work moves forward. We urge the DOE and the Mayor to put Specialized High Schools, the symbol of so much of the promise and shame of New York City’s public education system, at the top of the task force’s agenda, and we hope to work with them to do so.