By the Numbers: Math the NYC Department of Education Really Doesn’t Want Parents To Do

When my editorial, The Drive To Change Elite School Admissions Is All About Killing the Messenger, ran in the New York Post on March 21, I received many compliments from friends and readers.

My husband was not impressed.

He started peppering me with questions: What are the numbers for this? What are the numbers for that? What happens when you compare this set of results to this one? How do these two track against each other?

Let me tell you about my husband….

No, wait, first, let me tell you about his parents:

My husband’s father grew up in Virginia, under Jim Crow. He still mourns the loss of the all-Black schools he attended prior to Brown v. The Board of Education. My husband’s mother took one look at the public school options available to her children in Harlem in the 1970s, and said, “nope.” She then proceeded to move mountains and knock down walls until her youngest son was accepted at Hunter College Elementary, a publicly funded school for the highly-gifted. Even if, along the way, she had to contend with educators asking her, “How can a child like this know so much?”

“He watches a lot of Sesame Street,” she snapped.

By second grade, my mother-in-law decided that the school other families drop thousands of dollars on prep for wasn’t good enough for her, and moved my husband to a private school, where he and his brother became the first African-American students to walk through the door. My husband eventually attended Stuyvesant High School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He currently teaches math and physics to middle-schoolers.

My husband comes from a long line of people who really, really care about educating minority kids. My husband really, really cares about educating minority kids. He also really, really cares about hard data. Not feel-good press releases.

So when he started asking me for stats I didn’t have off the top of my head, I showed him where he could look them up.

He looked them up. He tallied them up. He blew up.

“Our NYC public schools are really, really bad!”

“Do you want to write about it?” I asked.


“Will you write about it?”

“Yes. Will you edit it?”

“Yes. Can I change the title?”


Here’s what we came up with. His title remains intact:


Our NYC Public Schools Are Really, Really Bad


Every spring I get an email from a friend in California asking me to explain the latest variation on the annual New York Times headline: Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots.  

I reply, our public school are really bad.  According to the math portion of the state test these students took last year, only 542 black 7th graders in all of NYC earned the top score of 4.

14,566 black students took that test. 2,003 black students earned a 3.

This means that only 2,545 out of 14,566 black students in NYC are performing at level 3 or 4, which is grade level, and above grade level, respectively.

Where is the New York Times headline: Over 80% of black 7th graders in NYC fail to receive an adequate math education?   

Unfortunately, the situation is even worse than that fictional headline would imply. People know that taking a test is hard, and some students can get nervous and not do well. They imagine there are probably a lot of students who have an adequate education, but are just not good test takers. They think the problem is the test. There is an argument that a great student who has mastered the material might get an 82 percent on a test because that student is a poor test taker, instead of the 100 percent they deserve because she understands all of the material. But there is no universe where a student who understands all of the material gets a 25 percent or below on their test because they are bad test takers.

7,498 black NYC 7th graders out of the 14,566  students who took the state test scored the lowest possible score of 1.  A score of 2 means below grade level, so what does a 1 mean ? 1’s are not caused by the student being a poor test taker. 1’s are caused by a student not knowing the material. Students who earned a 1 were failed by our society. How can we accept these results? Where are the New York State Assembly hearings on this failure? There is nothing that can excuse this level of neglect. Not racism, not poverty, not lack of resources, not class-size, not teacher salaries. This means we have a society that just doesn’t care.  

The NY Times article does have one line that everyone should carefully read: “The numbers are a stark reminder that the exam tends to produce specialized schools with classes that do not reflect the school system as a whole.”

It’s true that the specialized schools don’t reflect the school system as a whole. These schools are good, solid schools. Our school system as a whole is very, very bad. If Stuyvesant reflected the NYC school system as a whole, it wouldn’t be a school with an international reputation that makes national headlines.  

The SHSAT schools take the top 8th graders, those students who probably scored a 4 in math when they took their state tests in 7th grade.

In NYC, there were 4,768 Asian, 542 Black, 1,464 Hispanic and 3,010 white students who scored a 4 on last year’s states test. Across all of the SHSAT schools, 2,620 offers were made to Asian students, 207 to Black students, and 1,344 to White Students. Since the offers used different racial categories from the state test, the offers reported 320 for Latino students, 128 for multiracial, and 419 for Unknown.  

