Some Parents in District 2 Support Abandoning SHSAT

Parents in school district 2 argue that many factors figure in the specialized high school debate; one group has urged support of abandoning the SHSAT test. (Photo via World Journal)

More than 70 parents from school district 2, including some Asian parents, sent a joint letter to the district’s Community Education Council (CEC) recently to support Mayor de Blasio’s specialized high school reform plan. Students in the district, which covers affluent neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side, SoHo and Tribeca and is one of the best school districts, make up 8 percent of the eighth graders in the city and 13 percent of the students in specialized high schools. But the parents said in the letter that abandoning SHSAT, the entrance test of specialized high schools, is “an urgent first step.”

Earlier in December, the CEC of the district held a public meeting regarding specialized high school reform. Some members of the CEC proposed a resolution at the meeting criticizing the mayor’s plan and calling for the Department of Education to include community engagement. But the resolution failed to pass when the council’s vote ended in a tie.

Two days after the meeting, 77 parents of the district sent the letter opposing the resolution, and several of them are Asian. They said in the letter that New York has the most racially segregated public education system in the country. Black students, who make up 26 percent of the school system, only make up 1 percent of students [at Stuyvesant High School]. “Any conversation about the SHSAT and New York City’s specialized high schools must begin by recognizing” this, the letter said.

The letter blamed the city’s education policy in past decades for having created serious racial segregation in public schools. For example, the enrollment policy allows close to 40 percent of students to give up their zoned schools and enter kindergarten out of their school zones. The families that send their children to schools out of their zones often have higher income and better English proficiency than other families in the same district. And therefore, they have more options. Those students who have to enroll in a zoned school of poorer quality when they are children are more likely to end up in similar quality middle and high schools.

The parents admitted in the letter that families in district 2 are the beneficiaries of such a system. Their higher income level is associated with the better quality and more academic programs of the schools in the district. The parent teacher associations in the district have more resources to support school activities, and some have a budget of more than $1 million. Students in the district are able to attend cram programs designed to help them get high scores on tests when they are very young. But parents and students in most public schools are not able to access such programs.

The letter also said that the DOE failed to provide enough resources to Black and Latino students K-8. The SHSAT, which seems like a fair competition, is indeed a test for the elites that reinforces the racially segregated education system. “While addressing the inadequacies of the SHSAT as an admission metric is not enough to repair this unjust system, it is an urgent first step,” the letter said.

The parents also pointed out that New York is the only city in the country that has schools which decide their admissions based solely on a test. As the beneficiaries of the current system, the parents believe that they need to be more vocal about the unfairness. In addition, many previous studies have shown that a single test is not able to predict students’ academic or professional achievements in the future.

“We, as parents of children in district 2 schools, ask that the CEC acknowledge the diversity of opinion within the district,” the letter said. It stated that the specialized high school reform is an opportunity for parents to discuss broadly how to make the education system in New York fairer, and an opportunity to advocate for students citywide to get equal rights on education.

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