Last Thursday I had the opportunity to give testimony to the Education Committee, headed up by Councilmen Daniel Dromm and Brad Lander, at the New York City Council hearing focused on admissions to NYC's specialized high schools, an issue I feel strongly about. Honored to participate, I was glad to have the opportunity to share my opinions with other concerned panelists and politicians from both sides of the discussion, sharing possibilities that could change the educational trajectories of thousands of NYC students for years to come.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened.
Instead of being frustrated at what did happen I thought I'd take a few moments to share what I'd wanted to say, give feedback on some of the ideas floated by speakers at the hearing, and share some links with pertinent information. City Council members (plus all those interested in continuing this discussion in a fair and balanced way), perhaps the perspective of the PTA co-president at Brooklyn Tech, the largest of the specialized high schools with close to 5500 students, could be helpful. I have a junior at Tech and an 8th grader who took the SHSAT in October.
A quick refresher so we're all on the same page about where I stand. I don't believe the test, 45 verbal (for those who don't know, the 5 scrambled paragraph questions in this section are worth 2 points each) and 50 math questions, is racist. I don't think the admissions policy, based solely on those test results, which are purely objective, is racist either. I do believe the reason why more Black and Latino students aren't earning seats at these schools in larger numbers is woefully inadequate Department of Education outreach to all families and kids, in all neighborhoods, early enough in the process (I'm talking elementary school) letting them know about educational options. And improving schools where, from the earliest of ages, students aren't being educated well. Communication, education and preparation. I stand by that.
There were a couple of issues on the table at the hearing and I wonder if others were as confused as I was as they seemed to be mixed and matched in various discussions. One topic was diversity, the other the admissions process for specialized high schools. Yes, there is overlap but they are different discussions and should be handled as such.
Just to be clear:
diversity - the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc (from dictionary.com)
I spend a lot of time at Brooklyn Tech and I am always astonished at the diversity of its student body. Stop by sometime and walk around the cafeteria or pop into a class and you'll see what I'm talking about. I'll add some quick facts here. 64% of our Title I kids come from families living at or below the poverty level. More than half our families don't speak English at home. Many kids are first generation. They come from all 5 boroughs. Diversity is evident.
Some speakers suggested giving the SHSAT to every single eighth grader. No offense intended, but what a misguided idea. The specialized high schools' eight advanced and rigorous programs are not appropriate for every student in the city. Having all 75,000 8th graders sit for this challenging exam will be disheartening to many. Setting kids up to fail very likely will perpetuate more failure. Having viable choices for all types of learners is a better goal.
I'd like to take a moment to discuss the multiple criteria option for admission. I feel compelled to point out that no matter how hard you look, there are no other objective criteria for admissions to specialized high schools other than a straightforward test. Counting state ELA and math tests in no way benefits the students you want to help as academics and rigor at all schools - and achievement on these tests - are not equal. Along with that, grades are subjective. As for attendance, one of the councilmen at the hearing mentioned that that wasn't fair, as many of his constituents suffer from asthma, at greater numbers than most kids in the city. Plus, many at the hearing stated that the multiple criteria screened system used in some city schools is faulty and flawed, according to the City's own audit of the admissions process at some schools. Good facts for you to keep in mind as you move forward.
And hey, what's wrong with eight schools out of 400 plus (which offer over 700 programs) using this particular admissions method? That's comes out to a mere 2 percent. There are many other admissions options available to explore.
I had this thought: many specialized high school students are first generation, qualify for free or reduced lunch, don't speak English at home. Perhaps reach out to their families and ask how they knew about the test, and how their children so effectively prepared for it. Whatever they're doing is working well.
And I have to say what's wrong with rigor anyway? Some might see challenging our kids to step outside their comfort zones and learn something new as a positive. We are falling way behind in terms of educating our children yet politicians are trying to dismantle some of the best schools not just in the city but in the country.
I know we all have the best intentions of each and every NYC student at heart. And that should be at the basis of every conversation and decision moving forward.
Should you have more questions, I'm happy to continue this discussion.