Bringing Diversity to New York Elite High Schools

by Christine Kiernan
Luis Rosario just completed fifth grade but he already thinks about attending an Ivy League college. And he would seem to be on his way. He won first prize in his district’s fifth grade science fair, scored high on the state math test, gets straight A’s and is fascinated by robotic sciences.
His mother, Judith Pena, wanted to get him into a program to prepare him for one of the city’s specialized high schools. Then she learned about the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering. ”This is even better,” she said. And so, next month Luis Rosario will join the first sixth grade class of Columbia Secondary, a new select school in upper Manhattan.
Columbia Secondary is aimed at top students like Luis, students who one would expect to attend an elite public high school. But over the years the so-called specialized schools have not attracted a large number of gifted black and Hispanic students. In fact, over the past decade, the percentage of students from the city’s large black and Hispanic population who attend these select schools has decreased significantly.
Under the banner “strength in diversity,” Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering will try to change that. The school, a partnership of the Department of Education and Columbia University, is aggressively recruiting black and Hispanic students and plans to try out new methods to achieve a more equitable racial balance.