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How Do We Diversify NYC’s Best Schools?

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Loves to try new things and take on any challenge. Passionate about making sure voices are being heard and encouraging others to join the cause

New York City has one of the most diverse populations in the US. Through all of this diversity, have you ever wondered why it looks so different depending on where you go? Spanish Harlem has a majority Latinx population, Chinatown has a majority Asian population, and the Upper East Side has a majority white population.

The patterns in where people reside are also reflected in the public school system across New York City. You can’t really judge the city’s entire public school system because it is so vastly different depending on where you go. In some places, you’ll find schools with higher graduation rates, better infrastructure, more funding, and more overall resources, ensuring that students receive the best education possible. But, in a number of neighborhoods made up of underrepresented people, schools often have fewer resources, resulting in worse outcomes. After all, many low-income neighborhoods suffer from inadequate funding and inequitable distribution, explaining the disparity between rich neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and lower-income neighborhoods like Mott Haven. In addition, across the city, low-income students who cannot attend local private or charter schools are forced into more impoverished schools, perpetuating a cycle of inequality. Schools in higher-poverty districts spend “15.6% less per student than low-poverty districts” across the nation which can “irreparably damage a child’s future”. (Semuels, 2016)

The most elite and desired high schools in New York City are specialized public high schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant. In order to get into one of these schools, students are required to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). The SHSAT is a ninety-minute test with fifty-seven multiple-choice questions in ELA and math. Depending on their score, students get placed into their schools based on their preference until the room runs out in that school. Though this test may seem pretty simple, students can’t simply guarantee admission to a good high school by “studying hard.” Students need to know about the test, register on time, and receive the basic math and ELA teaching to make a high score achievable. Like many standardized tests, the SHSAT results exclude the inequity in resources for students to perform at their best and does not explain the disadvantage a student is at if they can’t hire a tutor or have a language barrier. The lack of diversity in these schools is a direct result of the fact that there aren’t enough good school systems that are free, and that among the good schools, there are few seats available.

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Source: Vox

Therefore, I support Bill De Blasio’s proposal to take away the SHSAT and replace it with a system that takes the top 7–10% of students from each school and assesses key components like grades, extracurriculars, and behavior. This will open doors for students that don’t perform well on standardized testing but have demonstrated the potential to do well in these elite schools. In addition, it will open doors to more underrepresented groups of people which raises the chances to an overall better future, especially for low-income students. It also becomes a way that brings students together from different backgrounds and breaks down the segregation in the overall school system of New York City.

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Source: Vox

Though this sounds like a good idea to some, it also threatens a number of communities that have benefitted from the current system. According to The Atlantic, “Asian parents’ opposition to scrapping the test probably has something to do with the fact that, as data provided to us by the city’s Department of Education shows, thirty percent of Asian applicants in 2018 received offers to a specialized school, accounting for more than half of all offers. (And Asians are the minority group with the highest poverty rate in the city” (Ali, 2018) If the test were to be removed and a system that would admit the top 7% across all public middle schools then Black and Latinx would account for 45% of students at specialized high schools. (Ali, 2018) As a result, this might decrease the chance of more Asian students being placed into specialized high schools which strips them of their chance for better education and most likely, a better future. The test is also an objective measure, and a system based on grades could give an upper hand to rich or white students who are worse-performing but attend better resourced, less concentrated middle schools.

If we want more equitable, diverse, and inclusive schools, then we must consider uplifting the standardized test that students are required to take and consider the top 7–10% for each middle school and based on grades or activities, assess who gets in. This way, more students from underrepresented backgrounds also get the opportunity for better education and a better future.