Diversity Issue in New York City High Schools

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Diversity Issue in New York City High Schools

Students walking in Stuyvesant High School. The lack of diversity in Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools in New York have proposed the question of whether the admissions process should be changed or left alone.
(Credit: Christopher Lee / New York Times)

Students walking in Stuyvesant High School. The lack of diversity in Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools in New York have proposed the question of whether the admissions process should be changed or left alone. (Credit: Christopher Lee / New York Times)

Students walking in Stuyvesant High School. The lack of diversity in Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools in New York have proposed the question of whether the admissions process should be changed or left alone. (Credit: Christopher Lee / New York Times)

Students walking in Stuyvesant High School. The lack of diversity in Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools in New York have proposed the question of whether the admissions process should be changed or left alone. (Credit: Christopher Lee / New York Times)

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The lack of diversity in Stuyvesant and seven other New York City specialized high schools has spurred much debate, ultimately confronting New Yorkers with the question of whether or not the admissions system for these elite public schools is flawed, and perhaps even racist.

Though a stark lack of representation in the schools isn’t a recent phenomenon, new statistics have highlighted the worsening  of the issue.

Of the 895 students in the incoming freshman class at Stuyvesant, only seven students are black and 33 students are Hispanic, the New York Times reported.

New York City’s specialized high schools are nine extremely selective public high schools. Among the specialized high schools, Stuyvesant is known for being the most selective and, to many, the most prestigious.

Admittance to eight of the nine specialized high schools is solely based on a score on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, a three-hour examination administered once a year.

Stuyvesant has the highest cutoff score for admission, accepting less than 4% of the students who take the SHSAT, a smaller figure than Harvard University’s acceptance rate. 

The exterior of Stuyvesant High School, the most selective of the nine specialized high schools in New York City. New statistics regarding the lack of diversity in Stuyvesant as well as the other specialized high schools have stirred controversy. (Credit: Natalie Fertig / WNYC)

The racial disparities at schools like Stuyvesant are apparent. Although the New York City school system is nearly 70% black and Hispanic, black students make up under 1% while Hispanic students make up 3% of Stuyvesant’s student body, according to the New York Times.

The lack of diversity found in the specialized high schools brings up the debate of whether these high schools should alter their admissions policies to resemble those of colleges that take actions to create diverse student bodies.

People have criticized the use of the SHSAT for admissions, instead saying that the schools should take into consideration student performance and racial background.

Opponents to the SHSAT also claim that the test test process is classist. While many students take expensive preparatory classes or hire tutors to help improve their SHSAT scores, other students may not be able to afford these resources, giving them a disadvantage.

Proponents of the admissions practice, however, believe that the system is fair because it only takes into consideration a score on a test that all students must take, basing admission on merit not race. Since schools like Stuyvesant have a large number of Asian-American students, supporters of the SHSAT bring up a similar argument to the one proposed in the Harvard lawsuit regarding affirmative action: forcing diversity into a student body takes away spots from qualified Asian-American students.

Supporters of the SHSAT protest outside Queens Borough Hall where a forum discussion was being held. Supporters of the SHSAT believe that doing away with the test will disadvantage low-income Asian-Americans. (Credit: Carlotta Mohamed / QNS)

Using a program called Discovery, Stuyvesant says it will increase the number of spots for black and Hispanic students by a small amount. The Discovery program will reportedly seek to benefit Asian-American students as well.

Politicians are currently debating the use of the SHSAT and whether the examination should be removed from the admissions process.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made efforts to combat the issue. Last summer, de Blasio proposed his plan to completely get rid of the SHSAT.

“For thousands and thousands of students and neighborhoods all over New York City, the message has been these specialized schools aren’t for you,” the mayor said. “The solution is simple: the test has to go.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference in June 2018. De Blasio announces his plan to get rid of the SHSAT in hopes of increasing the diversity in New York City specialized high schools. (Credit: Benjamin Kanter / Mayor’s Office)

De Blasio’s plan, while supported by some, was met with backlash from the city’s Asian-American community.

Yet U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  has expressed similar beliefs to de Blasio, calling the entire system a failure.

“Education inequity is a major factor in the racial wealth gap,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is what injustice looks like.”