What’s next for the SHSAT?
Both the school year and the state’s legislative session ended without a decision on the fate of the much-debated Specialized High School Admissions Test. As students enjoy summer vacation, lawmakers are looking ahead to the New Year, when the issue will likely be revisited.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn and serves on the State Senate’s Education Committee, told the Brooklyn Eagle that, despite contention, he feels the debate has quieted down a bit on the Senate side.
“It seems to me like the volume of the discussion was not as great as the year before,” he said of the bill, which would alter the admissions process and eliminate the exam. “And, frankly, no one from the city has reached out to me to discuss the issue at all, which makes me question their sincerity in making this a priority.”
If signed into law, the legislation — currently stalled in both the Senate and the Assembly — would establish a new enrollment system allowing the top seven percent of students in each of the city’s middle schools to gain admission to specialized high schools.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza claim the bill would increase racial diversity in the top high schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Peter Stuyvesant High School, which currently enroll disproportionately low numbers of black and Latino students.
The mayor — who has received both political and parental pushback on the proposal — maintains that the plan would provide greater opportunity to traditionally disadvantaged youth. But some parents have argued that the administration’s plan is an attack on kids who already work hard to ace the SHSAT.
Related: Should the SHSAT be eliminated?
Gounardes’ district — which encompasses Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights but also includes portions of Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park — has one of the highest percentages of students in specialized high schools, according to the senator.
“If the city wants to talk to all communities [about eliminating the SHSAT], I would assume they would be talking to me,” he told the Eagle. “So, in my mind, until that happens, there’s no serious attempt to move this forward.”
Opponents of the plan dropped close to $1 million in their campaign to block the bills, Politico reported early Thursday. But, no similar expenditure was made by the mayor, or those who support putting an end to the exam.
Gounardes — who opposes the elimination of the SHSAT — expects the conversation to continue once the Senate reconvenes in January, 2020. He doesn’t believe the bill will pass as currently drafted. “There’s a pretty strong consensus against it,” Gounardes said. “But the long and short of it is that we’ll pick it back up in January.”
He also hopes the feedback from forums held across the city this year will serve as a benchmark for wherever the bill ends up next.
“There are parents who are very much invested in their children’s futures — as they should be — and have a lot of things they want to say,” Gounardes said. “We should be listening to them.”
Gounardes told the Eagle that he’d love to see the city “make the pie bigger rather than changing the way that it’s cut.” He also would love to see a specialized high school in his district down the line.
Meanwhile, Assemblymember Charles Barron — who sponsored the bill to eliminate the test in the Assembly — is confident the SHSAT is on its way out.
“We want to claim a very serious victory in the progress we’ve made on this bill,” Barron, who represents East New York and Brownsville, told the Eagle.
Before the session ended, the Assembly’s Education Committee voted 16-12 in support of Barron’s bill. It ended in the Rules Committee for the second time in a row — but this time, with more support than before.
“We’ve gotten it out of the Education Committee twice but this time, it was an even wider margin, and we even had 73 assemblymembers supporting it,” he said. “That’s tremendous.”
The bill had no sponsor in the state Senate this year. It was last sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Parker in the 2017-2018 legislative session.
A different bill which aims to create more specialized high schools and expand the Gifted and Talented program also ended the year in committees. The legislation — which would also give the city a role in outreach efforts for SHSAT participation — was sponsored by Queens state Sen. Leroy Comrie and Assemblymember Peter Abbate, respectively, and will be revisited next year.
But, Barron believes the SHSAT is in “critical” condition — not in terms of importance, but in terms of lifespan. “I think it’s going to go eventually,” he told the Eagle, “and anybody who supports it is playing politics with our children’s educations.”
Correction (July 19 at 10:30 a.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly named state Sen. Leroy Comrie as the Senate sponsor of the bill to eliminate the SHSAT. The mistake has been corrected. The Eagle regrets this error.
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