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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

Admission to elite schools is a minefield

Our so-called progressive mayor might remember that he is mayor of all of NYC’s citizens.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, far left, have rolled out a new plan for admissions at the city's eight elite high schools. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

To the rancor and confusion about increasing the number of blacks and Hispanics in NYC’s elite high schools, add this remark from Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza: “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admissions to these schools.”

Of course, he is referring to New Yorkers of Asian descent, who comprise about 62 percent of those elite students while comprising but 16 percent of the public school population.

Like every immigrant group in this country — especially nonwhite immigrant groups — Asian-Americans are high on the spectrum of having undergone suffering and discrimination, beginning with the Asian Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the immigration of Chinese laborers, the country’s first law barring a specific nationality or ethnic group from entering.

And, no, Asian-Americans don’t “own” admissions to the elite high schools, Carranza’s borderline-racist remark notwithstanding.

Like African-Americans who have overcome 300 years of slavery or Hispanics who risk everything to cross borders with their children, Asian-Americans have worked for what they have achieved. Like blacks and Hispanics who hold down two jobs to send their kids to Catholic or private schools, Asian-Americans have sacrificed so that their children have opportunities their parents lacked.

This is not to say a single test is the best or the only way to determine admission to the city’s elite high schools. But it might be the fairest in our burg. Make the process for each accepted student who didn’t pass the test totally transparent.

There are many ways to increase black and Hispanic enrollment without anyone owning anything. Why not mandate that all middle school valedictorians and/or salutatorians be granted admission to the elite schools? These are obviously bright and motivated students who will make up whatever academic deficiencies they lack in not passing a single test.

Let’s also acknowledge that criteria other than a test for admissions to elite institutions often have been used to discriminate. In “Greater Gotham,” historian Mike Wallace describes how Columbia University president Nicholas Murray Butler said in 1914 that “admissions requirements be expanded beyond exam results by adding interviews.”

His reason: too many Jewish students.

Meanwhile, our so-called progressive mayor might remember that he is mayor of all of NYC’s citizens.

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