Chronicle News Services
"Schools Cherry Pick, Leaving Minorities Behind
NEW YORK--No other city in the country screens students for as many schools as New York--a startling fact all but lost in the furor that has erupted over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent proposal to change the admissions process for the city’s handful of elite high schools.
One in five middle and high schools in New York, the nation’s largest school district, now choose all of their students based on factors like grades or state test scores. That intensifies an already raw debate about equity, representation and opportunity that has raged since Mr. de Blasio proposed scrapping the one-day test now required to gain entry into New York’s eight elite high schools. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in many of the most selective screened middle and high schools, just as they are in the specialized high schools.
In Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest district, there are only two selective high schools and two “highly gifted” magnet schools. Boston has seven schools that screen--all high schools--including the prestigious Boston Latin School, a feeder for Harvard University that has an entrance exam akin to New York’s specialized high school test. In Seattle, the only screened schools are two elementary schools with accelerated curriculums for “highly capable” students who pass a district-administered gifted test.
“When we have a publicly funded school system, the notion that you can pick and choose your students is problematic,” said Matt Gonzales, director of the school diversity project at New York Appleseed, an organization that pushes for integrated schools. “It undermines the democratic, and free and open nature of public education.”
Unlike many cities, New York, with its 1.1 million students, also has a large base of middle-class families that attend the public schools, said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Screened schools are a way to appeal to them and keep their children in the public schools, especially in a city where public housing projects sit beside million-dollar apartments, he said.
But the result has been that New York, in essence, has replaced tracking within schools with tracking by school, where children with the best records can benefit from advanced classes and active parent and alumni associations. According to the city, of the more than 830 middle schools and high schools, roughly 190 screen all of their students. Many of these screened schools are clustered in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with enrollments that are more white, Asian and affluent than the overall school population.
Edwin Franco, a father of two girls who lives in the Bronx, said that too many selective schools cherry pick the best students--and deprive everyone else of opportunities. “They’re almost like a factory,” he said. “They’re churning out high-performing kids who are doing great while the rest of the kids are trying to figure it out on their own because they don’t have the same resources.”
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