Parents step up fight with mayor over elite high school test
Asian-American parents claim their kids are being unfairly targeted by the mayor's plan.
Southwest Brooklyn’s Asian-American community, up in arms over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to eliminate the do-or-die entrance exam for the city’s elite high schools, is busy planning its next move in the escalating fight.
A group of parents met with Assemblymember William Colton, who is supporting their efforts, at the United Progressive Democratic Club on Saturday morning to strategize methods to keep the entrance exam — called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT — in place.
Nancy Tong, an aide to Colton, noted that any proposal to scrap the SHSAT would require the approval of the state legislature. She called on parents to flood lawmakers with phone calls and letters “so they know there is a voice here.”
Of the nine elite high schools in the New York City public schools system, eight use the SHSAT as the sole criteria for admission.
The mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are seeking to eliminate the SHSAT in the interest of creating more racial diversity in the top high schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Peter Stuyvesant High School, which currently have low numbers of black and Latino students among their numbers.
The incoming freshman class at Stuyvesant High School, for example, has only seven black students, Chalkbeat reported. Yet, black and Latino students make up 68 percent of the overall population in New York City schools, according to the Mayor’s Office.
Under de Blasio’s plan, the SHSAT would be replaced by a new enrollment system that would allow the top seven percent of students in each of the city’s middle schools to gain admission to specialized high schools.
But Asian-American parents, whose children make up a large percentage of the student population in specialized high schools (more than 60 percent), said they see the de Blasio-Carranza plan as an attack on their kids who work hard, study and prepare for the SHSAT.
“I support the SHSAT. It’s a fair way for kids to get into good high schools. If you work hard and you pass the test, you get in,” Qing Liu told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Liu, who has a son in sixth grade, said she intends to have him take the SHSAT in a couple of years in the hope that he will be admitted into Brooklyn Tech. “We just want a fair opportunity,” she said.
City officials are forgetting that Asians are also a minority, Tong said. Officials weren’t interested in increasing diversity in the student body years ago when her brother was a Brooklyn Tech student, she charged. “There were very few Asians in Brooklyn Tech at that time. But no one was talking about how we needed to up the numbers of Asians so we could have diversity,” she said.
Colton, a Democrat whose Bensonhurst-Gravesend district has a large population of Asian-Americans, said the SHSAT is not the reason there is a shortage of black and Latino students in the top high schools. “The real problem is not the SHSAT. The real problem is the lack of gifted programs at the middle-school level. The Department of Education is closing down gifted programs in many parts of the city. The result is that these districts are not producing youngsters who can pass the SHSAT,” Colton told parents.
The SHSAT is a valuable tool, according to Colton, who taught in the public school system for 11 years before entering politics. “The test is objective. You can’t get into Brooklyn Tech because you know somebody,” he said.
Assemblymember Peter Abbate, a Democrat who represents the district adjacent to Colton’s, said the education system has to have objective standards. “Why don’t we just get rid of the bar exam while we’re at it and let anyone become a lawyer,” he said sarcastically.
It’s not just the Asian community that is upset with the mayor’s plan.
“There is no room for politics in our children’s future,” said Nino Magali, who helped organize Saturday’s meeting.
DOE officials pushed back against Colton’s contention that middle schools don’t adequately prepare students for high school.
New York City students have outperformed their New York State peers on state English language arts exams for three years in a row — and have closed the gap on state math exams, school officials told the Eagle.
Meanwhile, the mayor is determined to move forward with his controversial plan despite opposition, according to spokesperson Will Baskin-Gerwitz.
“We need to end the outdated practice of letting a single test on a single day dictate a kid’s future. There’s no other system like it in the country. It’s antiquated, disproven and working as a barrier to academic opportunity for too many, and Mayor de Blasio won’t give up the fight until we have a more equitable system,” Baskin-Gerwitz told the Eagle in an email on Monday.
It’s not clear what action, if any, the State Legislature will take. The legislative session ends at the end of this month.
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