deja vu

Few black and Hispanic students receive admissions offers to New York City’s top high schools — again

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of the city's specialized high schools.

Four years and an entire chancellorship after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to diversify New York City’s most elite high schools, the schools remain as stubbornly segregated as they were before he took office.

Only 4.1 percent of offers at the specialized high schools that require an entry exam went to black students, while 6.3 percent went to Hispanic students, according to data released Wednesday by the education department. Together, those students make up about 70 percent of city students.

The vast majority of eighth-graders who received admissions offers were white or Asian. More than 28,000 took the admissions test, and a total of 5,067 offers were made.

The picture is virtually unchanged from the previous year, before the city shifted the entrance exam to more closely reflect the skills it expects students to be learning in eighth grade. It was the latest effort to change an admissions equation that has been impermeable to change over the last two decades.

Students are admitted to eight of the specialized high schools based only on how well their results rank on the high-stakes Specialized High School Admissions Test. While those schools represent just a handful of New York City’s most prestigious high schools, their long history of serving top students — and the rapid decline of diversity at those schools — has put them at the center of a contentious debate about whether the city is doing enough to help black and Hispanic students succeed.

This year’s admissions data will surely fuel that debate. Just 10 black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School, the most selective of the specialized schools, where a total of 902 students received offers. Staten Island Technical High School, the lone specialized school on Staten Island, admitted just five Hispanic students, in a class of 326.

Under de Blasio, the city has undertaken a number of initiatives to help students of color get admitted to the top schools, including administering the entry exam during the school day in districts where few students have qualified for admission, and offering test prep through its Dream program.

But advocates say little will change unless the city is willing to tackle the way students are admitted to specialized high schools, since middle-class families are still able to out-prepare their children for the exam. City officials contend that would require a change in state law — something advocates dispute, at least for five of the schools — and have appeared unwilling to lobby for any changes.

Lazar Treschan, who has studied the city’s specialized high schools closely for the Community Service Society of New York, has recommended tweaking admissions so that the top three percent of students at every middle school are offered admission. Doing so, he says, would double the number of black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools.

“The mayor has spent a lot of money on cosmetic, superficial things,” he said. “But we’ve come to a time where the numbers show they’ve done nothing.”

The city has defended its efforts and is expanding them. As proof Dream is working, the city highlights that students in the program comprised 8 percent of black and Hispanic test-takers but 29 percent of admissions offers. There are plans to double the number of seats in the test prep program to 1,600 in 2019. In addition, the city will increase the number of schools that offer the entry exam during the school day from 15 to 50.

In a statement, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she was “excited for the tens of thousands of students across New York City who are set to begin a new part of their educational journey” and that she believes the city has made the stressful process easier to navigate.

Source: New York City Education Department

“While we have made significant progress in helping students and families through the high school admissions process, we know there is a lot more work ahead in order to achieve excellence for all our students and schools,” Fariña said.

While the specialized high schools’ student populations are not set to change next year, at least one small-scale effort to boost economic diversity in city high schools seems to have paid off. Four of the five high schools in the city’s “Diversity in Admissions” pilot program met their goals — to increase the proportion of students from families whose incomes qualify them for free school lunches. Only Bard High School Early College Queens fell short — by one percentage point. Most of those schools had set out to serve diverse populations when they opened within the last decade but found themselves becoming more affluent and white over time.

counterpoint

Some Asian American groups have backed the SHSAT, but this one says the exam should go

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Stuyvesant High School is one of the city's most sought-after specialized high schools.

In the fight to integrate New York City’s coveted specialized high schools, one source of opposition has stood out.

Asian parents and alumni have waved signs at City Hall, heckled education leaders at town halls, and marched in protest of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the test that serves as the sole entrance criteria for the elite schools.

That’s why it’s noteworthy that the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families is calling for the test to be nixed in favor of an admissions system that weighs multiple factors, releasing a report on Tuesday that attempts to bring nuance to a debate that has often played out in sound bites.

