May 10, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
Congresswoman Grace Meng submitted written testimony earlier today to the the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education, strongly rebuking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT).
Meng, who represents central Queens, called the exam a “clear, level playing field”—a stark contrast to de Blasio’s claims that the exam is biased against black and latino students who comprise only 10 percent of the SHS population but 70 percent of the public school population citywide.
“The SHSAT was not designed with specific community groups in mind, nor is it biased toward certain students,” Meng said. “Over half the students in these schools are from working families and are eligible for free or reduced lunch on account of their economic background. Ultimately, the SHSAT measures academic readiness without personal opinions, connections, and biases from influencing the admissions process.”
Elimination of the test would require Albany to pass new law.
The SHSAT is currently used to determine admission to the city’s eight specialized high schools. Rather than admitting the top test scorers overall, de Balsio wants the top students from each of the city’s middle schools to be selected. The mayor said it will providing more opportunities to traditionally disadvantaged youth.
Currently, the specialized schools’ population is approximately 29 percent white and 51 percent Asian. Under de Blasio’s new plan 45 percent of SHS offers would go to black and Latino students. Students residing in the Bronx would receive four times more offers than they have in the past.
De Blasio’s plan has spurred outrage in Asian-American communities who feel that the new criteria is discriminatory against Asian students.
“I was further struck by Chancellor Carranza’s lack of engagement with the Asian American community prior to the proposal’s unveiling and his continuous disparaging statements,” Meng said. “His comments about one ethnic group owning admission to specialized high schools are false and insulting, and the Asian American community should not be treated as if they are gaming the system.”
Rather than eliminate the test, Meng called for more investments to be made in the city’s elementary and middle schools, including strengthening the curriculum, so that students can be better prepared to take the SHSAT.
“The focus should be on how to lift students from all backgrounds to succeed,” Meng said. “Lowering the criteria and broadening the admissions process does not guarantee student success. The goal is not only to diversify admissions into these schools, but to ensure the continued success at all schools in New York City.”
In her testimony, Meng also called for access to free SHSAT tutoring and test prep for all students.
“More resources must be devoted to increasing the number of students from all communities to access the free test-prep programs,” Meng said. “If a greater percentage of SHSAT are currently Asian Americans, we should work collaboratively to increase participation across all demographics and devote money and resources to the communities we want to lift up.”
Curious what Neil deGrasse-Tyson, the famous black astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, and Bronx Science alumnus thinks.
But personally, political correctness gone amok is why I no longer identify as a liberal or progressive.
Diversity, is a wonderful thing. But implemented for the sake of diversity against the mission of the schools to educate is not a fair balance. But let’s cut to the chase. There are hardly any blacks in the SHS simply because they never prepared for it in large enough numbers to make an impact like Asians and whites. Asian parents especially tend to think about the SHS exam while their child is in utero. Blacks and Hispanics, perhaps not so early; more like a month before the exam when it’s in the headlines it seems. Asian excellence in that exam is reflective of years of nurture in private tutoring classes, almost always at personal expense. What I think the mayor, if he wants more black representation in NYC’s SHS, needs to provide is the same sort of educational basic training for all races. Here’s an idea that may actually work in the long run. Pay (with tax rebate) the parents of all NYC parents who have their child attending tutoring years before they need to stake a claim in the exam. That is, a tax rebate for ALL students, regardless of race, to attend city certified tutoring programs from K up through junior high schools. In that way, every race would stand an equal footing of being educationally prepared from elementary through JHS and it would be at taxpayer expense. Blacks who claim disadvantage, would be given the same level playing field that Asians had, and any poor parents would be finally relieved of a crushing financial load that they willingly sacrificed towards their children’s future. But if one had to implement diversity in all NYC schools straight away? Ensure that all city high school sports teams have one third Asians roster, regardless if they can play well or not, so that they too, will have a shot at the NBA. That’s ridiculous of course, as much as putting unprepared students in the SHS, regardless of race and color.
I find the move to level the proverbial playing field to be condescending and short-sighted. Myself and my brother had to take the test and scored very well to the extent we could pick which high school we wanted to attend–we are black. My family relocated so we did not attend high school in NYC. It does a disservice to the kids–regardless of race–who gained acceptance to those high schools on their own merits. Needless to say, it makes those Black and Latino students who transparently entered those schools conventionally have an asterisk in the eyes of others; ‘they are only here because they are Black (or Latino).’ It’s a well-meaning policy, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Black and Latino students do not need to be patronized by mayor de Blasio and Carranza who assumed and implied Black and Latino cannot excel with SHSAT. What about the SHS alumni coming from the same background? They made it through sheer commitment and hard work. Let’s celebrate hard working students and reward them!
This is an excellent and well-reasoned appproach that will enhance educational quality for all NYC public school students. I’m glad to hear that Rep. Meng, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and other prominent New Yorkers are standing up for educational excellence and fairness. It’s incomprehensible that Carranza hasn’t pulled the plug on his wrongheaded approach when so many convincing and valid arguments have been raised from a broad array of communities.