De Blasio Trying to Push Asians out of Elite NY Schools

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De Blasio Trying to Push Asians out of Elite NY Schools

Postby pianoman » Tue Jul 22, 2014 8:13 pm

There is an interesting development on a topic that is important to Asian Americans. There is already much evidence that AAs face discrimination in university admissions as well as in the job market after they graduate. Now, one of the traditional paths for AAs in New York--especially 1st and 2nd generation immigrants--to top tier colleges and a high standard of living is being threatened by a lawsuit by the NAACP, with the backing of New York's new mayor Bill de Blasio.

NYC has a system of eight specialized high schools that admit students based purely on the scores they receive on a standardized test. This system was originally put in place to maintain majority white high schools during integration, but has since the 70s become a way for new Asian immigrants to work their way up the American ladder. Asians now outnumber all other demographic groups, including whites, by a large margin at these schools.

No one is arguing that inner city black and Latino students should not receive an education. NYC has a large system of public schools that serves the needs of the NYC student body at all levels. But the best schools should be reserved for the best students. The NYC specialized school system is one of the rare instances of pure meritocracy in America. Nobody is excluded from these schools because of race. As former mayor Bloomberg once said, the admissions process at these schools is the fairest and most objective in the entire country: you ace the test and you get in.

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http://nypost.com/2014/07/19/why-nycs-p ... or-asians/

To make elite schools ‘fair,’ city will punish poor Asians

By Dennis Saffran July 19, 2014 | 2:57pm

In 2004, 7-year-old Ting Shi arrived in New York from China, speaking almost no English. For two years, he shared a bedroom in a Chinatown apartment with his grandparents — a cook and a factory worker — and a young cousin, while his parents put in 12-hour days at a small laundromat they had purchased on the Upper East Side.

Ting mastered English and eventually set his sights on getting into Stuyvesant High School, the crown jewel of New York City’s eight “specialized high schools.”

When he was in sixth grade, he took the subway downtown from his parents’ small apartment to the bustling high school to pick up prep books for its eighth-grade entrance exam. He prepared for the test over the next two years, working through the prep books and taking classes at one of the city’s free tutoring programs. His acceptance into Stuyvesant prompted a day of celebration at the laundromat — an immigrant family’s dream beginning to come true.

Ting, now a 17-year-old senior starting at NYU in the fall, says of his parents, who never went to college: “They came here for the next generation.”

The plot against merit

New York’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant and the equally storied Bronx High School of Science, along with Brooklyn Technical High School and five smaller schools, have produced 14 Nobel laureates — more than most countries.

For more than 70 years, admission to these schools has been based upon a competitive examination of math, verbal and logical reasoning skills. In 1971, the state legislature, heading off city efforts to scrap the merit selection test as culturally biased against minorities, reaffirmed that admission to the schools be based on the competitive exam.

But now, troubled by declining black and Hispanic enrollment at the schools, opponents of the exam have resurfaced. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a civil-rights complaint challenging the admissions process. A bill in Albany to eliminate the test requirement has garnered the support of Sheldon Silver, the powerful Assembly speaker.

And new Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Tech, has called for changing the admissions criteria. The mayor argues that relying solely on the test creates a “rich-get-richer” dynamic that benefits the wealthy, who can afford expensive test preparation.

As Ting’s story illustrates, however, the reality is just the opposite. It’s not affluent whites, but rather the city’s burgeoning population of Asian-American immigrants — a group that, despite its successes, remains disproportionately poor and working-class — whose children have aced the exam in overwhelming numbers.
And, ironically, the more “holistic” and subjective admissions criteria that de Blasio and the NAACP favor would be much more likely to benefit children of the city’s professional elite than African-American and Latino applicants — while penalizing lower-middle-class Asian-American kids like Ting. The result would not be a specialized high school student body that “looks like New York,” but rather one that looks more like Bill de Blasio’s upscale Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Asian-American success

There is no dispute that black and Latino enrollment at the specialized schools, while always low, has steadily declined since the 1970s.

Blacks constituted 13 percent of the student body at Stuyvesant in 1979, 5 percent in 1994 and just 1 percent the last few years, while Hispanics dropped from a high of 4 percent to 2 percent today.

Similarly, at Bronx Science, black enrollment has fallen from 12 percent in 1994 to 3 percent currently and Hispanic enrollment has leveled off, from about 10 percent to 6 percent. The figures are even more striking at the less selective Brooklyn Tech, where blacks made up 37 percent of the student body in 1994 but only 8 percent today, while Hispanic numbers plunged from about 15 percent to 8 percent.

