Dyker Heights

Parents fight de Blasio effort to change elite school admissions

January 28, 2019 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Parents opposed to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plans to overhaul admissions standards in the city’s elite high schools are battling the mayor on two fronts.

A group of parents held a press conference outside Christa McAuliffe Intermediate School in Dyker Heights on Friday to denounce de Blasio’s plans. They were joined by Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents parts of Bay Ridge and Staten Island. Malliotakis is a member of the Assembly Education Committee.

The mayor has publicly stated that he is looking to increase diversity in the specialized high schools so that more African-American and Latino students can gain admission. But Asian-American parents charged that the changes he is pushing would unfairly hurt their kids, who currently make up 62 percent of the students in the top schools. African-American and Latino students make up 68 percent of the overall student population of the city’s schools, but just 9 percent of the population in elite high schools, according to the Department of Education.

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“Everyone wants diversity. But the city’s answer to the problem is bizarre,” said Vito LaBella, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Christa McAuliffe I.S.

On one front in the battle against de Blasio, parents are urging the state Legislature to reject a proposal by de Blasio to phase out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), the sole standard used to gain admission into the city’s elite high schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School. Eliminating the exam would require state legislation.

Under de Blasio’s plan, the SHSAT would be phased out over a period of three years in favor of a system under which the top students in each of the city’s middle schools would be allowed to enroll in specialized high schools.

Schools like Christa McAuliffe I.S. are likely to become battlegrounds in the fight, since students in the city’s intermediate and middle schools are the ones taking the SHSAT.

Phillip Wong, the father of three daughters, the youngest of whom recently took the SHSAT, defended the current system. “This test does not look at your race or ethnicity,” he said.


On a second front, parents have filed a federal lawsuit to stop de Blasio from moving ahead with his plan to change Discovery, a city program that offers academic services to middle school students from low-income families who just barely miss the cutoff point for the SHSAT and wish to get another crack at gaining admission to an elite high school.

The mayor would not need the state Legislature’s permission to change Discovery.

Under a two-year effort that would begin in September, the Discovery program will be expanded to ensure that 20 percent of the seats at each specialized high school would be held for Discovery students.

The eligibility criteria will also be adjusted to target students attending higher poverty schools.

As a result, black and Hispanic student enrollment in specialized high schools would nearly double, jumping from 9 to 16 percent, according to the de Blasio administration.

LaBella charged that the proposed Discovery changes would be unfair because they would leave out students from low-income homes who happen to attend middle schools in high-income or middle class neighborhoods. “The program is going to be geared toward poverty schools, not individual students,” he said.

Wong, who is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, accused the mayor of “throwing away merit in favor of diversity.”

Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, said both of the mayor’s proposals are unfair. “We really strongly believe in the future of this city. What we have to do is protect our schools and protect our children. Children should not be punished on the basis of race,” she said.

Malliotakis said that instead of scrapping the SHSAT or altering Discovery, the city should “give more kids access to gifted programs at elementary and middle school level so that they can do well on this exam.”

The city should also look at opening more specialized schools, she said.

Will Mantell, press secretary at the Department of Education, defended the proposed changes.

“No single test should determine a student’s future, and our reforms will expand opportunity and raise the bar at our specialized high schools. Our schools are academically stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city,” Mantell told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email.


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44 Comments

  1. According to DOE there is a very small overlap between a group constituting the top 7% of all middle schools in NYC, and top SHSAT scorers. Because they are practically not overlapping why not create two specialized high school systems: one for those in top 7% and one for top SHSAT scorers. And very few kids who are both top 7% and top SHSAT can choose which school to go to. You don’t have to replace one set of students with another one, let both of them get specialized education. Isn’t it the ultimate goal: to provide the best education for all kids, not to limit the number of seats providing rigorous education and then distribute these seats according to whatever plan is more fashionable today.

