This coming weekend close to 30,000 of NYC's 8th (as well as some 9th) graders will be taking the specialized high school test (SHSAT), trying to earn seats at one of the city's eight specialized high schools, some of the top institutions not just in the city but country. The original three: Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science have been renowned for decades not just for the rigorous educations they provide but the notable graduates they nurtured.
Much has been written in the press lately about the lack of diversity at these schools, even though several of them are remarkably diverse. Politicians in Albany are currently working to overturn a law that's been in place for over 40 years and has protected the legacy of these schools and their purely merit-based admittance. The mayor is trying to change the test itself, in spite of the aforementioned law, as that would be the magic bullet to raise the ratio of certain currently underrepresented ethnic groups in the mix.
These proposed changes are now being used by politicians on both sides: both in support of or against them, to curry favor with voters. The diversity angle has been usurped by the mayor as a platform to deflect attention from profound systematic discrepancies between poorly performing and successful elementary and middle schools. More attention is being paid to the parameters of the test than to the preparation of the students themselves who are or aren't a scoring seats and how perhaps how the playing field can be leveled.
Let's step away from rhetoric of the moment and acknowledge the kids who will be sitting for this difficult test. The 30,000 young teens who are striving for rigorous study and challenging education as an option. The kids who studied, some for months, some for years, some with test prep classes, some with tutors, some with workbooks on their own, dedicating countless hours to improving their chances. Here these kids are, from a range of middle schools, all putting themselves up to the challenge of not only getting in, but spending the next four years dedicating themselves to learning and to preparing themselves well for college.
Let's acknowledge the families of these hard-working kids, who supported them in their educational quest. Families from all five boroughs, many recently hailing from a veritable United Nations of countries, running the gamut of economic backgrounds. Families at or below the poverty level (at Brooklyn Tech this year where my daughter is a junior, 64 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch). Families that do not speak English at home and yet navigated a complicated and unwieldy system to get their kids to test day.
Let's applaud these specialized schools that offer consistent rigor and unique opportunities for their students. Schools that encourage them become independent thinkers and involved learners.
Let's say thank you to the legislators who, years ago, created a law to protect the current merit-based system from political whim and to ensure fairness to students taking the test.
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.