These declining minority numbers have not been matched by a corresponding increase in whites, however. In fact, white enrollment at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech has plummeted as well, dropping from 79 percent, 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 1971 to just 22 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent today.

Rather, it is New York City’s fastest-growing racial minority group, Asian-Americans, who have come to dominate these schools. Asians, while always a presence in New York, didn’t begin arriving in the city in large numbers until immigration restrictions were lifted with passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, championed by Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Since then, their proportion of the city’s population has increased from less than 1 percent to about 13 percent, and their share of the specialized school population has skyrocketed. Asian students constituted 6 percent of the enrollment at Stuyvesant in 1970 and 50 percent in 1994; they make up an incredible 73 percent of the student body this year.

The story is similar at Bronx Science, where the Asian population has exploded from 5 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 1994 to 62 percent today, and at Brooklyn Tech, where their presence increased from 6 percent to 33 percent to 61 percent.

The ‘rich’ fallacy

Asians in New York are overwhelmingly first- and second-generation; some three-quarters of the students at Stuyvesant are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

They’re hardly affluent, notwithstanding de Blasio’s implication that families who get their kids into the specialized schools are “rich.”

True, Asians nationally have the highest median income of any racial group, including whites — and in New York City, their median household income ranks second to that of whites and well ahead of blacks and Hispanics.

But Asians also have the highest poverty rate of any racial group in New York, with 29 percent living below the poverty level, compared with 26 percent of Hispanics, 23 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites. Poor Asians lag far behind whites and are barely ahead of blacks and Latinos. Thus, the income spectrum among Asians in New York ranges from a surprisingly large number in poverty, through a hardworking lower middle class, and on to a more affluent upper middle class.

It might seem reasonable to assume — as de Blasio and others apparently do — that the Asian kids at the specialized schools come largely from families at the top of this pyramid. But this isn’t the case.
Half the students at the specialized high schools qualify for free or subsidized school lunches, including 47 percent at Stuyvesant and 48 percent at Bronx Science — figures that have increased correspondingly with Asians’ rising numbers at these schools. Based upon these figures, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science (as well as four of the other six specialized schools) are eligible for federal Title I funding, given to schools with large numbers of low-income students.

Think about that: Two public high schools that, along with half their students, are officially classified as poor by the federal government rival the most exclusive prep schools in the world.

The poor students get into such schools through hard work and sacrifice — both their own and that of their parents. The students typically attend local tutoring programs, which proliferate in Asian neighborhoods, starting the summer after sixth grade and for several days a week, including weekends, during the school year prior to the test. The costs are burdensome for poor and working families, but it’s a matter of priorities.

A liberal nightmare

All this once would have been the stuff of liberal dreams: A racial minority group historically victimized by discrimination begins coming to America in greater numbers because of an immigration reform sponsored by Ted Kennedy. Though many in the group remain in poverty, they take advantage of free public schools established by progressive New York City governments. By dint of their own hard work, they earn admission in increasing numbers to merit-based schools that offer smart working-class kids the kind of education once available only at Andover or Choate.

To modern “progressive” elites, though, the story is intolerable, starting with the hard work. These liberal elites seem particularly troubled by the Asian-American work ethic and the difficult questions that it raises about the role of culture in group success.

While the advancement of Asian students has come overwhelmingly at the expense of more affluent whites, it has also had an undeniable impact on black and Latino students, whose foothold at these schools, small to begin with, has all but vanished.

Alarm at this development has triggered a new wave of assaults upon the entrance exam — now known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (“SHSAT”) — and the law that mandates its use.

In September 2012, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the US Department of Education, which dispenses federal educational funding to the city, charging that use of the SHSAT as the sole basis for admission violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by federal aid recipients.

The complaint does not allege that the exam intentionally discriminates against black and Hispanic students. Instead, citing statistics regarding declining black and Latino enrollment and SHSAT pass rates, the LDF bases its argument entirely on the theory of “disparate impact” — that is, that discrimination should be inferred merely from racial differences in test scores.

In the complaint and in a subsequent report released last fall to coincide with de Blasio’s election, the LDF argues for replacement of the SHSAT with a “holistic” admissions process — one that would consider “multiple measures” of academic potential, “both quantitative and qualitative,” including not only grades but also such subjective indicators as interviews, recommendations, “portfolio assessments,” “proven leadership skills” and “commitment to community service.”

Other factors could include applicants’ “backgrounds and experiences” and the “demographic profile” of their schools and neighborhoods. To the extent that a test would be allowed at all, it would merely “supplement” these other criteria. The LDF also called for guaranteed admission for valedictorians and salutatorians, and perhaps other top students, at each public middle school program — a proposal that sounds modest but would actually require a set-aside of at least 1,000 of the 3,800 seats in each class.