    • The 6% or 7% of the kids who go to the testing schools are getting a great education. What about the other 93 or 94%??? I have been saying this ever since this fight over the SHSAT schools began. The middle schools and the elementary schools have to teach a challenging curriculum so that taking the top 7% from all the middle schools will actually produce students who can succeed in an intellectually rich environment. We must build more schools for these kids and the teaching them to succeed will be a challenge. The students who do well on the SHSAT have a particular set of skills and intelligences. The top 7% of the middle school classes will have differing intelligences. These kids must be given a chance too. We need more high schools and better middle schools. Diversity is a virtue in itself. Now we must prepare the diverse students to succeed.

      • Students who do well on the SHSAT have simply been prepped better. We know they’re not necessarily the best students. We are asking that merit be measured more accurately, not that we reduce or eliminate merit. The mayor’s plan is correct in using multiple-measures instead of a single 100 multiple-choice exam.

        • Those kids are very smart, but there is not only one kind of smart. The SHSAT WORKS for the kids who pass it. The top 7% can work also if we challenge them and give them a rigorous education. The middle schools should feed new high schools not compete for the small number of seats in the SHSAT schools. As I have said “One two three, many Stuyvesants!”

          • The most important aspect of this discussion is that we save the SHSAT schools and add others by admitting academically successful students to NEW high schools. The idea that we should care about a 10% gender bias is ridiculous when we can admit top students to new schools. The test identifies successful students. Don’t mess with it! If someday, we can fix the test or admit more women by affirmative action ok. The top 7% of all middle school students should be sufficient to overcome that bias. After all the women do better in grades than the men anyway. Admitting low performing kids to the Stuy, Science and Tech will destroy the quality of the to top and help very few kids. Many of the 7% will not thrive in the top schools now. Just because we do not know why it works does not mean we should not use it. It is — excuse the expression — a black box. Deal with it!

          • Ok. I saw your video and the rest of them on Youtube. The fact that girls don’t do as well on the SHSAT 44% admission instead of 50% is not the best outcome. The real question, as I have stated is that perfection in the test is a waste of energy when you are only dealing with 6% of the HS seats in the city. The other 94% is our real problem. Dr. Syed Ali, one of the panelists who speaks in the 20 minute part 3 of the video suggested a solution which is real and easy to do: DeBlasio actually has the power to decertify the extra 4 SHSAT schools which were not originally written into the state law. Why not try a different set or sets of admissions criteria in those schools as a controlled experiment and see how that works out? That would give some time to improve the middle schools and found other high schools. The “debate” was nixed by the moderator who wanted to continue with audience questions. See part 3, 16 minutes in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2BWlYFxRdY&list=PL3eHx4RQJvrTx0kIy0pYScj05uWzM18hT&index=7
            The other important point is that the 7% solution proposed by DeBlasio only considers the top 25% of the city schools. (Perhaps it eliminates the bottom 25%: They said it in two different ways I believe.) NOT all the students. This eliminates poverty. They are not replicating the Texas top 10% which considers all high schools for admission to UTexas. That is really unfair.

          • Chao Liang

            You do understand that GPA is based on grades which are given out by teachers and thus highly subjective?

            A grade of A- is not the same at a less competitve school that’s just fact. Surely you know to consider statistics in the context from which it was derived?

          • This keeps coming up, but it’s inaccurate. GPA score is more predictive of education outcome than a single, optional, 3 hour multiple-choice, math and English mastery test. A test with no penalty for guessing.

            I’ve bolded the design factors that make the SHSAT a poorer measure of a child’s academic merit.

          • Mayor proposes top 7% of EVERY school. IS 187 is like Harvard while other typical middle school is like a CUNY college. Is that fair to the top 8% to 15% students from IS187 (Harvard) cannot get into Specialized HS?

