NYC Education Department Working to Diversify Specialized High Schools

The New York City Education Department is expected to announce a plan today to help black and Hispanic students gain acceptance to some of the most competitive high schools, according to The New York Times.

There are eight specialized high schools in the city, such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical High School, that admit students based solely on their performance on a single assessment, the Specialized High School Admissions Test. The city’s ninth specialized school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, uses auditions in its admissions.

But while black and Hispanic students make up 68 percent of the city’s public school students, they are just 11 percent of the students at these academically rigorous schools. Asian students make up about 54 percent of those admitted, and whites make up 27 percent.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a complaint in 2012 with the federal Education Department calling the admissions process at the schools racially biased. But while NYC cannot change the admissions criterion at these schools (it would require an act of the State Legislature), the de Blasio administration is hoping to help more students pass the existing hurdles.

Many of the students who gain admission take intensive—and expensive— test prep courses, so the city is expanding free tutoring and offering test prep through after-school programs. The Education Department is also hiring up to five outreach workers to recruit more students from underrepresented groups. And this fall, the city will give the admissions test during the school day at five pilot schools, so that students won’t have to travel to a separate location during a weekend.

“Our specialized high schools need to better reflect the diversity of our neighborhoods and our city while maintaining their high standards, and this strong package of reforms is an important step forward,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son attended Brooklyn Technical.

The program will cost $15 million over the next four years. It will begin this summer to prepare students for the October test.

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