Diversify elite high schools, but don't lower standards
The push in Albany to increase diversity within New York City's elite specialized high schools is on the right track -- but headed in the wrong direction.
A bipartisan group of legislators wants to change the way students are chosen for the eight schools. Instead of using a single test score for a thumbs up or thumbs down, they would instruct the city to also factor in criteria like classroom grades, attendance and state exam scores.
The high concept is wonderful -- to broaden the ethnic and racial makeup of the elite schools, which include Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School.
But the legislators, led by state Sen. Simcha Felder with strong support from the United Federation of Teachers, have seized on a troubling remedy.
Instead of weakening the system's rigorous admission standards, they should be searching for other ways to broaden the student mix while insisting on excellence.
Nobody denies the urgency of finding a solution.
Asians comprise nearly 54 percent of the student body in the elite high schools and whites account for almost 30 percent. But the school system's student body is 70 percent black or Hispanic. And black students were offered just 5 percent of the seats in the specialized high schools this year while Hispanics were offered a mere 7 percent.
That's a lot of potential to ignore. So what other approaches might help the specialized high schools look more like New York City?
Texas solved a similar problem saying that anyone who graduates in the top 10 percent of a high school class can be admitted to any state university. The city might want to scour all of its middle schools to find at least one child in each whose academic excellence has been shown to be far beyond what test scores might indicate.
An alumni group from Brooklyn Tech suggests tougher curriculum in middle schools and an emphasis on tutoring to bring more students up to speed.
New Yorkers have always been intensely proud of their specialized high schools. The challenge is to broaden and diversify their student bodies without lowering standards.