Who Wins When Public Schools Have Selective Admissions Policies?By Ellen Frankman and Tanzina Vega
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A disproportionately small number of black and Latino students were admitted to New York City’s most elite public high schools which determine enrollment based exclusively on one standardized entrance exam.
Although about 70 percent of students in the city are black and Latino, only about 10 percent of students admitted to the eight “specialized” high schools, according to the city. The most competitive school of the eight, Stuyvesant High School, saw only seven black students admitted, out of 895 slots marking a decline from previous years. Asian students continued a years’ long trend of dominating admissions to these schools.
Last year, Asian parents and community leaders led the charge against a proposal from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to get rid the entrance exam in favor of granting admission to top students from each of the city’s middle schools.
Derek Zang‘s father was one of those parents who rallied and filed a lawsuit against the measure. He spent much of his free time studying, but, after finding out he did not get Stuyvesant, into his top choice, Zang admitted to some skepticism about its merit.
“It’s not exactly fair to have one test determinant. In one day my scores can drop by what, like a hundred points in a day.” But, he added, “I think that one test is important to keep schools prestigious.”
Zang believes the test is the best a way to determine who should be admitted, but many take issue with the merits of a system with such racially skewed results.
“To call that system a meritocracy is absurd because you either have to believe that only 190 black students in the city have enough merit or you have to believe that the tools we’re using to use meritocracy is wrong,” said Former New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery and Chief of Policy & Public Affairs at the charter school network KIPP. “Just because something is a test doesn’t mean it’s fair.”
Buery was a student at Stuyvesant when there were significantly more black students there and yet felt the experience instilled him with an unshakable sense of inferiority.
Joining The Takeaway to discuss the arguments for and against the specialized high school admissions system is Beenish Ahmed, a former WNYC reporter and current producer on the show. Offering a national context for selective admission to public schools is Alia Wong, a staff writer at The Atlantic who covers education.