          • What I have been saying that is the problem is that DeBlasio and his supporters have no imagination. The pie for funding is expandable. That is the answer. If you want diversity then you admit kids to new schools who are at the top 7% of all the schools. See my post below which mentions that the 7% solution excludes either the bottom 25% of the schools or only chooses from the top 75%. (The discussion on Youtube was unclear or contradictory.) We must make new high schools so all qualified kids can get the highest quality education. Raise money by taxing the rich. The super rich in NYC is a group of less than 100 people. They should pay!!! There are many ways to be smart. Let’s have schools that can serve all the best kids and all of the rest on the highest level they can muster.

        • Chao Liang

          Are you saying that black and Latino kids don’t prepare for the SHSAT? So is that on Asian kids? Plenty of prep books at the library, Internet resources and free classes for SHSAT prep.

          How come Black and Latino kids don’t even take the test? Are you saying they are simply non-competitive against Asian American kids without government intervention?

          What does THAT say about your system of racial bias that always expect less from Black and Latino kids?

    • The SHSAT exam is fundamentally broken. Why continue using a system which we know to be biased against girls and some high-performing minorities? A single 50 math and English multiple-choice question exam CANNOT tell us the academic merit of a 12 yro student.

      • Chao Liang

        How is a test biased against girls and “high-performing minorities”? Does the SHSAT take points off of a child’s test because she checked the Latino box?

        How about you check your Anti-Asian racism at the door and sit on this:

        Equal opportunity is NOT the same as equal outcome.

        • So basically you do not understand how an exam can have a statistical bias. You can just ask the question btw.

          Longer answer… https://shsatsunset.org/ufaqs/how-can-an-exam-be-racially-biased-or-gender-biased/

          An exam can have a statistical bias if it’s influenced by factors that do not relate to what it intended to measure, which in this case is academic merit.

          The SHSAT exam does a poorer job predicting students that do well at specialized high schools than 7th grade GPA. That’s a statistical fact. What this means is that we can choose students who are more likely to succeed if we don’t give the SHSAT, and just use the state scores we already have.

          This is considered a bias against girls and Black/Latinx students because these students perform better when measured by GPA/State scores. Black/Latinx students also take the exam a bit less frequently as well

          • The 7th grade GPA predicts success in the SHSAT schools better than the test? What does that mean? Girls do better in grades than boys, but not on the SHSAT? What you are saying is that girls do more work than boys and get better grades. Is that academic success????

  2. John Kwok

    Apparently Mr. Mantell is unfamiliar with how Europeans and Asians – especially the Japanese – use standardized tests in determining the future of students in their respective countries. His condemnation has a most hollow ring to it. On a more positive note, I salute Assembly member Malliotakis for supporting the IS 187 PTA suit and I hope she leads the effort in killing anti-SHSAT legislation in the New York State Assembly, ideally in committee, so that it is not considered by the entire State Assembly.

    • The European and Asian countries that use single tests like GB are fundamentally undemocratic. The kids do not have a broad education after they are 11 or 12 years old. By the time they get to high school they are taking math and science OR language and history not both. This causes the US kids to perform more poorly on international tests because the only people who take the PISA tests in math are only taking math and science. So the kids in the US have higher poverty rates and less advanced education in about half the schools. However, if you compare American kids who take AP physics or calculus, they do better than all the other kids in physics or come in second or above the median in the world. This is There is nothing really wrong with US education, it is just that not enough kids get it. (See a National Academy of Sciences study from book intro on line

      http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10361.html )

      • John Kwok

        You’ve quoted a book published back in 2002. Unfortunately, American science education ranks below the very European countries you’ve criticized – and I note this both as a former evolutionary biologist as well as a long-time member of the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncse.com) – with some recent data indicating that we rank just above Turkey. As for the “undemocratic” countries you’ve criticized, it seems France and Germany and Japan seem to be doing reasonably well with student examinations.

