Southwest Brooklyn is epicenter of pro-SHSAT movement

September 26, 2019 Paula Katinas
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BOROUGHWIDE — Reaction to the news that Mayor Bill de Blasio is suddenly now open to the idea of keeping the admissions test for the city’s elite high schools after months of calling for its elimination was swift in Southwest Brooklyn, the epicenter of the pro-test movement.

Councilmember Mark Treyger, chairperson of the Education Committee and an outspoken opponent of the plan by de Blasio to scrap the Standardized High School Admissions Test, said he was pleased to hear of the mayor’s new stance.

“Mayor de Blasio needs to move on from this issue and focus on the real systemic, pressing issues facing our entire school system. I’ve never supported the mayor’s specialized high school plan because of his failure to consult and engage impacted communities and because his short-sighted plan that bashed the SHSAT relied on more tests that also have disparities while proposing nothing new to close achievement gaps seen throughout the system,” said Treyger, a Democrat representing Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst.

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On Wednesday, the New York Post reported that de Blasio told reporters at a journalists round table that he might have to rethink his idea of scrapping the test, although he vowed to continue working toward his goal of increasing racial diversity in the city’’s elite high schools like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx High School of Science.

“Some would argue that there’s a way to do it while keeping the test and you have to have that dialogue too,” the Post quoted de Blasio as saying.

Several of the city’s specialized high schools use the SHSAT as the sole criteria for admission.

Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of the student population in the New York City public school system, according to Department of Education figures, yet Huff Post reported earlier this year that only 4 percent of the incoming class of elite high schools is comprised of black youngsters.

The racial disparity has raised eyebrows in city government and among education reformers.

But as quickly as de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced a proposal in 2018 to eliminate the SHSAT, efforts were mounted by Southwest Brooklyn lawmakers and parent groups to push back against the plan.

The Keep-the-SHSAT movement found a foothold in Southwest Brooklyn’s Asian community, where parents noted that a large number of Asian-Americans gain admission to elite high schools. They contended that scrapping the test would be unfair to their kids.

Assemblymember Bill Colton, a Democrat representing Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst and Gravesend whose district has a large population of Asian-Americans, formed the South Brooklyn Coalition for Quality Education in June 2018 to fight the mayor.

“Diversity in schools is a worthy goal, but it must be attained in the context of educational excellence,” Colton said in a statement earlier this month after an education diversity panel appointed by de Blasio called for gifted and talented programs in schools to be phased out of existence.

“The educational needs of all children must be met. We must expand all programs including gifted and talented, bilingual and ESL, music and arts, culinary, science, technology, engineering, math and language arts, etc. The numbers of children may not always mirror the percentages in the school population, but we should strive to increase the opportunity for every child from every background,” Colton stated.

Colton is advocating expanding programs for gifted and talented students into all of the city’s middle schools, something he has said would give youngsters a better chance of getting into elite high schools.

Treyger also called on de Blasio to expand gifted and talented programs. “We need gifted and talented, enrichment opportunities in every school and in every district,” he said.

Adele Doyle, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20, said the mayor should be looking at the city’s education system as a whole, not just the SHSAT.

“To focus just on the SHSAT is scapegoating,” she told the Home Reporter. “Our whole education system is flawed. It doesn’t reflect 21st century learning. It needs a new approach.”

If the education standards are raised for all students, then the city will see more minority youngsters being accepted into elite high schools, Doyle predicted. “We must believe in our students of color and believe in their ability,” she said.

 The political fallout from the SHSAT controversial is showing no signs of slowing down.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing parts of Bay Ridge and Staten Island, called on de Blasio to fire Carranza.

“After creating this issue in the first place, the mayor now seems to have had a change of heart and if he’s sincere, he should immediately fire Chancellor Richard Carranza for saying that parents who objected to the plan were racist,” Malliotakis said.

At a town hall sponsored by the Community Education Council of School District 20 in April, Carranza had a tense exchange with CEC 20 member Artemis Lekakis after Lekakis questioned if the reputations of elite high schools would be affected “once the quality of the student body is changed somehow.”

Carrazana took offense at the remark. “As a man of color, I’m going to call you on your language,” he told Lekakis.

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