Equality in Education

On Tuesday New York State Senate Bill S1787 proposing to get rid of the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) didn't make it past the State Senate Education Committee. This means the test only admissions policy that's been in place for over 40 years remains isn't going anywhere. For now.

Sighs of relief have been heard all around New York City, not just because this time honored tradition wasn't haphazardly thrown out the window but, as there were no other well-thought-out, comprehensive admissions methods on the table, certain disaster has been waylaid.

This was not a permanent reprieve though. The Hecht-Calandra Act, passed in 1971, which protects the admissions system of the specialized high schools, is still under attack. While it seems unlikely that the State Assembly will take this up right now, given the bill's failure to make it through the Senate, politicians and advocates are still saying the issue isn't over, which means more time, energy, effort and tax payer dollars will be spent discussing the merits or lack thereof of the SHSAT. Senator Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan) who proposed this latest version of the bill mentioned he was planning to amend it to find "a solution going forward." At this point though, as more and more are coming to acknowledge the SHSAT isn't the reason there is a lack of diversity in these schools, one would hope that the conversation will move on to the actual problems at hand and how to resolve them.

This past winter Humans of New York (HONY), Brandon Stanton's renowned photography series of New Yorkers shined a light on Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in an underprivileged Brooklyn neighborhood, with a series of photographs. It was a remarkable inside look at how some individuals battle their lack of resources and support. As the story went viral, over 1.4 million dollars was raised to fund annual trips for their students and scholarships to college. A trip to the White House for the stars of the story and an inaugural visit to Harvard, plus donations of computer equipment to the school ensued. What an amazing opportunity for this school and these kids. But thousands upon thousands more children throughout the city don't have chances like this. And without support and intervention early on, it is highly unlikely that most of those kids will be able to excel at the most challenging schools in the city.

The real issue, as this debate continues, is not what percentage of each race or gender attends specialized high schools. It's not what the admissions criteria is - a recent study showed multiple criteria would not increase the number of black and Hispanic students. And it's not really about diversity either. While all of the above are valid concerns that need addressing, the true problem is inequality in early and middle school education.

Bottom line: not all schools are equal. Not all neighborhoods have the same resources. Not all families are actively involved in their children's educations. Not every parent body is engaged in their schools. Not every district has functioning PA/PTAs to fundraise and supplement. Not all children have the same opportunities to learn, to be challenged, to have involved communities working together to improve schools and support them. Not all kids have access to books, to art classes, to instruments, to computers, to sports equipment. And so, not all kids are educated with equality. While it's wonderful that Mott Hall Bridges Academy got an amazing opportunity, all NYC kids deserve the same.

It's time to take steer the conversation away from the SHSAT, from specialized high schools, from admissions criteria, even from diversity and focus on how to standardize education for all students in all schools - setting children up from the beginning of their academics journeys and supporting them along the way so that every child in NYC has the opportunity to succeed and hopefully excel.