In Elite NY Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics, Plus Letters

Elissa Gootman:

More than a decade after the city created a special institute to prepare black and Hispanic students for the mind-bendingly difficult test that determines who gets into New York’s three most elite specialized high schools, the percentage of such students has not only failed to rise, it has declined.
The drop at Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School mirrors a trend recently reported at three of the City University of New York’s five most prestigious colleges, where the proportion of black students has dropped significantly in the six years since rigorous admissions policies were adopted.
The changes indicate that even as New York City has started to bridge the racial achievement gap in the earlier grades, it has not been able to make similar headway at top public high schools and colleges. Asian enrollment at all three high schools has soared over the decade, while white enrollment has declined at two of the three schools.

Letters to the Editor regarding this article:

Published: August 22, 2006
To the Editor:
Re “In Elite Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics” (front page, Aug. 18):
We do not need test results to tell us what we already know. Black children in urban schools receive an inferior education. No amount of test preparation can make up for years of social, cultural and educational neglect.
Any real gains in the closing of the so-called achievement gap in the early grades in New York City are lost in the middle grades. These are the years when black children, boys in particular, are destroyed by the school system.
Can we blame institutional racism? Absolutely! Black children too often suffer from less qualified teachers and inadequate facilities.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity successfully sued New York State over school financing. Now someone should challenge New York City for its educational neglect of black children.
Bernard Gassaway
Jamaica, Queens, Aug. 18, 2006
The writer is a former principal of Beach Channel High School and a former senior superintendent of alternative schools and programs for New York City.

To the Editor:
Any analysis of the declining minority populations at New York’s specialized public high schools must consider one factor: it is impossible to get a passing score on the admissions test without taking the test, and the city’s middle schools vary widely in the percentage of their students who take this test.
I offer a proposal: Administer the specialized high school exam during the school day, and make it standard for all New York City eighth graders, rather than only for those who come in on a weekend to take it.
This would not solve all the inequalities in the school system, but it would move the specialized high schools a step closer to reflecting New York City’s diversity.
Benjamin W. Dreyfus
New York, Aug. 18, 2006
The writer is a teacher at Stuyvesant High School.

To the Editor:
More than 20 years ago, when I was director of Manhattan East Junior High School, a public school in East Harlem, high-achieving and unquestionably competitive black and Hispanic students year after year did not make the cut score on the specialized high school test.
Disgusted by the failure of these tests to accurately assess our students’ knowledge and skills, we connected these students to elite private high schools like Dalton and St. Paul’s, which were impressed enough to give them full scholarships.
These students went on to get scholarships from prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard and Dartmouth and become very productive citizens.
How tragic that the Department of Education continues a policy that keeps out some of its best and brightest students.
Jacqueline Ancess
New York, Aug. 20, 2006
The writer is co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:
The effort to help minority students test into the best science high schools does not work because the city preparatory program spends too much time on remedial work and not enough time on test preparation.
The highest-performing students are bored by the needless repetition of material they have already covered in regular class.
If New York City wants to address the racial imbalance in its best high schools, it should hire the companies that have done such a good job with Asian students and offer test preparation that works.
The Department of Education might also consider the effect of the existing racial imbalance at Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science. How many black and Hispanic students tested into those schools but chose to go elsewhere? Minority students and parents may see the stark racial imbalance as an unwelcoming environment.
Frank Douglas
New York, Aug. 18, 2006