On Monday, another admissions scandal injected a new dose of disillusionment into the already disillusioned world of elite education. This time the revelations concern not higher education, but Stuyvesant High and New York City’s other elite public high schools. Of the 895 current eighth graders who secured a spot in next year's Stuyvesant freshman class, just seven identify as African American.
Every year, reports show abysmally low numbers of black or Latino students at all eight of the city’s elite specialized high schools whose admissions rely solely on a standardized exam. City officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio have led an ongoing, multifaceted effort to solve the problem through recruitment initiatives and a summer enrichment program designed to shepherd low-income youth into the rigorous institutions, but enrollment numbers remain disappointing.
De Blasio and his relatively new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, last year proposed a plan that would set aside a percentage of specialized-school seats to disadvantaged students who participate in the summer enrichment course but who score just below the cutoff on the entrance exam. It’s hard to say how it will play out, however, because of a lawsuit spearheaded by a cadre of largely Chinese American activists that accuses the city of racial discrimination. The complaint alleges that the plan, if implemented, would reduce the proportion of Asian American students who attend these schools, depriving highly qualified, disadvantaged kids of the opportunity to live up to their potential. The issue of diversity at NYC's elite schools is full of disagreement over the merits of the current system, the sources of the disparities, and what effective solutions might be—but it is also full of misunderstandings. Accurately describing the problem requires dispelling several myths.