NYC’s Specialized High Schools have a diversity problem: Only 10 percent of their current students are Black or Latino, compared to nearly 70 percent citywide — and city officials want to fix it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sunday that he wants to eliminate the SHSAT, the admissions test for the city’s eight Specialized High Schools (SHS). The move would make access to NYC’s “Elite Eight,” which includes Brooklyn Technical High School and The Brooklyn Latin School, fairer and improve diversity, the mayor said. Currently, only 10 percent of enrolled specialized high school students are Black or Latino, despite making up 70 percent of the city’s overall student population.
“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,” said de Blasio. “By giving a wider, more diverse pool of our best students an equal shot at admissions, we will make these schools stronger and our city fairer.”
The “Elite Eight” high schools, the top NYC high schools that rank among the nation’s most competitive and demanding institutions, admit students based solely on their Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) scores. Instead of testing students when they are in eighth grade, de Blasio suggests determining top performing students based on their 7th grade English, math, social studies and science course grades, as well as their scores on statewide English and math exams. Beginning 2019, the mayor also plans on reserving 20 percent of seats at each high school for low-income students, a process that will unfold over two years.
The newly announced plan is based on recommendations of Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who issued a report last June outlining recommendations to address the inequities in Specialized High Schools admissions, as well as other elected officials, advocates, community members, researchers, alumni groups and members of the City’s School Diversity Advisory Group.
“Challenging the status quo isn’t always easy, but when it comes to educational justice it’s always worth it,” said Adams. “Our policies must reflect the principle that education is enhanced by classroom diversity, and that means knocking down barriers to entry with bold action.”
Eliminating the SHSAT would require a change of state legislation. In the interim, De Blasio suggests phasing the test out over a three-year period after which the Specialized High Schools would reserve seats for top performers at each NYC middle school. Based on current offer patterns, 45 percent of offers would go to black and Latino students, compared to 9 percent currently; 62 percent of offers would go to female students, compared to 44 percent currently.
“Our city’s greatest educational opportunities and resources must also uphold our values of equity and inclusion,” said Council Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo. “As a Black alumni of Brooklyn Tech, I know firsthand the importance of this effort and look forward to seeing a more diversified student body.”