Offers were made to approximately 54 percent of those Asian students who earned a 4 on their math exam the year prior. If 54 percent of Black students who earned a 4 had received an SHSAT offer, then 297 black students instead of 207 would have earned offers out of the total 5,067 offers, equaling 4 percent of the offers. Meanwhile, Black students make up about a quarter of the total NYC public school population. The minimal difference in numbers between those who scored a 4 on the state math test and those who got into an SHSAT school suggest that the problem is not the SHSAT test itself. State tests reflect practically the same thing and, if used for admission instead of the SHSAT, would admit similar numbers of black students.

To reiterate: It’s clear that the quality of K-7 education Black students are receiving in NYC is pathetically bad.

Very, very bad.

Source for State Test Numbers

Source for Offer Data By Ethnicity


What do you think?

3 thoughts on “By the Numbers: Math the NYC Department of Education Really Doesn’t Want Parents To Do

  1. I read this article and I am disappointed in the conclusion that NYC public schools are that horrible. Seriously? NYC parents who know and can DO exercise choice. We are all responsible. My kid vs Other kids.

    My kid…
    I just moved to NYC a few years ago. I am trying to get my son the best education with limited financial resources. I did not spend time or money prepping my son for gifted and talented tests because of limited time and resources. I still had him tested for G&T and for Hunter. We are zoned for a “good school” in Manhattan and I entered him in the Success Academy lottery. I was thinking we would be okay. However, these articles and some research makes me feel so insecure. I have started visiting private schools and trying to figure out how to pay for them. There are many great schools but I have to balance financial resources (summer camp enrichment tuition test prep). And, I am lucky.

    The rest of the kids…
    I feel so disheartened to read all of these articles about how public schools (and other schools) are so bad for children (especially black children). I think we could use some positivity and more positive writings about what is working successfully and making a difference so we can replicate that. Our children deserve better and we need to demand better and make that a priority. The future of our country depends on it.

    We (me personally) have come too far for this…
    We are a black family and I constantly wonder if I made the right move here.

    My mother grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi. She got an inadequate education with leftover school books from the “white” school. She had to work in fields picking cotton instead of going to school for part of the school year. My father and siblings were grew up in “the projects” in Newark NJ (where they were redlined even though they were veterans for this country). They were lucky to be labeled geniuses, pulled out, and benefited from affirmative action. They were given a chance.

    When I was a toddler, my my family moved out of the USA and I grew up quite differently.
    This is what I mean by we (me personally) have come to far fo this…

    All children deserve a fair chance but all the resources are being hoarded by some and denied to others. The has been acceptable for far too long. This has been historic and systematic.

    I do not think we should do away with the test for Stuyvesant. NYC public schools just need to own this.

    I am interested in knowing how many children passed the test without test preparation, if there are any. From what I understand (I could be wrong) not a single “black” student (and perhaps all students) from the highly scoring Success Academy made the cut for Stuyvesant (going by years past). I don’t know maybe they chose to go private.

    Open new high quality public high schools and middle schools and accept children who are at the top (whatever percent) of their classes for those new schools so they have an opportunity to be diverse. Start something new but keep the test. I mean, the test is not biased as far as I know. If we made it a priority for more black children to pass that test, they can, and they would.

    The focus should be that public school children are relegated inadequate schools.

    At the same time, common sense (and a study of history) tells me that the schools are working as they were designed. Keep the sorting process going.



  2. Don’t just blame on the school, why the other students success? Parents should be more responsible for kids education rather the Schools. The class size ratio is about 20/1 for lower grade, and 25/1 for higher grade; the school / teacher gives same attention to all students, it is very hard for the teacher to pay attention to a specific students and it is unfair to other students as well, additional, not all students want the attention from the teacher anyway. Therefore, more attention are needed from the parents and came from parents.
    The Statewide Exam is given each year from grade 3. The students and parents know the results every year and see the difference; Whoever want to catch up or even want to do better will Put in more time to study on their own; No one wait at the same spot for you, or the gap will be larger and larger through grade 7.

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