NYC needs to improve education for black students

In 2019, the head office of the city’s Ministry of Education called me. They wanted to make sure I was informed Technical college entrance qualification because my child did very well in the state tests that year. They told me about upcoming information events – one of which was taking place in my neighborhood.

The session I attended explained the application process for Specialized High Schools and provided students with free SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test) practice tests and materials. Those who do well on the test can attend one of the top nine special schools — some of the top high schools in the country — like Bronx Science or Stuyvesant.

Out of curiosity, I asked three of the other families who were also present how they heard about the session. Two black families told me they got a call from the DOE. A white family told me they heard about the information session from a flyer in the library. my child is black

Black children are underrepresented in these schools relative to their population in the public school system. Perhaps the DOE has identified one of the reasons: a lack of information about the SHSAT. Therefore, they make sure to reach out early to parents of black children who are experienced test takers.

And when I say early, I mean early. When the DOE called me in 2019, my son was in the 5th grade.

It is now 2022 and my son is in 8th grade applying to public high schools in NYC. I’ve read many articles claiming how unfair the SHSAT is, especially for black children like mine, but if you view clarity and transparency as a form of justice, the SHSAT was the fairest part of the entire process.

    It is a "No mask Monday" at PS 122 in Astoria, Queens.
The NYCDOE has noted a lack of Black and Hispanic representation in the city’s elite high schools.
Matthew McDermott

Here is the admissions process for specialty high schools: Enroll to take the test. Report to your testing location with a #2 pen at the allotted time. take the test Wait for results. The end.

As for the application process for the non-specialty schools, well, if someone would have intentionally tried to do an even crazier process, I don’t know if they could. It was a jumble of incomplete, conflicting, and repeatedly changing information from the DOE. I have spoken to many families who have previously gone through the admissions process and they have told me this year is the worst ever.

This Kafkaesque high school admissions process is the result of the DOE’s clumsy attempts to make the high school admissions process “fairer.”

Whatever your position in the debate about screening students for a high school place, I think we can all agree that withholding information until the last minute and then creating an unnecessarily complex screening system is not is the way to righteousness.

All this time the SHSAT process has remained unchanged. It was clear and consistent and easy to follow. SHSAT is not the part of high school admissions that is unfair to my child. What is unfair is to imply that admissions screens need to be lowered because black children are not able to perform at the same level academically as white or Asian kids.

The public proclamation that the only way to increase Black and Latino enrollment in competitive high schools is to lower admissions standards is a denial of the DOE’s failure to prepare Black children to meet those standards. It’s also a slap in the face to hard-working Black and Hispanic kids.

Chinese-American parents and students are demonstrating against New York Mayor DeBlasio's plans to remove the SHSAT.
While in office, Mayor de Blasio proposed abolishing SHSAT in order to integrate the school system, since most of the top public high schools are composed primarily of Asian and white students.
Getty Images

Additionally, it teaches White and Asian students that Black and Hispanic children are not their intellectual peers, and teaches teachers that Black and Hispanic children should not be subjected to the same academic standards as White and Asian students.

High academic expectations are not the problem. On the other hand, in a report published by TNTPthe former organization of our current first deputy chancellor, Dan Weisberg, one of the biggest barriers black children face to receiving a quality education is low academic expectations.

“It doesn’t cost a penny more to have higher expectations of kids and actually believe that kids — low-income kids, kids of color, English learners — can be successful.” Weisberg said in a 2018 interview.

Headshot by Dan Weisberg.
First Vice Chancellor Dan Weisberg said in 2018 that it doesn’t cost money to set higher expectations for all students.
Daniel Weisberg/Linkedin

Black children can achieve just as much academically as white or Asian children. Black kids don’t have to lower the high school admissions line. You need the K-8 training to clear the bar.

In 2019, when the DOE called me, 14,199 black fifth graders were taking the state math test; 1,654 scored a 4 or more (4.5 being the highest score). If the DOE actually called 1,654 black families to make sure high-performing black children were informed about the test, that’s to be commended.

But reaching out to the best won’t solve the demographic gaps at specialty high schools, because consider this, too: In 2019, 6,751 Black fifth graders earned an A. That means nearly half of Black fifth graders in New York City public schools got it the lowest possible score – there is no zero on this test.

There isn’t a lot of SHSAT preparation that can correct this. This isn’t about taking tests — it’s about kids not learning basic academic skills in our public schools.
Meanwhile, 3,491 black students scored a B. Not as bad as a A, but still below class level (a score of 3 means “meets standards”).

This test is not a ranking test that compares children to each other. In a functioning education system, 100% of children would get a 3 or 4. These results mean that nearly three-fourths of black fifth-graders in New York City public schools lack basic fifth-grade math skills.

Bronx Science High School in the Bronx.
The Bronx High School of Science is one of the top high schools in the country.
JC Reis

This is a tragedy, and developing a more complicated high school admissions process will not change the fact that our schools do not prepare many students to do high school-level academic work.

I’ve heard people say that the problem with the SHSAT is that the results don’t reflect the demographics of our school system. But the truth is that they reflect the demographics of our school system, as few Black children receive a quality education in our K-8 schools. The DOE wants to pretend that the test is at fault, but the results of the test are merely the symptom.

So instead of actually educating our children, the DOE creates complicated Rube Goldberg approval machines to try to create racial diversity.

It's the first day of school that NYC students can return to school learning and students at PS 25 (The Bilingual School-811 #149 St., Bronx) are returning with masks.
Competitive high schools are not a problem, Powell writes, but the DOE should better prepare all students to compete.
Matthew McDermott

Families are busy finding “good” schools for our children to apply to and then we are busy figuring out how to apply. Parents don’t have the energy to ask questions like: Why aren’t all DOE schools good schools?

Competitive university admissions are not the problem. A K-8 school system that only prepares a subset of kids for competition is the problem. If the DOE fixes that, they don’t have to worry about “fixing” high school admissions.

Laura Powell is a public school parent in New York City. NYC needs to improve education for black students


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