SHSAT hits the fan: Asians call NYC Chancellor’s Specialized High School remarks divisive, disrespectful
Criticism is mounting over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to increase the number of black and Hispanic students admitted into the city’s elite specialized high schools by getting rid of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).
The latest brouhaha erupted after city Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza issued what Asian-American groups call a divisive comment about the high number of Asian students who ace the test.
“I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” Carranza said. “Either we believe the kids — black kids and brown kids — can’t compete, or there’s something wrong with the system that’s not casting a wide enough net.”
Asian students make up 52 percent of eighth-graders admitted to the city’s specialized high schools, such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech. White students make up 27 percent of students, Latinos make up roughly 6 percent, and blacks roughly 4 percent.
Critics — such as Assemblymember William Colton, representing neighborhoods with high Asian populations including Bensonhurst and Bath Beach — say that Carranza is pitting one group of children against another in a political effort to cover up inequities in the school system.
“The comments of Chancellor Carranza are disgraceful and disrespectful and, certainly, unbecoming of any Chancellor of the NYC school system. He should apologize to all parents for these unbecoming and arrogant comments,” Colton said in a statement on Friday. “The irony that he is disrespecting one community in the name of diversity is lost on him.”
“What’s so troubling about City Hall’s narrative around this topic is that they are discounting the fact that Asian Americans are also people of color, minorities and immigrants,” Assemblymember Ron Kim, who represents Flushing, Queens, said in a statement. “We also want an equal opportunity and a fair chance. They are neglecting the fact that more Asian Americans in NYC live under the poverty line than any other immigrant groups.”
Last month, Asian families protested in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park against the proposed changes.
“We feel you cannot punish the people who work hard and then they get in. Specialized high schools [are] trying to get the people who work harder and they can help the future of the country,” event volunteer Jerry Lo told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“Chinese students study very hard because we are all immigrants and we are looking for a better life here,” Lo said.
Mayor Calls Current System Unfair
De Blasio said he hopes to move toward a system that would open placement to the top students from every middle school in the city, based on grades and the seventh grade state math and English exams.
Using one, high-stakes test as the sole criterion for admissions has been called unfair to minority kids with access to fewer educational resources.
At a press conference held at J.H.S. 292 in Brownsville early last week, the mayor called the admissions test “a broken system.” The mayor singled out Brooklyn Tech as a case in point.
“Here we are in Central Brooklyn — this a shameful statistic, Brooklyn Tech one of the jewels in the crown of public education in this city, 3.4 percent of the students at Brooklyn Tech come from Central Brooklyn,” he said.
Brooklyn Tech is the largest specialized high school in the city. Of roughly 1,900 eighth-grade students receiving admittance offers there in 2018, 935 were Asian, 567 were white, 137 were Latino and 87 were black.
A number of Brooklyn officials applauded the mayor’s plan after the announcement, including Borough President Eric Adams.
“A year after the release of our task force’s report, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have recognized the most fundamental of truths about our specialized high schools,” he said in a statement.
“Still, the city is far from doing all it can to expand diversity in gifted and talented education,” he added. “These reforms have opened those doors a bit wider, and we must continue to push them further.”
Hitting a Wall in Albany
Colton said that NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has “assured the New York State Assembly that he will not bring A.10427-A to the floor of the Assembly for a vote.”
“The timing of the introduction of this proposal and the manner in which it was introduced was ill-conceived,” Colton said. While working towards diversity in the top schools is admirable and necessary, “Trying to reach that goal without a single hearing and 3 weeks before the legislature goes on recess is not the way to create sound legislation,” he said.
Even without action in Albany, the city plans to expand its Discovery program, which is designed to increase enrollment of low-income students at specialized high schools. The program will expand to include disadvantaged students who just miss the SHSAT score required to receive an offer, and will be limited to students attending low-income schools.
Colton and District Leader Nancy Tong (47th AD) are calling an emergency meeting regarding admissions at the specialized high schools. The meeting will take place on Saturday, June 16, 11 a.m. at 29 Bay 25th St. (between 86th Street and Benson Avenue).
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