An Open Letter to NYC's Mayor

Why are you messing with NYC's specialized high schools -- a part of our educational system that actually works pretty well, instead of focusing on things that don't?
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Hello Mr. Mayor,

I saw you on the subway this morning, the M train heading towards Brooklyn. Actually, before I realized it was you I noticed several men in suits, purposefully looking like they were trying not to look at anything, most facing away from a very tall man reading a newspaper. It was you. For a few stops the car was typical NYC. No one glanced your way, at least not obviously. Eventually a guy sporting an elaborate gold grill leaned over to ask if you in fact were the mayor. I said yes and he replied, "cool" as he exited the train.

I thought about saying hello. We've got connections, even if they are rather tenuous. I'm co-PTA president at the high school your son goes to. We could have chatted about parent teacher conferences happening next week. The recent teacher scandal that's been all over the news. I even thought about asking you to be a guest speaker at a PTA meeting. But, as I sat there thinking about what I actually did want to say, I couldn't get past this: why are you messing with NYC's specialized high schools -- a part of our educational system that actually works pretty well, instead of focusing on things that don't?

I had been reading an editorial in the Daily News when I got on the train. Did you happen to see that one called A Cram Course for Bill, which highlighted other academically rigorous schools in the NYC system, not part of the specialized cohort, who do use multiple criteria in awarding seats? And how their student populations are even less diverse than the specialized school admissions system you're trying to dismantle? It's a good read Mr. Mayor. If you haven't already checked it out, here's a link. One part in particular that caught my eye stated, "The collective student bodies are both whiter and wealthier than at the test-in schools." Interesting. And eye opening. Some of the best schools in the city, highly regarded alternatives that all NYC students can apply to, are actually less diverse than the schools you're claiming aren't diverse enough?


I wanted to ask you if research was done showing these proposed changes would actually help the demographics not well represented at the moment? Or if you, or at least someone, had really thought through what altering admissions criteria might do to the standards at the specialized schools, which have been maintaining remarkable levels of excellence for decades? Did you consult with parents, students, alumni, teachers and faculty when you put this plan into motion (actually, that's a rhetorical question, from what I understand you didn't).

I also thought about inquiring about the test itself, which is under attack at the moment. A Department of Education Request for Proposals is out right now, looking to add in sections that actually go against a state law passed in 1971 meant to protect the test from political whim, and to make sure entrance to these landmarked schools would be solely objective. A host of relevant questions swirled through my mind: how could proposed long answer questions or essays be objectively graded? When potentially translating the test into different languages who would oversee the integrity of questions, of translations, of equal standards when subtleties in language are introduced? Who would scoring these 30,000 tests? And how would all this be paid for?

Which led to other possible questions like: have you looked into getting the word out about high school options much earlier so kids and families have time to think things through and prepare? Perhaps putting together a more comprehensive citywide system to support all families going through the complicated and unwieldy high school process? And the obvious: how about improving failing elementary and middle schools instead of taking apart a system that's educating hard working kids who gained admittance to NYC's specialized schools?

As I mentioned in a piece I wrote last week, "Academic rigor is alive and well in NYC. The city's goal should be bringing that to more children rather than taking opportunities away from others."

Mr. Mayor, along with questions, I have plenty of ideas on how the system can be improved. I'd be delighted to talk more.

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