Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to get rid of admissions tests for the city’s top high schools has been approved by the Assembly’s Education Committee, but the proposal is scoring a failing grade with Republican lawmakers.
On June 6, the Education Committee voted in favor of a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Charles Barron, a Democrat, to allow New York City to eliminate the requirement that prospective students take a test to gain admission to specialized high schools.
The plan to scrap the admissions test requires state legislation.
The goal is to open up the admissions process to give minority students a better chance, the mayor and education reform advocates said.
The high schools that base their admissions solely on test scores are: 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.
The mayor wants to phase out the test over a period of three years. After that, the elite high schools would be required to reserve a certain number of seats for the top performers at each of the city’s middle schools.
Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis called the proposed change a “nonsensical move” and said the mayor’s priorities are mixed up.
“Instead of focusing on real problems like fixing the MTA and combating the opioid crisis, the mayor is more interested in being a progressive hero by villainizing a merit-based system that has set generations of gifted and talented students, many of them minority and low-income, on the path for lifelong success,” said Malliotakis, who ran against de Blasio in 2017 and lost.
If the mayor’s plan succeeds, “It will send the message that political correctness is more important than hard work, aptitude and the actual education a student receives in the classroom,” Malliotakis predicted.
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, also a Republican, defended the current system of test-based admissions. “An exam is an objective way for students to prove their credentials to elite schools,” he said, adding that the mayor’s policy proposal is telling students “that their skills and performance shouldn’t matter.”
Instead, Donovan said, the city “needs to focus on reforms that increase opportunities for all children instead of creating a ‘race to the bottom’ environment.”
John Quaglione, chairperson of the board of directors at Saint Anselm Catholic Academy in Bay Ridge, charged that de Blasio’s plan would lower the odds of private and parochial school students gaining admission to the city’s best high schools.
“This unfairly targets non-public school students,” he wrote on Twitter. “Lowering admission standards changes it for all. Intelligence knows no color, race, religion, ethnicity or gender. True competition is good. If you score high, you get in, regardless of anything else. That’s fair.”
But minority students are under-represented in the enrollments in elite high schools and that needs to change, said the mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Black and Latino students made up 68 percent of the population in city schools overall, but only nine percent of the population in elite high schools, according to the mayor’s office. The incoming freshman class of Stuyvesant High School has 900 students but only 10 of them are African-American.
“There are talented students all across the five boroughs, but for far too long our specialized high schools have failed to reflect the diversity of our city. We cannot let this injustice continue,” de Blasio said in a statement.
“As a lifelong educator, a man of color and a parent of children of color, I’m proud to work with our mayor to foster true equity and excellence at our specialized high schools,” Carranza stated.
The mayor is pushing for other changes to diversify the city’s specialized high schools, including a plan to expand Discovery, a program designed to help students from low-income families gain admission into top schools.