Accountability · Blog · School Choice

What To Expect When You’re Expecting a New SHSAT Plan (Part #1): The Mayor’s Hidden Agenda

It’s been a hell of a week.

On Saturday, June 2, 2018, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio penned an op-ed, asserting that Our Specialized Schools Have a Diversity Problem. Let’s Fix It.

On Sunday, June 3, he announced two initiatives to do so. He vowed to expand the Discovery Program so that 20 percent of seats at Specialized High Schools would be set aside for students who missed the admission cut-off. They would receive extensive tutoring over the summer. The program, as it currently exists, is open to all qualified, low-income students. In its new iteration, it would be limited to students from low-income middle schools, which the Mayor hopes will include more Black and Hispanic 8th graders, and fewer Asian and white ones.

His second initiative would involve scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) that is the sole criteria for admission and replacing it with a plan wherein the top 7 percent of students from each public middle school would receive placement at an SHSAT school.

And how would that 7 percent be determined?

They might use grades. They might use test scores. Attendance? Mastery portfolios? Maybe a combination of the above? “Holistic” admissions! Like the colleges use? The details were fuzzy.

But who needs details when you’re on a righteous crusade?

Alas, said righteous crusade is not at the Mayor’s discretion. He needs to overturn state law in order to make it happen.

De Blasio’s bill cleared the State Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday, June 6. On Thursday, June 7, Speaker Carl Heastie announced that, with less than three weeks left in the session, the bill would not be coming up for a vote this year.

Meanwhile, New York City exploded. If you were against the bill, there were charges of racism from Chancellor Richard Carranza and political pundit Errol Louis.

“No public institution should exclude a broad section of the city based on race, gender, religion or other core characteristics,” said Louis during his television segment, Inside City Hall. Even ignoring that the only group SHSAT schools discriminate against are test takers who don’t score highly enough, is it conversely alright then to artificially promote some broad sections of the city on the basis of race, gender or religion?

“I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” asserted Carranza, who is backing a change in state law that would decrease access for one group while increasing it for another.

Asian-American groups pushed back with cries of reverse racism.

There is so much wrong with what Mayor de Blasio wants to do and how he wants to do it that this post will only be Part #1 of a four-part series dissecting it all.

But let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: Holistic Admissions.

According to The New York Times:

Mr. Carranza emphasized that relying on one test was out of step with admissions to other elite institutions. “If you’re applying to Harvard today, you would not be admitted based on a test score,” Mr. Carranza said. “It’s multiple measures.”

According to Mike Mascetti of the Science School Initiative, the lower-income students he works with often have a harder time getting into a school that uses multiple criteria. “You would think a kid from East Harlem would have an easier time getting into (a screened school) than Stuy, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

A 2015 NYU study found that taking into account factors like grades and extracurricular activities, as colleges do, “would not appreciably increase the share of Black students admitted” to SHSAT schools.

Who would it help, though?

Middle-class white students.

The same way that district priority Screened schools on the Upper East Side now do: The geographic priority in District 2, experts say, grew out of an attempt by officials to attract more middle-class families to public schools after years of decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I work with hundreds of families every year to help them find the best schools for their children. More and more have been opting out of SHSAT schools, lamenting that they were “too high pressure” and “overly competitive”. That’s code for “too Asian.” Many go to private schools, instead.

Unlike the SHSAT schools, the Mayor doesn’t need a vote in Albany to change admissions to Screened Schools. He could implement his 7 percent plan with the stroke of a pen. Try it out, do some genuine research, see what the results are, then take that hard evidence back to the State Senate. Facts! Science! Accountability! All those things we demand in other areas of our lives.

And yet, he hasn’t done that.

It almost makes one wonder whether de Blasio’s attempt to diversity SHSAT schools via holistic admissions is less about Black and Hispanic students, and more about another voting block. (Though I genuinely believe Carranza isn’t in on it.)

A caveat to de Blasio’s proposal is that the top 7 percent of students from each public middle school will gain admission into SHSAT schools as long as they are also in the top 25 percent of all state test takers.

Thanks to the Achievement Gap — for math, 20.7 percent of black students and 25.3 percent of Hispanic students tested as proficient, compared to 67.8 percent of Asian students and 59 percent of white students — that’s still going to skew away from the “mirror of NYC” result de Blasio claims he wants.

The Mayor hand-waves that expensive test prep is what’s keeping poor, Black, and Hispanic students out of SHSAT schools — although, oddly, he doesn’t remember if his own son, Dante, prepped prior to being accepted at Brooklyn Tech.

But is he under the impression that there is no prep involved in state tests? Did he miss THAT video?

Is this ultimately just virtue signaling? Is De Blasio pandering to his voter base by echoing the values they claim to cherish while manipulating school admissions even more in their favor?

Now that’s what you call a win-win!


Come back for Part #2 of our series next week, when I break down who exactly will win – and who will lose – if this bill goes through in the upcoming years.

What do you think?

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