- Bill de Blasio is hoping to change the way students gain entry into the city’s elite schools.
- His proposal mistakes test scores for nefarious “elitism,” and it seeks a race-conscious solution to a different problem.
Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote an op-ed explaining his vision for reforming the admissions process for eight of the city’s elite, prestigious high schools.
In it, he argued that “the Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.”
This is a prelude to the proposed policy execution of an idea that has permeated on the left: That even when elitism is characterized by hard work, and the test scores it results in, privilege is to blame, and attempts to reform the system must be made.
But “academic excellence?” It’s laughable that the mayor is attempting to make the case that lowering admissions standards will raise academic excellence.
De Blasio asked whether “anyone [could] 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.” His answer is apparently “no” because out of 5,000 admission spots offered this year, only 298 went to Latinos and only 172 went to black students.
Those numbers are low, and they don’t represent the percentage of public school students who are black and Latino. But the test is color blind: you don’t get extra points for being white or Asian. Fifty-one percent of admission offers extended this year went to Asian-American students. That’s not indicative of bias, but rather of which students worked the hardest and succeeded most.
Minority students are often poorer and don’t have parents with enough cash lying around to pay for the tutoring and test prep that so often helps grease the wheels of higher test scores. But there are alternative solutions far better than de Blasio’s proposal, which eventually aims to send top students from all of the city’s middle schools to the elite schools – regardless of how they might measure up to other students from other schools.
The mayor might find more support if he directed his efforts and more resources toward helping more minority students study for the exam, for instance.
One parent I spoke with, whose daughter attends Bronx High School of Science, challenged the idea that these schools were filled with the wealthy and the privileged.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she told me, “because fully half of my daughter’s friends come from poor backgrounds. A family of four living in two rooms. Another, a child of a single mother with an hour-and-45-minute commute because they can’t afford the private bus service.”
“These kids,” she said, “are not privileged.” But de Blasio “wants to deny them so there’s room for the kids who, along with their parents, haven’t made the same commitment,” she said.
Writing in the New York Times, the hedge fund manager Boaz Weinstein, a Stuyvesant alum, said his admission to the school was “one of the seminal events of my life.”
“There are no soft criteria for admission: no interviews, no favoritism for legacies, no strings to be pulled,” he wrote. “It’s all about whether you do well on the test, which best determines whether or not you can do the academic work.”
Weinstein highlighted the misguided notion that the students who fill the halls at schools like Stuyvesant are part of the elite.
“Forty-four percent of Stuyvesant students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunch or are eligible for Human Resources Administration benefits,” he noted.
The Bronx Science parent I spoke with told me that de Blasio wants to make this change so that the schools “look better to him.” And rather than making sure that children from all backgrounds are “prepared to pass the test, he wants to suspend the test.” All this stems from “a lack of interest in reality and a preoccupation with optics.”
If the mayor’s policy is implemented, she warned that “the result will be a two-class system in the school” which will end up “reinforc[ing] racial stereotyping about intelligence.”
Sadly, I’m sure she is right.