Brooklyn Boro

Majority of New York City voters say scrap the SHSAT, boost diversity at specialized high schools, new poll finds

April 4, 2019 Christina Veiga, Chalkbeat New York
District 3 parents gathered at Booker T. Washington middle school to learn more about the city's proposal to eliminate the exam that serves as the sole entrance criteria for specialized high schools. Photo by Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to integrate specialized high schools has been booed in public, challenged in court, and left for politically dead.

Yet despite the high-profile pushback, a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday shows broad support for overhauling admissions for the prestigious but stubbornly segregated schools.

Among New York City voters, 63 percent favor admissions changes to boost diversity, and 57 percent say to scrap the sole entrance exam in favor of considering other factors for admission.

“The admissions process to New York City’s top high schools has become a lightning rod. And New Yorkers say rethink it,” Mary Snow, an analyst for Quinnipiac, said in an emailed statement.

Just over 1,000 New York City voters responded to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Larry Cary — who heads the alumni association for Brooklyn Technical, one of the specialized high schools — said the wording of the poll question led to biased results. He repeated the common argument that the city should strengthen K-8 schools so that more black and Hispanic students are prepared for admission to the coveted schools.

“We cannot allow the city to scapegoat the test to cover up its own failures to restore enhanced academics to communities underrepresented in the specialized high schools,” he said in an emailed statement.

Pollsters reminded voters of the dramatically low number of admissions offers made to black and Hispanic students vying for the specialized high schools and noted that admissions to the schools is based on “a single standardized test.”

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Under state law, the elite schools admit students based on the results of a single test, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT. To spur more diversity, the mayor has called on the state legislature to nix the sole criterion in favor of a system that would admit top students from every middle school.

The poll did not ask residents about their thoughts on the mayor’s specific plans. Still, the results are striking given what little support an admissions overhaul has garnered in public forums and political circles.

Whether the results will spur Albany to act is an open question, though the latest round of admissions offer data, released last month, reignited a national debate over the schools. This year, only seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant, the most selective of the specialized schools.

Black and Hispanic students make up about 10 percent of enrollment in specialized high schools, but about two-thirds of all public school students citywide. By contrast, Asian students make up more than 60 percent of enrollment in the schools but just 16 percent of students citywide.

The poll showed some differences in opinion along racial and ethnic lines, but this should be interpreted cautiously due to higher margins of error by subgroup.

Black and Hispanic voters were most supportive of changing admissions to increase diversity, with 75 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in favor of doing so. White voters are also more likely to be supportive. The picture is less clear when it comes to Asian voters, given the poll’s margin of error of almost 11 percent for this group of respondents.

When the question isn’t framed around racial and ethnic diversity, most black and Hispanic voters support using multiple admissions criteria rather than a single test. White voters tend to be supportive and Asian voters are split, though here, too, the results could be skewed by the margin of error.

The poll also asked whether parents are satisfied with their neighborhood public schools. Only half of respondents said yes, though the sample size of school parents was only 159.

This post originally appeared in Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

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