In September 2012, the NAACP’s legal arm joined forces with two other advocacy groups to file a federal civil rights complaint against New York City’s public school system. The issue at hand was—and still is—the city’s nine elite public high schools. Like most public high schools in the city, these schools can choose who attends. But the elite schools are their own animal: Whereas other schools look at a range of criteria to determine students’ eligibility, eight of these nine elite institutions admit applicants based exclusively on how the students score on a rigorous, two-and-a-half-hour-long standardized test.
The test-only admissions policy is touted by supporters as a tactic that promotes fairness and offers the best way to identify the city’s most gifted students. But the complaint, which is still pending, tells a different story—one of modern-day segregation, in which poor kids of color are getting left behind.
"As a result of the [New York City Department of Education’s] exclusive, unjustified, and singular reliance on the [exam], many fully qualified, high-potential students are denied access to the life-changing experiences that the Specialized High Schools offer," the complaint says. "In a community as diverse as New York City, it is particularly critical that these pathways to leadership be ‘visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.’ ... Yet, year after year, thousands of academically talented African-American and Latino students who take the test are denied admission to the Specialized High Schools at rates far higher than those for other racial groups."