Brooklyn Tech at center of discrimination lawsuit

October 2, 2012 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College have filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that Blacks and Latino students are denied admission to New York City elite schools such as Brooklyn Technical High School.

Each year, thousands of eighth and ninth graders compete for the chance to attend the NYC Department of Education’s elite public high schools, known as the “Specialized High Schools.”  

These eight prestigious institutions, which include Stuyvesant High School, The Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and others, provide a critical pathway to opportunity for their graduates, many of whom go on to attend the country’s best colleges and universities.  

According to the complaint, African-Americans and other students of color are denied a fair opportunity to gain access to the educational experiences provided by these specialized schools.  As a result, these elite public schools and programs are among the most segregated, the complaint states.

The cornerstone of the complainant’s argument is the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), a 2.5-hour multiple-choice test that is the only factor used to determine admission to specialized schools like Brooklyn Tech.  

Deidra Miller, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education, said that  “State law requires that admission to specialized high schools be based solely on an exam.”

Under this admissions policy, regardless of whether a student has achieved straight As from kindergarten through eighth grade, the only factor that matters for admission is his or her score on a single test.  

The plaintiffs alleged that a failure to provide adequate testing prep to students of color, many of whom are unable to receive or afford such prepatory assistance, severely limits the chance for minority students to perform highly on the SHSAT.

Ms. Miller answered the department “has launched several initiatives to improve diversity.” One of these initiatives is the DREAM Institute, a 22-month extracurricular program aimed at helping gifted students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds maximize their academic potential.

The numbers, however, seem to bolster the complainants’ argument. According to SHSAT statistics provided by the New York City Department of Education, at Brooklyn Tech, for example, African-Americans comprised only 10 percent of the student body for the 2011-12 school year. Hispanics accounted for 7.9 percent of the student body, whites 21.3 percent and Asians 60.3 percent.

At Stuyvesant High School, a similar school in Lower Manhattan, African-American students comprised a mere 1.2 percent of the entire student body.

Many elected officials have come out in support of the NAACP’s complaint. Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), a graduate of Brooklyn Tech, states that while “test taking has a definite role to play in evaluations, every hard-working and qualified student should have equal access to quality tutoring, mentoring and preparation services.”

City Comptroller John C. Liu, a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, noted that, “the admissions process — a single, grueling test — is flawed and must be changed. Admissions criteria must be broadened, the test must be analyzed for predictive bias, and the city must do more recruiting for those schools in communities of color.”

Noah Morrison, a black senior at the Bronx High School of Science, told the New York Times that while he was not ready to change the one-test admission policy, he does agree that “there needs to be more diversity at [the] school.”

In attempt to address the seeming lack of diversity in NYC’s elite schools, the NAACP’s compliant asks that the New York City Department of Education not be permitted to use the SHSAT as the sole criterion to determine which students should be admitted to the Specialized High Schools.

Instead, they request that a fair and workable admissions policy be implemented that uses the SHSAT as well as students’ grades, attendance, teacher recommendations, leadership, community service and other factosr.

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Education declined to comment for this article.

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