The sudden and surprising leadership change at Stuyvesant High School is an opportunity to make the school more diverse and less cutthroat, according to a graduate who is running for mayor.
Tom Allon, a long-shot mayoral candidate who graduated from the elite city high school in 1980 and later briefly taught there, made the case in a press release sent this morning in response to Friday’s resignation of Stanley Teitel, the school’s principal since 1999. Teitel announced his retirement amid a cheating scandal and an investigation into how he handled it.
“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions — not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America,” Allon said in his press release.
Allon suggests that the school switch to an A-F grading system, instead of awarding numerical grades on a scale of 100, which he said encourages students to worry about small swings in their grade-point averages.
He also offers a slate of recommendations geared at shaking up the ultra-competitive admissions process, which for decades has been based solely on scores on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
Allon suggests offering automatic admission to the top eighth-grader at each city middle school, making the admissions exam harder to game, and adding an essay to the multiple-choice test — changes that Stuyvesant’s principal wouldn’t be able to enact.
Stuyvesant is the largest and least racially diverse of the city’s specialized high schools. Amid a push by Stuyvesant graduates to increase diversity, the number of black and Hispanic students offered seats doubled this year, from 25 students last year to 51. The school enrolls about 800 new students each year.
Allon isn’t the first to propose tweaks to yield a student body that more closely represents the city’s student population. A former CUNY official suggested in the GothamSchools Community section in 2010 that the school use “proportional representation” to admit at least some of its students. The strategy would ensure that students from every district could enroll.
But revising the admissions process isn’t up to Stuyvesant’s new principal or easy to do. Instead, it would require legislators to change a 1971 law, the Hecht-Calandra Act, which mandates that admission to specialized high schools be determined by exam.
Allon’s complete press release is below.
NYC Mayoral Candidate Tom Allon Calls for Stuyvesant Reforms
In the wake of the recent cheating scandal and subsequent resignation of the Principal at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, NYC Mayoral candidate Tom Allon today called for reforms that would constructively address some of the issues at the heart of the troubled school’s problems of late.
“My alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, one of America’s premiere public high schools, is at a very interesting and precarious crossroads,” Allon said. “I care deeply about this school but am concerned that it has lost its way, despite turning out some of the brightest high school graduates in America every year.”
“I’m afraid Stuyvesant has become a place where education and knowledge have taken a backseat to testing and grades and hyper-vigilance about college admissions – not unlike the testing and data-driven grading that is crushing the life out of public education throughout America.”
“Stuyvesant is also a school that has become homogeneous: the school population is now only 1.2 percent African-American and 2.4 percent Latino. This is a problematical demographic mix because it is so radically different from the population of New York City,” said Allon.
“As Stuyvesant now searches for a new Principal, I’d like to offer the following suggestions to improve what has always been thought of as one of the shining lights of public education in New York City:
- Every middle school valedictorian in the City should be offered admission to Stuyvesant. This would incentivize teens to work hard in middle school and help alleviate the diversity problem.
- The entrance exam should be radically altered from year to year, so that students who have prepped for it for a long time do not have a huge advantage.
- The exam, like the SATs, must include an essay. Students must exhibit their ability to write and think critically.
- Change the school’s grading system to letter grades so students will not focus so heavily on a one or two point swing on a test and instead focus on mastering the subject matter while developing their critical thinking faculties.
“Stuyvesant is a wonderful institution that has produced four Nobel Laureates, countless American political leaders, doctors, lawyers, academics and business leaders. We must help it find its way again so that it can continue to be the place that new generations see as a way to hoist their children up the ladder of upward mobility,” said Allon.