A SHSAT Compromise I Can Live With – Can You?

It was exactly at this time last year when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza announced their plan to introduce a bill in the New York State Assembly that would alter admission to New York City’s 8 Specialized High Schools from a single Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) to extending offers to the top 7 percent of students from every public middle school based on a combination of grades and test scores (the same method already used by almost 150 Screened Schools, save the 7 percent quota).

Twelve months later… and we are precisely in the same place we were then (except, last year, the bill actually made it to and passed the Education Committee before dying on the vine, but it doesn’t look like even that will happen before the end of session this year). Much ink, digital and literal, has been spilled in vociferous support and ardent objection to the proposal. Politicians are at odds. Parents are at odds. Pundits with absolutely no skin in the game are at odds.

Charges of racism, self-hate, colonialism, and sell-outs are being lobbed from all sides.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve stayed above the fray.

My modest proposal to the year-long standoff is to make an SHSAT school available for all who want one. I explained how that would work, here. But, unlike Mayor Bloomberg, who added five new Specialized High Schools to The Big Three in the face of overwhelming demand, Mayor De Blasio would rather see them all gone rather than continue to shine a spotlight on the terrible preparation the majority of NYC students, especially poor, Black and Hispanic ones, receive in grades Pre-K (the Mayor’s baby) to 8th. (The urge to make a King Solomon metaphor is overwhelming, but I will suppress it. After all, I’m not the Mayor who uses public money to fund religious schools.)

Since my suggestion for more SHSAT schools didn’t go anywhere, I have another one.

Those who read me regularly know that as the mother of one SHSAT school graduate and another current freshman (plus the wife of an alum, all of whom, FWIW, are African-American), I believe the most valuable aspect of Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, et. al. isn’t the teachers, the curriculum, or the facilities. I believe it’s the other kids.

In my book (not the one I wrote, this is a metaphorical book), the purpose of NYC’s Specialized HighSchools is to take students who are multi-grade levels ahead, i.e. those prepared to tackle Advanced Placement, college-level classes in 9th grade, and let them challenge and goad each other for four years. It’s why I don’t think grades and state test scores could get the job done. Grades are ridiculously subjective, school by school, teacher by teacher, and state test scores only identify those who are at or slightly above grade level.

On the other hand, there are those among both SHSAT supporters and detractors who see the schools’ chief function as a way for poor students to move into the middle class. (Interestingly, Luke Bauer, principal of the non-Specialized, non-Screened Urban Assembly Maker Academy names that as the number one goal for his school, too.)

So how is this for a compromise?

  • Scrap the 7 percent grades/state test scores/other ‘holistic’ measures proven to actually disadvantage poor and minority students bill
  • Keep the SHSAT
  • But – and here’s the money shot – only allow those who are eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch to take it.

In the 2018 Lincoln Center play, Admissions, a character shrieks (no, really, he really shrieks) regarding his decision to pull his applications from top colleges so that a disadvantaged student could take his spot, “You’re happy to make the world a better place as long as it doesn’t cost you anything…. If people could make the world a better place without giving up anything, it would have happened by now!… If there are going to be new voices at the table, someone has to stand up and offer a seat!”

Said shrieker believes that education is a zero sum game. That there is only so much of this limited resource to go around, and that a student performing well at one school somehow causes a student at another school to perform worse.

I don’t agree.

But, in the spirit of compromise, I am willing to “give up my seat at the table,” and cede the Specialized HighSchools exclusively to teens from low-income families. (Before I’m accused of being one of those – like Mayor De Blasio, Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, Chancellor Carranza, and several of his deputies who only back admissions changes after their children have already benefited from the schools in question –be advised that I have a daughter finishing 6th grade this year. I am right smack in the middle of this fight!)

As a progressive (running for President, no less), de Blasio should be in complete agreement with me. After all, this is about helping the poor. There couldn’t possibly be any other agenda or cover up in play.

How about you?

What do you think?

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