The Truth About New York City’s Elite High SchoolsI don’t know what that last sentence means.
By DAMON HEWITT MARCH 22, 2017
This month, a select group of eighth graders in New York City found out that they were being offered a spot at some of the nation’s best high schools, the eight “specialized” city public high schools that include Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science. About 28,000 students took the multiple-choice test required for admission, and 5,078 did well enough to secure a place.This system, while it might seem meritocratic, in fact leads to a shocking inequity. Even though black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of public high school students in the city, they routinely represent only 10 percent of those offered admission to the specialized high schools. This year the city offered admission to only 524 black and Latino students.
The numbers are even lower at some of the most desired schools, such as Stuyvesant, which has space for nearly 1,000 freshmen and offered admission to only 13 black students. And while some of the specialized schools do have a high percentage of Asian-American students, many low-income students from lesser-represented ethnic communities are also left out.
In case, you are wondering, here is the latest data:
The problem, which has grown worse in recent years, has to do with the way students are selected for these schools. The sole criterion is a student’s score on the multiple-choice admissions test.Which is why Stuyvesant has collapsed in reputation in the 40+ years it has had an exam-only admission system and that’s why nobody writes op-eds complaining about how their race doesn’t get in enough.
The traditional hallmarks of a great student — consistently excellent grades, critical analysis skills, leadership and even performance on other state-mandated tests — are all irrelevant under the admissions policy. The test has many quirks that experts have said make it inappropriate for use as a sole criterion for admission.
For example, the material on the test is not taught in the city’s middle school classrooms; so it’s not as if students are being assessed on what they have learned in school over the years. It’s all about what they learn in test prep programs.Perhaps what Hewitt is trying to do with the term “test prep” is to dogwhistle to New York City’s shrinking but still immensely wealthy and influential white community that they should support his demand for a fuzzier, more “holistic” admission system so that their white children will have a better chance of getting admitted to Stuyvesant instead of all these products of the Asian test prep juggernaut.
After all, Harvard U. keeps down the number of Asian students it lets in by keeping the admission process subjective by giving a lot of arbitrary power to admissions staffers to let in People Like Us.
Similarly, Harvard-Westlake, the top academic high school in Los Angeles, was discriminating against high-scoring Asian applicants way back in 1981. That year I had lunch with one of my old high school teachers, a scholar with a Harvard U. doctorate, who had moved on to teach at Harvard-Westlake. And he said Harvard-Westlake didn’t take the high test scores of Asian applicants all that seriously because they didn’t contribute as much to classroom discussions.
Amusingly, when the hit TV show “Mad Men” wrapped up a few years ago, its creator Matthew Weiner gave a series of interviews on the Meaning of It All, much of which seemed to do, in his mind, with the anti-Semitism he had suffered in 1981 as one of the few (in his mind) Jews at Harvard-Westlake. After all these years, Weiner was still angry that a local newspaper in 1981 had mentioned that Jews made up 40% of the student body at Harvard-Westlake. Weiner was convinced that this 40% figure was an anti-Semitic hoax to cover up the rampant anti-Semitism at Harvard-Westlake.
Since then, I’ve wondered if in 1981 I’d pressed my old teacher for more details about admissions and class participation at Harvard-Westlake, perhaps he would have expanded on the topic something like this:
“For example, one of my white students at Harvard prep is Little Matty Weiner. He’s touchy, paranoid, perhaps mad, but what he has to say in class is really interesting. You’ll hear a lot in the future from that little mad man!”So perhaps Hewitt is trying to signal to New York’s white people to join him in his lawsuit to make Stuyvesant admissions more subjective and arbitrary so their kids would have a better chance. Why pay $175,000 to send your kid to private high school for four years when he could go to Stuyvesant for free … if he could only get in?Or not arbitrary enough.
The flawed admissions policy, and the discriminatory results it yields, are the subject of a pending civil rights complaint my former colleagues at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and I filed with the United States Department of Education on behalf of a coalition of organizations representing black, Latino and Asian students.Asian students?
Why is this happening in the largest and most diverse school district in the country? Part of this phenomenon has to do with a powerful narrative that has been woven — not about the test, but about the merit of black and Latino students.So it’s all Charles Murray’s fault. If only Murray had been punched in the head more, this narrative wouldn’t have reduced black and Latino students’ test scores via Stereotype Threat.