Tensions were high in Sunset Park as New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza attended a District 15 town hall meeting inside a packed auditorium of parents and students at P.S. 24, 427 38th Street, on Wednesday, June 13.
Although Carranza answered an hour’s worth of questions, the topic of the evening was the controversial proposal to drop the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. The plan has been designed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in an attempt to increase enrollment of low income and disadvantaged students in the eight specialized high schools as only 10 percent of students at them are Black or Latino, though they make up nearly 70 percent of the student body citywide.
Dozens of parents, a large number of them Asian-Americans, held up signs as soon as Carranza took the stage to show their displeasure with the proposal. Many of them had to exit the auditorium due to full capacity.
Board members read questions submitted by attendees and the topic went right to SHSAT. In response, the chancellor defended the proposal that would open the door for top-ranking students from all city middle schools based on their overall performance.
“In my 30 years of professional experience,” Carranza said, ”show me any research that says a single test is the most enlightened or best way to identify not only talent but to make educationally sound decisions for students. You will find none because there exists no such research. What you will find is that multiple measures are the best approach to identifying student progress or capabilities and making a well-informed decision about how students are doing in school or potentially how they will do in a program.”
Local parent Afa Zhou, who supports the current status quo, was among the majority in the room who weren’t buying it.
“I don’t think he heard the feelings from the audience,” he said. “Abolishing the test will lead to poor quality. I know diversity is important, sure, but the current solution is the dumbest solution I could think of. There will be no competition, no encouragement of hard work which is very bad for the public school system.”
However, Carranza contended relying on test scores negatively affects what goes on in the classroom.
“If I’m a teacher and I know that my livelihood depends on the test scores, I’m not going to teach the full expanse of the curriculum,” he said. “I’m going to make sure my kids know what’s going to be tested because what they know on the test is going to relate directly to whether or not I have a job. I don’t think anyone here would blame someone wanting to secure their livelihood.”
Carranza added that the curriculum is expanding as New York City veers away from the test-centered climate.
“It’s really about looking how we educate the whole child,” he explained, “how we create a system where data is used to tell us, are students able to read and write and show mastery in the subject areas we want, but where we use that data not to blame or shame but to inform the instructional practices we have in our schools. That’s what we will be working towards as we move forward in the coming months and years.”
Chairperson of Community Board 7 Cesar Zuniga was in attendance and chimed in on the controversial proposal.
“I was encouraged by the fact that there are substantive conversations going on regarding diversity, equity and better integration within our community,” he said. “This is a very complex issue that raises a lot of emotions, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done and discussed.
“In our community, we have a lot of Asian folks who feel very strongly about keeping the status quo and I’m very sympathetic to all sides of the conversation, but I think this a start and we shouldn’t assume we don’t have a bunch of more ground to cover and a lot more to do to make our schools truly diverse and integrated,” Zuniga went on. “It’s been handled well in that it’s prompted a conversation, but we still have a long way to go.”