Subjective backfire

Such subjective admissions criteria would be likelier to favor the kids of New York’s professional class than children from less affluent backgrounds.

De Blasio suggested, for example, that a student’s extracurricular activities should be one of the selection factors. But as a past president of the Stuyvesant Parents Association noted, “the kids that have the best résumés in seventh and eighth grades have money.”

A Chinese student like Ting Shi who has to help out in his parents’ laundromat is not going on “service” trips to Nicaragua with the children in de Blasio’s affluent Park Slope neighborhood. The LDF’s suggested admissions criteria — student portfolios, leadership skills and community service — are all subject to privileged parents’ ability to buy their children the indicia of impressiveness.

Ironically, eliminating the SHSAT would magnify the role of what progressives call “unconscious bias” — the idea that we have a preference for those who look like us and share our backgrounds. Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews are much more susceptible to such bias than is an objective examination.

Sure, the decision makers will do their best to admit a few more black and Latino kids (especially those from the same upper-middle-class backgrounds), but the primary beneficiaries will be affluent white students who didn’t study hard enough to perform really well on the test but seem more “well-rounded” than those who did. As always, the losers in this top-bottom squeeze will be the lower middle and working classes. Among the applicant pool for the specialized high schools, that means Asians.

Comparing the specialized schools with other selective city high schools that don’t use the SHSAT bears this out. These “screened” high schools are, to varying degrees, more selective than regular neighborhood high schools; they choose students using the multiple criteria supported by SHSAT critics.

A comparison of the eight most selective screened schools with the eight specialized schools shows that the screened schools, while more heavily black and Latino, are also considerably whiter and more affluent — and considerably less Asian.

Remember that the specialized schools are 13 percent black and Hispanic, 24 percent white and 60 percent Asian. The top screened schools are 27 percent black and Hispanic, 46 percent white and only 26 percent Asian. And while 50 percent of the students at the specialized schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, only 37 percent of the students at the top screened schools do.

Subjective selection criteria also inevitably favor the affluent and connected — as a comptroller’s audit of the screened-school admissions process revealed. The study found that most of the schools examined did not follow their stated selection criteria and could not explain the criteria that they actually did use.

There is also a big difference between evaluating 17-year-old college applicants and 13-year-old high-school applicants. The younger candidates have had far less opportunity to distinguish themselves on such vague qualities as “character” and “leadership.” A selection process based on these intangibles can easily fall prey to arbitrariness, prejudice and parental gamesmanship.

Critics of the SHSAT will reply that something must be done about declining black and Hispanic enrollment at the specialized high schools. The answer, however, can never be to lower objective standards.

Adopting this cynical approach would do no favors for black and Latino children, while opening the door to discrimination against Asian kids like Ting. It is not the specialized schools’ emphasis on merit, but rather the advocates’ defeatist worldview that is truly — and tragically — wrongheaded.

Dennis Saffran is an appellate attorney and was recently the GOP candidate for the city council seat representing District 19, in Queens. This article is adapted from the Summer 2014 issue of City Journal.
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Re: De Blasio Trying to Push Asians out of Elite NY Schools

Postby pianoman » Sat Nov 29, 2014 7:08 pm

Here is another take on this. Advocates some changes to the admissions process at these schools, but not necessarily the ones de Blasio wants:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-23/de-blasio-seeks-to-alter-entry-plan-for-nyc-elite-schools.html

Who Gets Into NYC's Elite Schools? Wrong Mix of Kids, De Blasio Says, Fighting Test
By Henry Goldman Jun 23, 2014 10:55 AM CT

De Blasio Seeks to Upend Entry to Top NYC Schools

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office Jan. 1 promising to reduce economic inequality, said he wants to end a 43-year policy that restricts admission at the city’s elite high schools to students who score highest on a standardized test.

The rule has been debated since a 1971 state law made the test the only criterion to gain entry to eight specialized public schools that offer college-preparatory curriculum and whose alumni include Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Bills in the legislature backed by the teachers union and set to be reintroduced next year would allow use of other measures, including grades, attendance and scores on other exams.

“I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people,” de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. “We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair.”

De Blasio, 53, a self-described progressive Democrat who campaigned for more affordable housing and universal pre-kindergarten, won election in November by the largest percentage-point margin of any non-incumbent in New York history. One of his goals is to increase ethnic, economic and academic diversity among students inside the most competitive and rigorous high schools, including Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, without diminishing academic standards.

