Legislators Seek to Promote Diversity at Elite Public High Schools
Seeking to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at New York City’s elite public high schools, a group of Democratic state legislators has proposed a $5 million package of initiatives aimed at preparing those students for the eighth-grade admissions test.
Admission to what are known as the specialized high schools is by test only. The number of black and Hispanic students admitted in recent years has been small — and is declining. This year, only 4.1 percent of the students admitted were black and 6.3 percent were Hispanic, down from 4.9 percent and 6.8 percent last year. Black students represent 28 percent of eighth graders in the city’s schools, and Hispanics 41 percent.
The total number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the specialized schools was 530 this year, compared with 595 last year. Only nine black students and 14 Hispanic students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School, which requires the highest score. The number of students identified as black and Hispanic who sat for the test declined by more than 500.
Previous proposals have focused on changing the entrance criteria. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a complaint in 2012 with the United States Education Department arguing that the admissions process was racially biased. Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son, Dante, attended Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the specialized group, said as a candidate that he would push to have the schools consider a variety of factors, including grades, in admissions.
But any change would require an act of the State Legislature, which mandated in a 1971 law that the Specialized High School Admissions Test be the only measure that can be used to admit students to Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech. Five other schools also use the test for admissions. A ninth school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, uses auditions.
Jeffrey D. Klein, the head of the Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate, has opposed past efforts to change the admissions process and is proposing instead to focus on better preparation for black and Hispanic students. Senator Klein would hire outreach coordinators at each high school responsible for recruiting students from underrepresented middle schools to take the test; increase the number of elementary and middle school gifted-and-talented programs in low-income neighborhoods; and replicate a science enrichment and test preparation program that has shown promise in getting black and Hispanic students into Brooklyn Tech. The proposal was reported on Wednesday by The Daily News.
“Most of the people you talk to don’t think the answer is changing the test,” Mr. Klein said. “It’s enhancing the ability of young people to take the test and be prepared for the test.”
A group of legislators in 2014 sought to change the admissions process, but their effort drew little support. In any case, a report by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools found that using multiple factors in admissions would do little to solve the schools’ diversity problems and could even make them worse.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department said on Wednesday that it supported Mr. Klein’s proposals.
The program that Mr. Klein wants to replicate recruits students from middle schools that have not sent many students to Brooklyn Tech. Each year, sixth graders are selected for the two-year program, based on their scores on standardized tests, interviews and recommendations from principals or guidance counselors. During the summers before seventh and eighth grades, the students spend five and a half weeks taking science and math classes from Brooklyn Tech teachers. During the school year, they attend classes on Saturdays that combine science enrichment and test preparation.
Of the first 55 students who completed the program, 41 were admitted to specialized high schools, Larry Cary, the president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, said. The foundation funds the program, along with National Grid, the utility company. Of the 27 of those students who were admitted to Brooklyn Tech, roughly half were black or Latino, according to Mr. Cary.
“As a percentage it’s a good percentage,” Mr. Cary said of the results. “We think that this is a model for addressing part of the problem.”