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OpinionEditorial

NYC admissions process to top high schools is still flunking

Exterior of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan on

Exterior of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan on Feb. 8, 2018. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Another year, another dismal set of admission statistics for some of New York City’s top high schools.

The city’s eight specialized high schools, which rely solely on a test to award coveted spots, made 4,798 offers to eighth-graders, according to data released Monday.

Just 190 of them — or 4 percent of all offers — went to black students, even though 20 percent of all test-takers were black. Another 316 seats went to Hispanic students, about 7 percent of the total, although Hispanics were 24 percent of test-takers. More

than two-thirds of the city public schools’ student body is black or Hispanic.

Only seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s best, out of 895 total spots there.

This is a symptom of a larger disorder. It’s not just about race or the top schools. It’s about providing all students, from all socio-economic backgrounds, from all parts of the city, with a solid education and skills for a better future.

It’s a complicated problem without a simple solution. Too many city schools still fail our students, and too many middle schools, in particular, don’t prepare all kids for high school and beyond. The answer means addressing intractable issues like school segregation, and finding ways to turn around troubled elementary and middle schools.

Steps school officials can take now

But even as city officials must commit to working on those concerns, significant steps can be taken now to address specific disparities and inequities in specialized-school admissions and to expand opportunity and access. Small ideas — such as changing where students take the test, offering free prep classes, or even programs like Discovery, which targets low-income students who just miss the score cutoff — clearly aren’t making enough of a dent.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza have proposed getting rid of the specialized test and developing a University of Texas-style system in which the top students from each middle school would be admitted based on test scores, grades and other criteria.

It’s an idea worth trying. Even with the system’s deeply rooted problems, high-performing kids at every middle school deserve a shot at the specialized high schools. And de Blasio and Carranza could start now. While state legislation governs admissions at the three oldest specialized schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School — the other five aren’t named in the law. So why not start there?

Start with five schools

Change the admissions process for those five schools. Use it to prove that there’s a better, more equitable way, while making sure that the schools’ standards remain high. Combine that with added support to make sure students are prepared and able to succeed. Then expand the specialized high school field by adding schools, especially in underserved areas of the city. That might help satisfy those who oppose any changes, many of whom are worried that Asian students, in particular, might be at a disadvantage in the new system because they currently receive more than half of all specialized high school offers.

Only a tiny fraction of the city’s 1.1 million students attend these eight schools. As city officials try to give everyone an opportunity at the very top, they must not let the rest fall through the cracks.

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