he math should be simple. There are over one million children in New York City public schools. Roughly 40 percent are Hispanic, 30 percent black, 15 percent Asian, 15 percent white. Last year, there were 5,360 students offered admission to the eight elite specialized high schools. Roughly 6 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent black, 47 percent Asian, 23 percent white, 16 percent unknown. Somehow, the equation is not simple at all.
Back in September the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) along with a coalition of other organizations filed a formal complaint against the city’s specialized high school admissions policy to the United States Department of Education. Reader conversation that rose out of our coverage of the suit raised some issues that we had yet to consider. Namely, the fact that while the current admissions procedures are failing black and Hispanic students, they are quite beneficial for many Asian students. If the policy changes, what will that mean for the 47 percent?
In freshmen English at Stuyvesant the most recently admitted class has been keeping tabs on the news stories slamming the very admissions process that worked in their favor. A group of freshmen – all of Korean or Chinese decent – exiting the school on Monday afternoon said that class discussions have largely been in support of the current system.
“It’s quite a simple test if you think about it,” one freshman, who lives in Chelsea, said. Her parents are from China and her older brother also tested into Stuyvesant after only being in America for a couple of years. “You should have no excuses.”
Her classmate, who immigrated from China and now lives in Harlem, added that so many Asian students test into the competitive schools because of the high esteem placed on education at home. “It’s about priorities and the actual families,” she said. “Asian families often choose to put more money into education instead of things like clothing or vacations.”
Zi Han, a junior at the school, summed up the general student argument in favor of the current system: “I really don’t think it’s unfair because it’s about how much effort you put into your work. It’s because of them that they don’t get into the schools.”
The students’ views are shared by at least one test prep company that offers courses to train students for the specialized high school admissions test. “They don’t give special treatment to people taking the CPA, the GRE, the GMAT, the LSATS, the bar exam. Why should they make it different for the schools?” the owner of the New York City-based test prep company, who asked for anonymity, said.
He graduated from a specialized high school himself. He shared that as a cab driver, his father did not make a lot of money and yet he scrimped and saved to make sure his son received the proper test preparation. He noted that the city already offers free test prep and said that should be accommodation enough. “You either help yourself or you don’t help yourself.”
However, Damon T. Hewitt, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said this logic is flawed.
“I think it’s a natural inclination for anyone who has gained admission – and this is true not just for Asian students but for any student – to say well I got in why cant you get in too?” Hewitt said. However, he said, that line of thinking misses the bigger point which is that this is a broken, unproven system that yields racially disparate results.
“The notion that we can’t address that problem and that we’re going to buy into the model minority myth