Making New York City’s elite exam schools “fair” means excluding lower-income Asian immigrants, writes Dennis Saffran in the New York Post. The beneficiaries are likely to be children of the professional classes.
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.
Ting got into Stuyvesant, earned a diploma and will start at New York University in the fall.
White, black and Latino enrollment in the exam schools has fallen as Asian-American newcomers — disproportionately poor and working-class — “have aced the exam in overwhelming numbers,” writes Saffran. “White enrollment at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech has plummeted . . . dropping from 79 percent, 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 1971 to just 22 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent today.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for “holistic” and subjective admissions criteria, such as extracurriculars and community service, will penalize students like Ting, who works after school in the family laundromat. His family can’t afford a”service” trip to Nicaragua.
“Subjective evaluation measures like interviews and portfolio reviews” open the door to unconscious bias, writes Saffran. Interviewers favor people like themselves.
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.
Compared to the exam schools, the city’s “screened” high schools that use “multiple criteria” for admissions admit fewer Asian-American and lower-income students, Saffran writes. Citywide, the exam 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. Half the exam-school students qualify for a lunch subsidy compared to 37 percent at the screened schools.