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3 Things NYC Can Do TODAY To Integrate Public High Schools!

I give up.

New York City School Chancellor Richard Carranza has decreed that the most important issue facing our public high schools isn’t that close to 80% of students aren’t graduating college-ready, SAT scores are well below the national average, or there’s a  lack of access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

No, according to the Chancellor, the most important issue facing our public schools is that every institution isn’t a demographic replica of NYC as a whole. Our high schools are not diverse, and that’s the reason for all of the above woes.

Fine. You win.

The solution to dismal college readiness, flat SAT scores, and too few AP courses, as well as anything else you can conceive of, is integration. So let’s get to it.

Yet here is where the Chancellor throws up his hands in surrender. 

While groups like Teens Take Charge propose (albeit mathematically impossible) plans for mixing low-achieving students in with high-achieving ones to at least obscure how many teens will continue to fail, the Chancellor and Mayor Bill de Blasio have chosen to focus their energy on 8 Specialized High Schools, out of over 400.

They would love to change admission to these Specialized High Schools, but the big bad NY State Assembly won’t let them.

Sorry, voters, we tried. Those racists in Albany stopped us, which is why system-wide failure continues. Our previously thrown up hands are tied, alas.

I realize that Mayor de Blasio was very busy polling at 0% in his presidential campaign before finally dropping out last week. So, now that he’s been forced to focus on NYC once again, I, as a good, responsible citizen, offer three ways in which he could integrate NYC high schools in time for September 2020 admissions — and thus presumably fix everything that ails them.

1) Get Rid Of District/Borough Priority

Right now, the majority of high schools are citywide. (A handful of zoned high schools remain, but their number is statistically insignificant.) A student from Staten Island can theoretically apply to a school in the Bronx, one from Queens can apply to a school in Manhattan, and so on.

Except when it comes to district and/or borough priority schools. For instance, District 2 (East Side south of 97th Street, West Side south of 59th Street, while avoiding the Lower East Side) schools are, theoretically, open to students citywide. But they give priority to those who live or attended middle school in District 2. As a result, a popular institution like Eleanor Roosevelt High School, which receives 49 applications for every General Education seat, makes 100% of its offers to District 2 students or residents. ElRo, as it’s colloquially called, is 66% white and 19% Free Lunch, with 0% English Language Learners (ELL).

At Baruch College Campus High School (also 49 applications for every Gen Ed seat), 98% of offers go to District 2 students or residents, and 2% go to Manhattan students or residents. Baruch College is 43% white, 35% Asian, 39% FL, and 1% ELL.

There are many others.

Luckily, this is an issue the Mayor can fix on his own. He doesn’t need the state to agree. So…  what’s the hold up?

2) Create a Specialized High School For All Who Want One

We’ve all heard the mantra by now: The Specialized High Schools are not diverse. (They’re less white and more poor than the Screened Schools mentioned above, but that doesn’t count.) Plus, there aren’t enough of them to go around.

So why not make enough of them to go around

About 30,000 students currently sit for the SHSAT. In all 8 schools, there are around 4,000 seats. What if NYC commits to making a seat available to absolutely every single test-taker? NYC has over 400 high schools. Stuyvesant and Bronx Science field incoming classes of about 900. Brooklyn Tech admits close to 2,000! To accomodate 30,000 applicants, you’d need maybe 20 more SHSAT schools? 30? Even 40 out of 400 isn’t that many. And, this time, we’d make sure to scatter them equally around the five boroughs so that students from Queens wouldn’t be forced to make three-hour round trips, the way some do now. We wouldn’t need to build new buildings or hire new teachers. We could just convert existing schools. Kids would still need to rank the schools in the order they prefer (not all of them; odds are they’d stick to their geographic area, but if you want to rank all 40, go for it!), and their SHSAT score would still determine priority but, with so many choices, there’s bound to be a broader range of academic abilities, not to mention race and gender, in each.

Luckily, this is an issue the Mayor can fix on his own. The state needs to agree to get rid of the SHSAT, but not to create new SHSAT schools, the way Mayor Bloomberg did. So…  what’s the hold up?

3) Apply the 7% Plan To Screened High Schools

Instead of the SHSAT, the Mayor and Chancellor would like to guarantee an SHSAT seat to the top 7% of students from every public middle school.

But, as noted above, there are only 8 SHSAT schools. There are over 130 Screened ones. Wouldn’t more students benefit and more diversity be achieved if the 7% plan were put into place for Screened rather than SHSAT schools?

These schools already use “holistic” measures like grades, test scores, interviews, portfolios, and community service to admit their students. The Mayor and Chancellor believe these methods are superior to a single test (though both are still confused why any family would choose a screened school, the choices they made for their own children, notwithstanding). 

According to them, these schools are already superior to SHSAT schools. So shouldn’t we be fighting to give more underserved students access to them? Like, say, the top 7% from every public middle school? Or, since we’re talking about many more schools, why not the top 15%? Top 35%?  (Grade inflation? What grade inflation? There are perfectly good reasons for why schools with a 100% class passing rate might have only 7% of students performing at grade level on state tests.)

Luckily, this is an issue the Mayor can fix on his own. The state has nothing to do with setting admissions criteria for Screened schools.

So… I hate to bug… but… psst… what’s the hold up, again?

What do you think?

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