New York City’s 13% Solution

Words are like heroin for the woke, so the New York Times editorial supporting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-engineering of the city’s eight “specialized” high schools comes as little surprise. But the words used to rationalize their position are astounding.

Across the country, local efforts are at last underway to integrate schools that remain profoundly segregated more than half a century after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Nowhere is that work more important than New York City, where the school system is not only the nation’s largest but also its most segregated.

Was Orval Faubus blocking the door to Bronx Science? Hardly. The use of the word “segregated” is a lie, an evocative word employed to manipulate the unduly passionate by the big woke brains at the Times. No student is being denied admission because of her race or ethnicity. 

Indeed, the problem of having too few black students was “fixed” the last time the biggest brains dug into it. In 1971, it was decided that the way to end de facto segregation was to use a neutral test that would allow any student, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or poverty admission. Back then, glowing words were used to explain how this would solve the problem.

If the assumptions held true, the use of a test to gain admission to the eight schools would have worked. But the assumptions failed and the numbers didn’t bear out the most passionate beliefs.

These schools have a vital mission, to challenge the city’s sharpest young minds. But they are failing in that endeavor, because they all but shut out black and Latino students, leaving untold numbers of New York’s brightest children behind.

Are the students who don’t gain admission “New York’s brightest children,” the “city’s sharpest young minds”? That’s the question, and it doesn’t disappear by rhetoric or assumption. There are reasons that may well explain why the numbers fail to bear out what one would expect in the absence of segregation, but fixing those problems is far harder, far more intransigent and involve other means that are unacceptable, such as dealing with family life, cultural lies and the value of education. Untenable belief systems produce unacceptable results, but if we can’t challenge beliefs, then the only available alternative is to lie about them.

Black and Latino students make up nearly two-thirds of the city’s 1.1 million school children. Yet, of the 5,067 offers of admission to specialized schools this year, 51.7 percent went to Asian students and 26.5 percent to white students. Latino and black students received 6.3 and 4.1 percent of the offers, respectively. At Stuyvesant, the most sought-after of the schools, just 10 of the 902 students offered admission were black.

The test doesn’t care what race you are. Nor does quantum mechanics. Poor Asian students are caught in the middle, working so hard to make the cut, their families sacrificing to achieve. They didn’t ask to “steal” seats from black and Latino kids, but are they wrong to want to get in, to get the best education the city has to offer? Are they wrong to work their butts off to get that offer of admission? Do Tiger Moms sneak into black households at night and sabotage their efforts to gain admission?

New York’s elementary and middle schools do not prepare children for the test, all but ensuring that students seek out extensive test preparation. Many Asian and white students have done so for thousands of dollars apiece. Black and Latino students are likely to walk in with little or no test preparation.

If it’s true that test prep has become the great unequalizer, then two questions are raised. The first is why schools have failed to prepare bright students to take the test. The second is why poor Asian and white students are willing to do what’s necessary to pay for test prep while black and Latino students are not. But then, if they all took test prep, and the numbers still failed to meet assumptions, we would need a new excuse.

Brian Zager, Lafayette Academy’s principal, described Boris as a standout student. But when he took the exam last year, he didn’t receive an offer from a specialized high school. Mr. Lokossou said the admissions process had failed to capture his son’s true potential. “It’s just one test,” he said. “It does not define who he is.”

Of course one test fails to “define who he is,” but choices have to be made, and they have to be made on some basis or we’re comparing apples to Chevys. Do we just keep changing what we compare until the desired outcome is achieved? That’s de Blasio’s scheme.

Mayor de Blasio has vowed to replace the test with a system, to be phased in over three years, that would eventually admit the top 7 percent of students from every middle school, based on a combination of grades and performance on state exams. City officials say that if the plan is implemented, the specialized high schools would be about 45 percent black and Latino.

There are schools in New York City that are dreadful. Eighth grade reading and math scores are a disgrace, some schools incapable of producing students performing at grade level. So the top 7% of students at a school where students can’t do addition is good enough for Stuyvesant?

Not only is this discriminatory against those students and their families who will do whatever it takes to gain admission, but it insults those black and Latino students who worked hard enough, were smart enough, and got in on their own right.

There should be more black students. There should be more Latino students. There should be more schools renowned for their producing brilliant graduates. But neither lying about the problems, nor watering down the standards, nor denying one racial group admission to give their seats to another, is the answer. There are many problems in New York City’s public schools, but segregation is not one of them.

9 thoughts on “New York City’s 13% Solution

  1. Robert

    On the bright side, I guess that when everything’s racist, then nothing will be.

    Still sucks for those who sacrificed immediate gratification to bank on future achievements.

    1. SHG Post author

      Hard work and sacrifice were virtues until people realized that it means others will not get their proportionate representation.

  2. Erik H

    Problem: Group A is smart enough to pass the exam if only they had test prep; they don’t have access to test prep; they don’t pass the exam; we want more Group A to be in the school.

    Normal Solution: Figure out how to provide Group A with test prep. Then they will pass the exam.

    Idiotic Solution: Stop using the exam.

    Sigh. I can’t help but suspect that the reason behind this stupidity is exposure. The policy wonks know full well that there are not many graduates of those schools who CAN pass the exam, test prep or not. At many of those schools half of the “graduates” can barely read or do math. The wonks don’t want to expose the reality that by the time these kids hit 8th grade the city has already failed them, education-wise.

    That said, when you ask “why poor Asian and white students are willing to do what’s necessary to pay for test prep while black and Latino students are not” there is probably a real answer:

    Among many other reasons, these things are often focused in areas w/ high concentrations of potential students, creating a feedback loop. It’s true that anyone can sign up online (provided that you have a credit card, PC, and internet connection) but I suspect there are many more high-quality test prep places and private tutors in Chinatown than there are in the Bronx. That makes access relatively easier, which lowers the relative cost.

    1. SHG Post author

      I suspect an Asian family living on 172nd and Amsterdam will have their child hop on a subway to go downtown to a tutor if need be. They don’t all live in Chinatown.

      There are a number of possible solutions, some relating to what govt can do to help and some requiring individual effort. Killing the test and eliminating any head-to-head comparison is not one of them.

  3. Blackbeard

    For Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech the test is a matter of state law and Albany isn’t going to help DeBlasio in any way since he has done nothing but antagonize Cuomo since he took office. The other specialized high schools however just use the test by the choice of the school board and that isn’t going to last long. Where will all this lead? Ultimately all these schools will have open admissions and standards will fall to the levels of other city high schools which is to say abysmal. Kids from high income families will go to private schools as they largely do now. Poor kids will go wherever as they have no choice. And the striving middle class families will move someplace where their kids can get a decent education. And NYC, already one of the most unequal cities in the country, will become that much more unequal.

    1. SHG Post author

      That is an excellent summation of what we have to look forward to, provided the lege and Cuomo don’t give BdB his way just to watch him crash and burn.

      1. Keith

        Or… Tiger moms will realize that relocating their brilliant kid to a failing school Will be cheaper than all those tutors.

        Why do you think people will stop gaming the system, merely because they change the game?

  4. Nemo

    Welcome to Education Reform, where the solutions are made up and the facts don’t matter.

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