Mayor Bill de Blasio brought together city officials, elected leaders and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza to seek to elminate a single test from being the only factor in deciding whether a student gets into a top high school in New York City. (Todd Maisel / New York Daily News)
Top students from every public middle school would be admitt
ed to the city’s specialized high schools under a plan Mayor de Blasio is pursuing to overhaul admissions and increase diversity at the elite schools.
De Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza revealed details of the plan on Sunday as they launched a push to get rid of the single test that now determines who gets into the schools.
The eight schools — the best known of which are Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — are now only 10% black and Latino, a massive gap considering 70% of all public school students are black and Latino.
Currently, who gets in is determined by scores on the Specialized High School Aptitude Test.
De Blasio’s plan, which requires state legislation, would get rid of that test — and instead admit the top 7% of kids at every public middle school, determined by their grades and state standardized test scores.
“Unfortunately the message for thousands and thousands of students across New York City is that these schools aren’t for you. That’s the message they’ve been receiving,” de Blasio said at a press conference in Brownsville, Brooklyn, before forecasting opposition to his plan.
“I can already read the script. Somehow these wonderful and prestigious schools won’t be the same, they won’t be just as good if they look different,” he said. “Anyone who’s thinking that, that’s an un-American thought. That’s an unfair thought.”
The top students from each public middle school would together get 90% to 95% of the seats at the coveted schools.
The rest of the spots would go to students from private schools, newcomers to the city and public school kids who meet a grade point average requirement but don’t make the top 7% cut. Qualifying students in those groups would be chosen by lottery.
Hizzoner’s proposal would be phased in over three years, in the first year admitting the top 3% of every middle school class and using the test for the rest, and gradually reducing the importance of the test.
But the plan is likely to hit roadblocks in Albany, where the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to approve it. De Blasio is hoping to see the Senate flip to Democrat control after this year’s election.
Many alumni of the schools are fierce defenders of the test, which they say is the only way to make sure students are chosen purely based on merit and the academic rigor of the schools stays high.
“We firmly oppose the amended bill that completely eliminates the test and substitutes unnamed subjective criteria,” the Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech alumni associations said in a joint statement, calling the proposed system “an exceedingly complicated admissions formula that does not address educational disparities across NYC middle schools.”
They also slammed the plan for being unfair to students from private and religious schools, who currently take the test and compete on equal footing with everyone else. Under the proposed system, they’d only be eligible for a tiny portion of seats.
“Currently each year hundreds of kids from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other private schools gain admission to Brooklyn Tech and the other specialized schools. I cannot imagine why anyone would support legislation that blocks the parents of 250,000 students attending the city’s private and religious schools from getting into Tech and the other schools,” said Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Association.
Asked about the plan Sunday, Gov. Cuomo called it a “very important issue” but did not take sides.
If all the changes go through, the city estimates 45% of offers for the specialized schools would go to black and Latino students. The admitted students would also shift from mostly male to mostly female, and the Bronx would see the biggest boost in the number of kids who get in.
It’s not just white students who would get fewer seats if the overhaul happened — the schools admit many Asian students, and at Stuyvesant, considered tops among the schools, 73% of the student body is Asian.
De Blasio called the test an “arbitrary and capricious” way to choose students.
“There is no great college in America that chooses their students on a single test,” he said. “It’s not fair to anyone.”
On its own, the city plans to make more modest admissions changes.
It will set aside 20% of the seats at each school for low-income students who score just barely below the cutoff on the test, and attend a program known as Discovery. It will also require that students come from high poverty schools in order to qualify.