Last Friday at Queens Crossing in Flushing, dozens of Asian-American groups, parents and students rallied against the proposal, which calls for measures to diversify the city’s eight specialized high schools by changing the admissions process.
Although the legislation passed the Assembly Education Committee, Speaker Carl Heastie has said the bill won’t be up for a vote until next year’s legislative session.
Still, state lawmakers rallied on Friday to criticize new Chancellor Richard Carranza.
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said if she had just moved to Houston or San Francisco, two cities where Carranza previously led public school systems, she would first reach out to parents, alumni, teachers and students before making such a drastic change.
“Instead, our chancellor has tried to pit one group against another,” she said, “and at the same time, insulting the Asian-American community.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the controversial plan on June 3. According to the mayor’s office, only 9 percent of specialized high school students are black or Latino, even though they make up 68 percent of the city’s student population.
The incoming freshman class at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, for example, only has 10 black students in a class of more than 900 kids.
To address the lack of diversity, the mayor’s plan would first expand the Discovery program, which allows disadvantaged students who just miss the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) cutoff score to receive an offer from a specialized high school.
Under the new proposal, 20 percent of specialized high school seats would be reserved for Discovery program students. It would also adjust the eligibility criteria to target students attending high-poverty schools.
The mayor’s office predicts that an estimated 16 percent of offers would go to black and Latino students, compared to just 9 percent right now. The expansion would cost $550,000 annually.
The second, and more controversial, part of the mayor’s plan is to eliminate the SHSAT over three years, a move that would require state legislation.
Rather than using a single test, specialized high schools would admit “top-performing students” from every middle school, using a composite score based based on statewide tests, 7th grade course grades and other criteria.
Under the plan’s first year, the top 3 percent of middle school students would all receive an offer from a specialized high school. In its second year, the top 5 percent of students would get an offer.
By the third year, the SHSAT will be scrapped completely, and 90 to 95 percent of specialized high school seats would go to the top 7 percent of students from each middle school.
The remaining 5 to 10 percent would go to students coming from non-public schools, new students, or students who do not meet the criteria.
The mayor’s office predicts that under the proposal, 45 percent of offers would go to black and Latino students, compared to 9 percent of offers currently.
After the mayor and chancellor released the plan, Asian-American parents acted swiftly. They rallied against the proposal at City Hall and in Brooklyn and Queens.
Asian-Americans, many of whom come from low-income families, make up two-thirds of the student population at Stuyvesant and the Bronx High School of Science.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, opposes the mayor’s plan. In a statement, she said she was “disappointed” by the drastic changes to the admissions system.
She criticized not only the proposal, but the mayor and chancellor’s lack of outreach and notification to Asian-American elected officials and community leaders. She called for them to engage the Asian-American community in any future effort to overhaul the process.
“Instead of focusing on comprehensive reform in one effort, the mayor’s legislative push concerning how eight well-performing schools operate isn’t a serious policy proposal,” Meng said. “It’s a headline.”
Stavisky, a Bronx Science alumna and former teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, suggested increasing the number of Gifted and Talented programs in the public school system.
To increase diversity, she also recommended providing more practice SHSAT exams, offering free test preparation, and even creating additional specialized high schools.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, who voted against the bill in the Education Committee, said the mayor had six years under mayoral control to increase diversity at all levels of public schools, but has failed.
He called the proposal a plan to “racially balance” the specialized high schools, which he said is not the mission of the schools, which is to attract the “best of the best” students in New York City.
“What the mayor and chancellor is putting together is about seeking a short-term racially balanced outcome,” Kim said. “If you really want to dive into educational equity and racial equity, you can’t have a discussion without totally integrating K-to-8, making sure every child at the lower school levels have equal shot at success in education. That’s a much tougher conversation.”
Instead of having that tough conversation, Kim asserted, the mayor chose to target Asian-Americans because they “lack a political voice.”
“Asians are also immigrants, we’re minorities, we’re people of color,” he said. “But when they talk about people of color, are they thinking Asian-Americans? I don’t think so. That for me is insulting.”
The Flushing assemblyman added that even if the mayor “tinkers around” the test, if black and Latino students are not properly prepared, “the outcome is going to be the same.”
“You may actually increase [the number of] white students in the schools, not black and Hispanic,” Kim said.
His solution to the diversity issue is simple: end mayoral control and allow every public school to be in a decentralized system. That way, Kim said, every neighborhood can have a specialized high school.
“A true solution is to not let one person politicize education,” Kim said. “If it’s decentralized and run by the local boards and parents and educators, you won’t have this type of problem.”
Elected officials also took offense to a comment Carranza made last week in a television interview, when he said he doesn’t buy into the narrative that one ethnic group “owns admission to these schools.”
“That was a disgraceful, dangerous and divisive comment on his part,” Stavisky said.
“I am insulted, and these comments are false,” Meng said in a statement. “Asian-Americans aren’t trying to own admission to these schools.”
John Chan, chairman of the Coalition of Asian-Americans for Civil Rights, said the mayor should “grow the pie” by bringing more resources to K-8 schools and expanding Gifted and Talented programs.
His message to black and Latino students was that they are in this together.
“We should come to the same table, find a working solution and demand the mayor to actually fund K-8 programs,” Chan said.