        • First: I did not say that the kids in the US are top in science or math in the world I was referring to the results of the Timms test in math and science(see the intro referred to in my post) taken by AP STUDENTS in the US who do rate at the top (physics) or above average (math).The problem is that the advanced education in the US is restricted to the students who take AP. in Second: I did not say that those are undemocratic countries. I said that their educations are undemocratic, because they prevent the vast majority of their populations from taking college prep courses. They do not teach the average kids physics, chemistry or specialized humanities courses. When NYC had German and Austrian math and science teachers come to fill in shortages in the 2000s, the teachers told us that they do not teach average students physics or the more advanced math courses. “They go to wood shop, or play in the yard,” they told us. US education works very well for those who are not in poverty. The problem is that between 25% and 50% of US students (depending on how you measure it) live in poverty, but in Finland and other top European countries the figure is 7% to 10%. When you adjust for poverty, the US kids do the best in the world on the PISA test.

          Here is my favorite chart which shows the US PISA results with poverty and with low

          • John Kwok

            You obviously don’t understand the difference between “merit” and “undemocratic”. It’s like having someone as ignorant as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trying to explain man-made climate change to more credible people like former NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen – who serves on the NCSE advisory council – or The New Republic’s eminent science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction recipient “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”. Those European countries do have some STEM education starting in primary school, and it is true that not all students in middle and secondary schools benefit from advanced training in STEM for the reasons you’ve stated. But this is now an argument based more on merit than on “democracy”.

          • That is not merit. Some kids develop later or in different ways than others. To track kids in the European or Asian way is to cut off opportunity too early. I am not opposed to specialized schools or tracking, I taught AP American History for years and was in gifted classes in high school. I am opposed to cutting off opportunity at the age of 11 or 13. The only country which let’s kids and adults have real second chances at college educations is the US. By the time a person is in her late 30s or early 40s there are more college graduates per capita than in any country in the world. You can’t go back to college or go to community college in Japan or in Europe in general. There are no second chances. The statistics on graduation rates are skewed because they only take 4 year rates. In the US it takes 6 and 7 sometimes the 30s grads are a revelation to people in other countries.

          • John Kwok

            Your arguments against the SHSAT and specialized public high schools ignore the fact that the very schools you wish for do exist in the NYC public schools, starting with Townshend Harris High School, whose AP of Science was one of my teachers at Stuyvesant many years ago. What you really want is “fairness” and “equality”, when if you were genuinely serious, you should ask why every NYC public school student doesn’t receive a quality STEM education. That’s the real problem, with the SHSAT results only the symptoms of a much greater problem that “diversity” advocates refuse to acknowledge.

          • You misunderstand me I think. I am for keeping the SHSAT schools as they are. I want new schools that admit students based on different criteria like the 7% idea. We should leave Stuy and the others and start new schools to teach the kids who could benefit from rigorous learning. It is stupid to get rid of the test. There are kids who could benefit, but we would have to teach them to succeed in the selective atmosphere. Admitting them to Stuyvesant would undo the success of the specialized schools. The problem with DeBlasio is that he wants to pit the ethnic groups against each other by using the lazy method of reducing the Asian students who succeed. It is ridiculous to make the kids compete for only 6% of the seats. Make more seats and admit the students on different criteria. There are many ways to be smart. Let’s use as many as we can! See my posts below. We might agree more than you think. We need more schools!

          • John Kwok

            That’s a relief to here, but even the 7% is not tenable unless we provide quality STEM education for all students. I should note that as a long-time volunteer for the World Science Festival (http://www.wolrdsciencefestival.com), I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of enthusiastic Black and Latino parents and children at the festival’s free family-oriented programming, most notably its relatively new City of Science which Con Edison is funding generously. Some of my fellow volunteers include DoE employees – primarily teachers – and I am sure that they’ve shared this too with NYC DoE senior leadership, but unfortunately they seem more interested in promoting racial discord than ensuring that as many children as possible – especially impoverished Black and Latinos – receive a quality education – especially in STEM – starting in 1st Grade if not before. Otherwise, I think we are indeed largely in agreement.

