How New York’s Specialized High Schools Compare

(Photo by Orin Hassan, Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Orin Hassan, Creative Commons license)

At the end of October, 8th grade students in New York eager to attend one of the city’s specialized high schools such as Stuyvesant High or Brooklyn Tech sat for an exam that would be the sole determinant of whether or not they gain admission.

They are, quite possibly, the last group of students for whom this particular test will determine the outcome: Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has vowed to broaden access to the schools, is looking to modify the test and add an essay component. The test has skewed the demographics of entering classes at the schools away from black and Latino students and toward Asian students.

But New York is not the only city with specialized schools. Katrina Shakarian of Gotham Gazette took a look at how New York stacks up against Chicago and Boston, and how those cities determine admission at their specialized schools. Her conclusion: In New York, “the students of the elite schools are the least reflective of the city’s broader student population.”

In Chicago, Shakarian writes, 45.2 percent of the students in the school system are Hispanic; 39.7 percent are black; 9.2 percent are white; and 3.5 percent are Asian. In the 10 specialized high schools in the Chicago district, the demographic breakdown of the students attending is as follows: 34.7 percent are African American; 29.6  percent are Hispanic, 21.9 percent are white and 8.8 percent are Asian.

White and Asian students are clearly overrepresented in Chicago’s specialized schools compared with their overall demographic makeup in the school system, but the differences are nowhere near as dramatic as in New York, where the eight specialized high schools report an Asian population of 59.7 percent (compared with a system-wide share of 15.3 percent) and a white population of 24.4 percent (compared with a system-wide share of 14.5 percent).

In Chicago, it is not just a standardized test that determines entry into a specialized school.

The process for gaining entry into one of Chicago’s selective enrollment public high schools is largely two-fold: 30 percent of seats are filled by matching the highest scores in a point system that combines a selective enrollment exam score with grades and seventh grade standardized test results with applicants’ school choices; and about 70 percent of the seats are filled by matching top scorers distributed across four socio-economic tiers, or census tracts, with schools to which students apply.

However, up to five percent of seats are filled by school principals themselves, through a process called “Principal Discretion.” In accordance with CPS guidelines, principals can admit students by considering additional criteria such as honors and awards, recommendations, and personal statements.

Students must be invited to take the entrance exam, and the point system automatically allocates 30 percent of the seats.

About 70 percent of seats are filled by picking an equal number of the highest scorers across four socio-economic tiers that encompass the City of Chicago. The entire city is divided into four tiers, or census tracts, based on family income, homeownership, educational attainment, percentage of single-parent households, and households where English is not the first language. Students are selected based on how they compare to applicants in the tier within which their household falls.

For more on the specialized schools in Chicago and Boston and how their admission process compares with those in New York, go to Gotham Gazette.

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