“We believe that current admissions processes to specialized high schools contribute to the problems of segregation and inequity in NYC public schools,” the advocacy organization’s report notes.

Specialized high schools enroll a disproportionate share of Asian students. Many have argued that the mayor’s plan, which aims to enroll more black and Hispanic students in the schools, pits one community of color against others. Only about 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, even though those students comprise about 70 percent of enrollment citywide.

The Coalition’s report offers a counter-narrative to the debate, highlighting that many Asian organizations have long called for admissions changes at the specialized high schools and arguing that Asian students would benefit from an overhaul.

But the organization stops short of endorsing de Blasio’s proposal, blasting his administration for failing to include the Asian community in its development or rollout. (One of the coalition’s co-directors is a mayoral appointee to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy.)  

“We remain highly critical of the processes that he and the Department of Education have taken in crafting and releasing those proposals to the public,” the report says.

An education department spokesman said the city looks forward to working with the coalition to eliminate the test, and said the city is presenting its plan to every community school district.

The report comes as parents are considering suing over the city’s diversity efforts and supporters of the test have hired a lobbyist to fight the potential changes.

The coalition’s stance also highlights the steep challenge de Blasio faces as he gears up to lobby state lawmakers to scrap the entrance exam, which is currently required by state law. Though Democrats managed to gain control of the Senate in the latest election, the issue doesn’t have a clear party line — and some of the mayor’s natural allies have expressed doubt, or even backed away from the mayor’s proposal.

Read the full report here

By the numbers

Enrollment is up in Tennessee’s largest school district for second straight year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

After several years of steady decline, Shelby County Schools is continuing an upward trend in student enrollment.

About 111,600 students attend schools in Tennessee’s largest district, up about 2 percent from last year and higher than projected enrollment, according to district numbers.

That includes about 15,300 students enrolled in charter schools overseen by the local district, who now make up about 13.5 percent, a slight uptick from last year.

The increase could signal a growing trust in public school options in Memphis and that recruitment and early registration efforts are continuing to pay off. Last year was the first year the Memphis district gained students since six suburbs exited the district to create their own school systems with about 34,000 students.

However, enrollment in the state’s district for low-performing schools dipped for the second year in a row to 10,622 students. The Achievement School District, which mostly operates in Memphis, has lost about 2,000 students since 2016 as schools have closed and money for school improvement efforts has dropped off.

Note: The numbers are taken from each district’s attendance on the 20th day of school, which leaders use to determine any staffing adjustments to match a school’s student population.

Sharon Griffin, the Achievement School District’s chief, told Chalkbeat that she focused her efforts this semester on restarting the district’s relationship with the neighborhoods its serves, and that she is hopeful to see gains in enrollment throughout the year.

“Most of our schools have met their projected enrollment, but we have one or two elementaries that are struggling,” Griffin said. “Part of that is due to the fact that new charter schools and options that have opened up in neighborhoods we’re in, where there’s not enough kids in the neighborhood.”

Five charters schools opened this year as five others — a mix of district-run and charter schools — closed.

Notably, Shelby County Schools’ charter sector is growing faster than the district. The number of Memphis students attending charter schools overseen by the district increased 5.8 percent this year, while enrollment in district-run schools increased about 2 percent. Shelby County Schools did not provide a statement or an official for comment.

Nationally, the average charter school enrollment has increased from 1 to 6 percent of students between 2000 and 2015, according to federal data. That year, Tennessee charter schools enrolled 3 percent of students.

In response, the local district has looked to charter schools for recruitment strategies in an increasingly competitive environment. Over the summer, Shelby County Schools doubled down on recruitment and registration efforts by sending officials to grocery stores, libraries, summer camps, the Memphis Zoo and community centers — and has even hosted block parties throughout the city. The district also opened its online application two months earlier than last year to encourage parents to register sooner.

Those efforts resulted in 70 percent of expected students to register for school two weeks before school, which was double from the previous year.