Accountability · School Choice

What To Expect When You’re Expecting a New SHSAT Plan [Part #2]: Who Will Win & Who Will Lose When It Passes

Last week, I dove into New York City’s plan to diversity Specialized High School admissions by scratching the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), currently the only method of admission, in favor of a model wherein the top 7 percent of all public middle school students would be accepted at an SHSAT school, as long as they were also in the top 25 percent of state test takers. I enumerated the plan’s flaws and questioned Mayor Bill de Blasio’s actual motives for implementing the proposed change.

This week I look at who stands to win – and who stands to lose – if NYC’s plan goes into effect:

Who Will Lose:

High-Performing Kids in High-Performing Schools: Right now, grades, state test scores, and class ranking have nothing to do with admission to specialized schools. (They do matter for screened schools, along with factors like a portfolio or interviews.) But, under the new plan, a student could be in the top 2 percent of the country – i.e., qualify for Mensa – but, if they happen to be in the 8th percentile for their high-achieving class, they would be shut out of a specialized school in favor of a higher-ranked student from another school with lower state test scores.

This will strike Gifted & Talented citywide schools particularly hard, where all of the children are high-achieving. Because the schools are so small, only a handful of kids can be in the top 7 percent. Larger, weaker schools will have the advantage over smaller, stronger ones, and high-scoring charters like the Success Academy network will also be hardest hit. Then again, the Mayor has never been a fan of either.

High-Performing Kids In Low-Performing Schools: Your child may be in the top 7 percent based on grades alone, but if he or she is not also in the top 25 percent of NYC state test takers, your kid will be left out of this initiative. This means that hard-working, motivated students who are making the best of a bad situation will be penalized by the fact that their school didn’t prepare them for the state tests – and they didn’t have the money or knowledge to get outside test prep (a problem the mayor claims this proposal will fix; I venture it will just exacerbate it).

And if they do manage to make the cut, they risk facing the same situation as this student did, when she learned that an A in one school is not the same as an A in another. Kids at the top of their class who think that means they’re prepared for the rigor of specialized schools often receive a rude awakening. State tests are grade-level tests. The SHSAT is above grade level. Specialized schools expect you to be ahead of standard curriculum when you enter. Our new Chancellor, Richard Carranza, comes from San Francisco, where race and gender quotas were used for admission to its top high school. Those admitted with lower test scores were given no support. They were expected to sink or swim. Many ended up dropping out. Malcolm Gladwell devotes an entire chapter in his book as to why this is a bad thing.

Low-Performing Kids In Low-Performing Schools: Anyone could study for the SHSAT and have the same chance of getting in as anyone else, regardless of grades or state test scores. This was especially important for poor families who couldn’t afford private school, but would scrape together enough for their kids to basically attend a shadow SHSAT prep school, where they learned everything their public school wasn’t teaching them. Now that option is off the table.

Low-Performing Kids in High-Performing Schools: Why bother doing the extra work to get all kids up to grade level? We’ll still be sending the same amount of graduates to a specialized school as any other, so how the bottom kids perform won’t affect our reputation. Heck, maybe another diversity program will come along so we can chuck them to respectable high schools and our exmissions stats continue to look good. Or, at least, no worse than anyone else’s. Who cares if the child actually learned anything? Let that be their next schools’ problem.

Kids In Private Schools: Currently, 13 percent of students in specialized schools come from the private sector. Under the new plan, they will only be eligible for 5 percent of the seats, and those will be assigned by lottery.

When we talk about private schools, we’re not just talking about families opting out of Dalton or Horace Mann in favor of saving a quarter of million dollars. We’re talking about those other so-called “elites,” the ones who painstakingly scrimp and save to permit themselves the $5,000 a year for their child to attend a parochial school because the public options in their neighborhoods are utterly unacceptable. We’re talking about kids who commute 90 minutes each way. We’re talking about immigrant and minority parents who might not speak English and are working multiple jobs to make a private education possible in the hopes of one day making it to a specialized high school.

Bill de Blasio has a message for you, folks: Dare to opt out of what I am so generously offering you once, and you will not be welcome back.

Ever. (Taxpayer, shmax-payer.)

Who Will Win:

The NYC Department of Education: Bill de Blasio said it himself in his opt ed: Our Specialized Schools Have a Diversity Problem. Let’s Fix It.

Look, Ma, he’s fixed it!

The diversity problem, that is.

Not the “50 percent of teens are graduating high school not college-ready” problem.

Not the “National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores are flat” problem. (OK, that’s not true, math scores for 4th graders have actually dropped 7 points since de Blasio was elected.)

Not the “it’s taking English Language Learners an average of 4 years to become proficient in English” problem.

And not the “60 percent of kids continue to perform below grade level in English and Math” problem.

But we’ve solved the diversity problem!

At the same time, like with the recent rezoning of elementary schools on the Upper West Side, we’ve made the failing kids harder to see.

When the majority of public schools – instead of about a dozen – are sending kids to Specialized high schools, it becomes easier to ignore the students who aren’t being served.

Because now that we’ve gotten rid of that pesky test that pointed it out year after year after year, they just aren’t a problem anymore.

For the Department of Ed, that is.


Stay tuned, we have a lot more coming up! Next week: Who’s Fault Is It, Anyway?

What do you think?

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