Commentary on High School entrance exams

Michael Powell:

Liberal politicians, school leaders and organizers argue such schools are bastions of elitism and, because of low enrollment of Black and Latino students, functionally racist and segregated. Sixty-three percent of the city’s public school students are Black and Latino yet they account for just 15 percent of Brooklyn Tech’s population.

For Asian students, the percentages are flipped: They make up 61 percent of Brooklyn Tech, although they account for 18 percent of the public school population.

Some critics imply that the presence of so many South and East Asian students, along with the white students, accentuates this injustice. Such charges reached a heated pitch a few years ago when a prominent white liberal council member said such schools were overdue for “a racial reckoning.”

Richard Carranza, who served as New York’s schools chancellor until last year, was more caustic. “I just don’t buy into the narrative,” he said, “that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.”

But several dozen in-depth interviews with Asian and Black students at Brooklyn Tech paint a more complicated portrait and often defy the political characterizations put forth in New York and across the country. These students speak of personal journeys and struggles at a far remove from the assumptions that dominate the raging battles over the future of their schools.

Their critiques often proved searching; most Asian students spoke of wanting more Black and Latino classmates.

Fully 63 percent of Brooklyn Tech’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged. Census data shows that Asians have the lowest median income in the city and that a majority speak a language other than English at home.

The admissions debate reaches far beyond New York’s selective high schools.