‘Certain Backgrounds’

“We cannot have a dynamic where some of our greatest educational options are only available to people from certain backgrounds,” de Blasio said at an April news briefing.

A graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Massachusetts who received his undergraduate degree at New York University and master’s from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, de Blasio is no stranger to the rigors of standardized testing. His son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Technical, one of the specialized high schools that would be affected.

The current discussion is part of a larger one about high-stakes testing after 12 years in which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated the use of such exams, saying they provide the most reliable way to measure student, teacher and school performance. Tests provide training for challenges that students face throughout their lives, Bloomberg said.

Bronx Science

The former mayor, who in 2002 gained control of the largest U.S. school system when the state backed his plan to disband the city Board of Education, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

At the Bronx High School of Science, which requires the test, the alumni board in a June 20 letter asked the legislature to reject any changes to the test requirement.

“We stand for an admissions process that is a pure meritocracy, with one standard that is transparent and incorruptible,” the board wrote. “Preserving the objectivity of the admissions process is necessary to maintain the high educational standards of the specialized schools.”

De Blasio’s criticisms echo questions about high-stakes testing that former Mayor John Lindsay raised more than 40 years ago. His efforts to broaden admission requirements met with opposition from alumni and parents.

Albany Bills

“There are some kids who excel at standardized testing,” de Blasio said. “There are some kids who are incredibly great writers or creative thinkers, or artistic, and we need to represent that whole spectrum.”

Lawmakers in Albany didn’t vote on bills that would change the system in the legislative session that ended last week. The same proposals will be reintroduced next year, said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which wants the state law changed to recognize other measures of achievement.

“This has restarted a discussion we needed to have,” Mulgrew said. “We’ve found Republicans and Democrats who each say it’s unfair to base everything on one test, because a lot of kids can game the system. Ultimately, it’s about changing the definition of academic success.”

Chicago and Boston are among other systems in the U.S. that have broadened admissions to their most competitive schools with criteria other than a single test score.

Chicago, Boston

Chicago, which has 10 selective high schools, requires testing in reading comprehension, vocabulary, math and grammar as an admissions tool while also allowing principals to fill as much as 5 percent of available seats “outside of the regular selection process,” in compliance with district guidelines.

At Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School and the John D. Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, the single-test policy expanded to include class grades several years ago, said Maria Viera, assignment specialist for the city public schools’ office of enrollment planning and support. It’s “part of an effort to be more holistic and level the playing field, because some people do well on tests and some don’t,” she said.

In New York, the question of how to diversify the students admitted to those schools came up during a June 7 gathering of alumni of Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan, whose graduates include four Nobel laureates, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, film star James Cagney and former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt.

Mostly Asian

Of the 3,292 students at Stuyvesant in this academic year, 73 percent are Asian; 22 percent white; 2 percent Hispanic; and 1 percent black, according to the city Education Department.

That contrasts with the ethnic make-up of the city’s 1.1 million public-school students, who are 40 percent Hispanic; 28 percent black; 15 percent Asian; and about 15 percent white.

“Stuyvesant was overwhelmingly Jewish in my day; now it’s predominantly Asian,” said M. Felix Freshwater, a 1964 graduate and trustee of the school’s endowment fund who attended the gathering.

Stuyvesant and the other specialized schools have for decades offered opportunities for high-achieving students who couldn’t afford private school, said Freshwater, who’s now a Miami surgeon.

“Having an exam seems fair, but how a student becomes prepared starts with how children are educated starting in pre-kindergarten, not a summer cram course,” he said. “We need to rethink the admissions criteria, but I’d feel more comfortable if educators were making the decisions, not the state legislature.”

The Specialized High School Admissions Test, devised and administered by U.K.-based publisher Pearson Plc (PSON), is a multiple-choice exam of verbal and math skills lasting two hours and 20 minutes.

Students are assigned to a school based on their score, with consideration given to preference. Citywide, 27,817 students took the exam in 2014 and 5,096 were admitted to one of the specialized schools.

‘Indistinguishable’ Scores

The city requires the exam for the eight schools even though the 1971 state law covered only three: Stuyvesant; Bronx Science, which counts eight Nobel laureates and six Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni; and Brooklyn Tech, whose alumni include billionaires Leonard Riggio, founder of Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS) and John Catsimatidis, chairman of supermarket operator Red Apple Group.

The city also uses the test for the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College; the High School for American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; Staten Island Technical High School; and the Brooklyn Latin School.

A 2008 study of the test’s effectiveness found that thousands of rejected students achieved scores that were “statistically indistinguishable” from thousands who were admitted. The 37-page report, published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, was written by Joshua Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management in New York. In 1980, he graduated from Stuyvesant High School.
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