Mayor offers plan to diversify elite NYC high schools

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday he will push to diversify the city's elite specialized high schools by setting aside seats for low-income students who just missed the test score cutoff.

De Blasio announced in an op-ed on the education website Chalkbeat that starting in fall 2019, 20 percent of the seats at the specialized high schools will be set aside for economically disadvantaged students with scores just below the cutoff.

Admission to the eight academically rigorous schools, including Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, is governed by a single test that's offered to eighth graders in the fall.

Critics have long complained that the reliance on the test leads to a lack of diversity at the schools, which are overwhelmingly Asian and white. About 10 percent of the students at the eight school are black or Hispanic, although black and Hispanic students make up two-thirds of the city's public school population overall.

Many middle-class parents spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on tutors to prepare their children for the test.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to the new initiative saying:

I think the question of equity in education is very important. I think the question on admissions and how schools are segregated, desegregated is a very important issue. I also think funding equity is very important and how much are funding each school. In this state, some students get $11,000, and some students get $33,000. That inequity I think is repugnant to our concept as a state. New York City has 1,600 schools. Some are in wealthier communities, some are in poorer communities. We should know how much each school is getting. I believe more funding should be going to the schools with the greatest need, and I think that is the next threshold in education reform. 1,600 schools, I want to know how much each school is getting, and I believe the schools that need more help should be getting more help. And I want to get the communities and the parents more involved in that. I don’t think there’s enough transparency in our education system.

De Blasio, a Democrat, said he would like to eventually replace the test with a new admissions process using measures such as middle school class rankings. He called the Specialized High School Admissions Test "a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence."

Overhauling the admissions process for the specialized high schools would require action by the state legislature.

This article was updated to include a quote from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.