The Asian-American community in Bensonhurst is growing increasingly concerned about the impact Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to overhaul the admissions process into the elite high schools would have on their kids if the policy is ever implemented.
A large crowd of worried parents crammed into the United Progressive Democratic Club in Bensonhurst on Saturday morning for the inaugural meeting of the South Brooklyn Coalition for Quality Education, a new group formed by Assemblymember Bill Colton and Nancy Tong, the Democratic Party district leader of the 47th Assembly District, to fight the mayor.
“I don’t like what the mayor is doing. I think he’s trying to make this about race when all that should matter is how good a student you are and how hard you are willing to work,” one parent, Yan Huag, told this newspaper.
The crowd was so large that receptionists manning the front table had to use several sign-in sheets for parents to sign as they entered in order to move people through faster. Parents were handed a questionnaire asking whether they were interested in joining the new coalition. Volunteers also distributed voting registration information sheets.
In an effort to secure more racial diversity in the city’s top high schools, de Blasio has proposed eliminating the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole standard for students to gain admission and replace it with a system in which elite high schools would be required to reserve a certain number of seats for the top performers from each middle school.
The proposed process would give African-Americans, Latinos and other minority students a better chance of gaining admission, supporters of the mayor’s plan said.
But at the coalition meeting, parents pointed out that many of the students getting into schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School are Asian-American and that they gain admission by working hard and studying to prepare for the SHSAT.
Changing the system in such a dramatic fashion would be unfair to them, opponents of the proposal charged.
There are eight high schools that base their admissions solely on test scores: Bronx High School of Science; Brooklyn Latin School; Brooklyn Technical High School; High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College of New York; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; Staten Island Technical High School; and Stuyvesant High School.
Nine percent of the students in elite high schools are black and Latino. But those students make up 68 percent of all New York City high school students, according to a press release issued by the mayor’s office.
“The lack of diversity is a problem,” Colton admitted. But scrapping the test is not the answer, he said.
Colton, who taught in the public school system for 11 years before going into politics, proposed an alternative solution: opening more elite schools for the city’s top students.
“There’s nothing preventing the city from setting up additional schools,” Colton said. He also called on the de Blasio administration to establish more classes at the elementary and middle school level for gifted and talented youngsters.
Huag, who came to the meeting with her two young children, had another idea. “We would be open to having the city review the test to see if changes should be made. If you have to change the test, change it. Don’t get rid of it,” she said.
Colton suggested that the coalition has time to mount its fight against the mayor’s plan.
The mayor’s proposal would require state legislation and Colton predicted that no action will be taken by the State Assembly or the State Senate before the end of the current session. “There’s one week,” he told parents.
The mayor is not backing down, despite intense opposition to his plan.
“The core of equity and excellence is lifting all boats. Using a single test to determine admission to the most elite schools is not a sound way to select students. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t based on the middle-school curriculum and has never been statistically shown to be a predictor of performance. We believe that this new process will ultimately result in a fairer admissions process and will be more reflective of our city’s diverse nature,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told this newspaper in an email.