If it feels like I’ve written this post before, that’s because I’ve written this post before. (Think of it as Groundhog Day: High School Edition.)
September 12, 2016: Can Last Minute Test Prep Bring Diversity To NYC’s Specialized High Schools?
June 12, 2017: Everything Wrong With NYC’s Latest Diversity Plan
And now it’s March 12, 2018. High school placements came out last week, and according to Chalkbeat:
The picture is virtually unchanged from the previous year, before the city shifted the entrance exam to more closely reflect the skills it expects students to be learning in eighth grade…. Only 4.1 percent of offers at the specialized high schools that require an entry exam went to black students, while 6.3 percent went to Hispanic students.
I suspected that would be the case when, even before results were released, the Department of Ed announced that, for 2019, the new grammar section of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) would be shrunk. This year’s cohort must have tanked it. So much for lining the test up with what kids should be learning in middle school.
And then there’s the Diversity in Admissions program. This one doesn’t apply to Specialized High Schools, but to Screened and Limited Unscreened ones. (If you’re having trouble keeping track of the players without a program, click here for your NYC HS Cheat-Sheet.)
Five NYC High Schools (a drop in the bucket for a city with 700+ programs in 400+ schools) volunteered to set aside a varying percentage of seats for Free Lunch students. In 2018, four met their enrollment goals, with only the most academically rigorous, Bard High School Early College in Queens, missing it by a single percentage point.
Except here’s the problem with both changing the SHSAT and Diversity in Admissions: You’re not making students better, you’re making getting into a school easier. That’s not even remotely the same thing. (It’s analogous to NYC high school graduation rates rising… while the college readiness index is falling.)
Sneaking kids who aren’t ready into schools with advanced academics doesn’t do anybody any long-term favors.
I went to high school in San Francisco (former site of our newest School Chancellor, Richard Carranza). The school was Lowell HS, the Stuyvesant of SF. When I attended, long before Carranza’s tenure, Lowell had a policy where they admitted students by balancing for race and gender. At the time, the highest qualifying exam score was for Asian girls. The lowest was for Hispanic boys.
But Lowell also had a policy where two D’s and one F over the course of two semesters meant the student was out. I saw numerous kids expelled. The majority of them were kids of color. The San Francisco Department of Education was so proud of themselves for admitting these lower-scoring students to its most elite high school. And then they did nothing to help them succeed there.
If NYC accepts current proposals for changing SHSAT admissions to a system where the top 3% from every middle school are accepted, will we be headed down the same path?
That’s my fear. I’m sorry, DOE, as anyone but you would have learned by now, there are no shortcuts to educating kids. Your intensive summer test prep didn’t work because even your hand-selected cream of the crop lacked a strong enough academic foundation. And that’s the fault of the education you subjected them to for nine years prior to high school.
You can play with numbers, you can lower standards, you can artificially inflate acceptance rates. You can try to fool parents and taxpayers that way.
But until you fix K-8, NYC high school admissions will never be an even playing field. And I’ll write this exact same blog post again next year.