- After years of avoiding the term “segregation” to describe New York City schools — even though they're said to be some of the most segregated schools in the nation — and describing the issue as an unsolvable problem, Mayor Bill de Blasio is now calling for change to an “old system that has perpetuated massive segregation,” Chalkbeat reports.
- The change in rhetoric comes after new data, released last week, reveals that black and Hispanic students, both of whom make up make up roughly 70% of city enrollment in city schools, received 10.5% of invitations to NYC’s eight elite specialized high schools, whose admission is based solely on results of the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
- Though de Blasio has proposed changes to the admission process of elite schools — including cutting selective admissions tests and inviting the top 7% of students at each middle school to attend a specialized high school — these changes have not yet been implemented, Chalkbeat notes. Some believe the mayor’s new intensified rhetoric seems to be an attempt to push state lawmakers to making changes and to help pave the way for a potential presidential run.
Almost 65 years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision deemed racial segregation at schools unconstitutional, many schools across the nation still struggle with de facto segregation due to factors including neighborhood and social divisions, parental decisions to pull students out of public schools, and admission processes that seem to favor families with access to greater resources. While some districts are trying to solve the issue through creative approaches, the answer remains elusive in many areas, including New York state, whose schools were deemed the most segregated in the nation in 2014.
The problem is most noticeable in the racial distribution of students admitted to New York City’s most selective high schools. The admission process to these eight specialized high schools is based solely on the results of the optional Specialized High School Admissions Tests. Because of the competition for a spot, students often seek advanced preparation for these tests, and while some of this preparation is free, students who have more support and guidance still have an advantage.
The most recent data reveals that this year, roughly 27,500 students took the SHSAT and about 5,000 of those received offers to attend a specialized high school in New York City. Fifty-one percent of students winning admission for next year are Asian. White students won 29% of offers, Hispanic students won 6.6% and black students won 4%.
Experts don’t agree on the reasons for this disparity, though some factors do overlap. While some are social in nature, however, others involve personal choices that are beyond the efforts of politicians and school leaders to fully control. Some parents choose to send their students to schools outside the public school domain, and some parents within a district send their students to schools outside their neighborhoods to avoid low-performing schools. And a disproportionate number of Asian and white students take the SHSAT and benefit more than their Hispanic or black peers.
Mayor de Blasio has proposed a plan to equalize some of these factors. But of the eight high schools relying on SHSAT results, three have the test written into state law, leading de Blasio to be reluctant to implement the plan at only the five elite schools under city control, rather than fixing all eight at once. His new shift in language also seems to be an effort to draw more attention to the importance of the issue to force changes at the state level.
Issues such as racial segregation must be addressed directly and discussed openly if they are to be solved. While terms such as “equity” and “diversity” are valuable, they are sometimes not specific enough to deal with issues of greater intensity and immediate concern. Issues as complex and multi-faceted as segregation can only be solved through and open and civil discussion where all voices within a school community are heard.