Home > Uncategorized > NYC Mayor De Blasio Promises Change to Elite HS Admissions— Will State Allow it?

NYC Mayor De Blasio Promises Change to Elite HS Admissions— Will State Allow it?

June 3, 2018

In the byzantine governance structure of NYC, changing ANY policy is extraordinarily daunting and fraught with not only local politics but also State politics. In the coming weeks, NYC residents (and bloggers interested in social justice) will get a lesson this governance structure as NYC Mayor De Blasio attempts to overhaul the existing admissions system for eight “elite” specialized high schools in the city, a system that effectively denies minority students an equal opportunity for admissions.

When he ran for office in 2013, Mr. De Blasio pledged to change the admissions procedures for the eight “elite” high schools in the city where the sole screening mechanism is the Specialized High School Admissions Test or SHSAT. As Elizabeth Harris reported in yesterday’s NYTimes, the mayor is now planning to make good on that promise:

“The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed — it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence,” Mr. de Blasio wrote in an op-ed published Saturday on the education website Chalkbeat.

“Can anyone defend this?” he continued. “Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?”

The most significant change Mr. de Blasio proposed was replacing the test, called the SHSAT, with a new method that would admit students based on their class rank at their middle school and their scores on statewide standardized tests. That change would require approval from the State Legislature, which has shown little appetite for such a move. A bill outlining those changes was introduced in the Assembly on Friday.

Mr. de Blasio announced another, smaller change on Saturday, one the city can do on its own. Beginning in the fall of 2019, the city would set aside 20 percent of seats in each specialized school for low-income students who score just below the cutoff; those students would be able to earn their spot by attending a summer session called the Discovery program. Five percent of seats for this year’s ninth graders were awarded this way, the city said.

Mr. de Blasio said that if both reforms were enacted, 45 percent of students at the eight specialized schools would be black or Latino.

If you asked a typical NYC resident who controls their schools, they would answer: “the mayor”. But as I’ve read about NYC’s schools (in part as an interested grandparent) I’ve discovered that nothing is straightforward in the way schools are governed… and this situation is a perfect illustration.  To paraphrase Mr. De Blasio’s question in his op ed piece: “Can any Upstate legislator look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them why they would not support a policy change that would enable their precious daughter or son to have an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?”

There is a gubernatorial election underway in NYS. The DNC, which pledged to stay out of State races, broke its promise in NY, throwing their support behind the incumbent Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly stymied Mayor De Blasio’s efforts to avoid the expansion of privatized charter schools and his efforts to secure more funds for schools. Mr. Cuomo and the DNC are about to face a litmus test. The Governor and the DNC now have an issue before them that would not cost the taxpayers in the State a dime and would provide social justice for impoverished minorities in the city. Will they offer full throated support for the change Mr. De Blasio is advocating even though “…the State Legislature… has shown little appetite for such a move.” or will they remain silent, thereby supporting the status quo argument that test-and-punish reform is the best way to achieve social justice? From where I sit, anything less than full-throated support from the Governor’s office will send a message to every teacher in the state that standardized tests are the best and only way to measure “success”. I am sure I am not the only one who will be monitoring this legislation in the weeks ahead. I hope the Governor and the DNC do the right thing and give the Mayor their unqualified support— because he IS doing the right thing.

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