            As a quick aside, the most brilliant scientific alumnus of the New York City public schools that I ever met, did not attend Stuyvesant, Bronx Science or Brooklyn Tech, but graduated from his neighborhood high school, Jamaica High School. He was the “public face” of evolutionary biology for many years. I am referring to the late Stephen Jay Gould, who taught invertebrate paleobiology and other relevant aspects of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and, at the very end of his life, also spent time teaching at NYU. Gould was also the best writer I know of who was a professional scientist too, and I often remind my friends in the NYC literary community that he was one of the great essayists writing in English during the final quarter of the 20th Century.

          • I love Stephen Jay Gould. He was my Bio teacher father’s favorite along with Homer Smith who did the basic research on the evolution of the kidney. J.Z Young was a very good writer, but he didn’t write columns the way Gould did. I used to teach the chapter on the Broca’s skulls in the Mis-Measure of Man. Gould was a great man!! It seems you are doing really good work! Until the end of the 60s schools like Erasmus and Jamaica HS used to win more Westinghouses than Stuyvesant. They were top notch schools as was Midwood. That all changed with white flight. One, two three many Stuyvesants!!

  3. It is ironic that DeBlasio and Carranza have not gone after the almost all white screened high schools like Beacon HS and Eleanor Roosevelt. This really confirms they are demonizing and attacking Asians to cover for their failures to significantly improve learning outcomes for 99% of the students in NYC public schools.

    DeBlasio’s son went to Brooklyn Tech and Carranza’s daughter went to the Stuyvesant High of San Francisco. Why is it good for them but not for Asians? Why didn’t they reject segregated schools with their own children? DeBlasio and his son also attended/attend Ivy League schools. Why didn’t they attend CUNY? They are all talk and take no real action to improve the foundational education system that is failing blacks and Hispanics who purportedly they are trying to help.

    • This inaccuracy keeps coming up. Beacon is 64% female, while specialized high schools are 44% female, as the SHSAT exam is biased against girls. Girls score better in middle and specialized high schools. They take the SHSAT more but receive fewer offers.

      Beacon is also 14% Black and 20% Latino. Unlike Stuyvesant which is 1% Black. There’s a stark difference in diversity in screened schools versus SHSAT schools.

  4. Seems like Will Mantell has also forgotten the DOE administers tests to thousands of 4 year-olds each year to determine eligibility for the gifted & talented programs, which are the pipelines to the SHS. And this year, approximately 6,000 kids will test for admissions to Mark Twain and Bay Academy, other SHS feeder schools. Clearly many families are not opposed to high-stakes testing, especially those not privileged enough to afford access to schools such as ElRo.

    • The DoE is removing or reducing screening in most public schools. Many of the schools you mentioned have reduced screening. Screening, gifted and talented or tracking only increases segregation. Instead very class should have access to rigorous education.

      • Besides D15 middle schools, which schools are you referring to? Specifics are welcome. The idea that a single teacher or a pair can teach a range of students is simply delusional. At some point, advanced learners need to be placed with other similarly committed students. It’s not healthy to turn them into TAs because the teachers can’t cope.

  5. How could DeBlasio proposes such ridiculous policy to admit top 7% of students of EVERY middle school? IS 187 is like an IVY league, some other middle schools in NYC are like community colleges. How could top 7% of community college = top 7% of Harvard students? LOL

    • It creates diversity. That is the Texas method accepted by the Supreme Court to admit students to the University of Texas: they take the top 10% of all the high schools in Texas. It works — with extra help for the first time college students in their families.

  6. Manturtle Gambone

    The Mayor is looking to decrease the number of Asian faces at the specialized schools and his plan will do that. Meanwhile the real problem remains unaddressed.

    Everyone knows that the SHSAT is the most important part of a student’s application to a specialized school. That means the SHSAT attendance rate is the same as the specialized school application rate. Asians apply to a specialized school at a far higher rate than Latino or black students. And so they get more admission offers. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c37f92099f283e4325001e5b0bab0db1e8abc9b23a2d6fa6b351587a4794e527.png