Solving the diversity problem at specialized high schools

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In a city as diverse as New York, education advocates say there are significant racial disparities among students at specialized high schools.

That's why Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza want to scrap the admissions test for specialized high schools in favor of an application process similar to college applications in the hopes of increasing diversity in those schools.

The Department of Education is taking steps to tackle what Carranza is calling a diversity problem at specialized high schools.

"We've done…everything in our power to make sure kids, families, communities at least know about the test if they want to go to a specialized school,” says Carranza. “But we also provided tutoring, we provided prep courses, and the results show this year that it’s not getting any better."

According to the DOE, black and Hispanic students make up 68% of the city's high school population, but only 9% attend specialized high schools.

Chancellor Carranza says it’s time to scrap the specialized high schools’ admissions test altogether.

"Elite universities don’t admit students based on a single test. Why are we doing that in a public school system in New York?" he asked.

There are eight specialized high schools in New York City that require a test, including Brooklyn Technical High School, Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts requires a portfolio and an audition.

Professor David Bloomfield, of Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, says only three of those schools are required by state law to have an admissions test.

“I think it’s a good idea to repeal the state law which requires this test for at least three of those schools,” he says. “There's no reason for the state to decide the enrollment of NYC public schools.”

The proposal to get rid of the test is not without its opponents. Assemblyman William Colton – a former public school teacher – says the city is to blame for the lack of diversity in those schools, not the test.

“They've been systematically reducing and eliminating the gifted and talented classes in schools in underperforming districts,” says Assemblyman Colton. “Bright children in those schools who are African American, Hispanic, minorities have not been given the gifted and talented classes that they would need to pass the [Specialized High Schools Admissions Test].”


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