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.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”