Education

Civil Rights Group Questions Specialized Schools’ Admissions in N.Y.C.

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 27, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki (@jzubrzycki)

UPDATED

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about New York City’s specialized high schools’ admissions process. The complaint alleges that reliance on an unproven test as the sole determinant for admissions leads to disproportionately low numbers of African-American and Latino students at the schools and violates the civil rights of many minority students who are not admitted.

The Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, is taken by approximately 30,000 students hoping to gain admission to eight elite high schools in New York City, including the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School—but, the complaint claims, the test has never been proven to reliably predict the “knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to satisfactory participation in the programs offered by the specialized high schools.” The claim also questions the validity of depending on any single factor to determine admissions to the schools.

The complaint was filed against the New York City Department of Education and the New York State Department of Education and says the admissions policies violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The racial demographics of the student bodies of the select high schools are, indeed, very different than those of the district as a whole. For instance, only 19 of the 967 students offered admission to Stuyvesant’s 8th grade class this year are African-American, and only 32 are Latino. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, more African-American students did gain admittance to the schools this year than in the past; but the low numbers still have an impact on black students’ experiences. Stuyvesant’s been in the news again recently due to a cheating scandal.

In an interview, Damon Hewitt, the director of the NAACP LDF’s education practice group, tied the case to “the national debate over the misuse of standardized tests, and to a broader debate about how we define merit.” He said the specialized high schools’ use of the admissions tests is particularly narrow and “myopic.” The complaint says that including middle school grades, teacher recommendations, community service, or other factors would lead to an admissions process that is more just.

Hewitt clarified that the complaint does not claim that the test itself is biased, but that its ability to predict performance has not been proven.

He also said that several advocacy groups focused on Asian-American students’ rights backed up the group—support that’s likely important as the specialized high schools have large numbers of Asian-American students. Hewitt said the groups supported the claim because a more balanced admissions process would help students from underrepresented Asian-American subgroups or other students who don’t fit the “model minority” stereotype.

This case is the first time the NAACP LDF (a New York-based legal advocacy group focused on racial justice that is not part of the NAACP) has taken on testing and admissions in quite this way, Hewitt said. But he suggested that the complaint might pave the way for investigations into whether admissions into specialized schools or select programs in other districts are also discriminatory.

Update:

John C. Liu, the Comptroller of New York City and a graduate of Bronx Science, one of the specialized high schools the complaint refers to, put out a statement addressing the complaint. Here’s what he had to say:

The woeful lack of diversity at our Specialized High Schools is troubling and something we have been watching closely. The admissions process -- a single, grueling test -- is flawed and must be changed. Admissions criteria must be broadened, the test must be analyzed for predictive bias, and the City must do more recruiting for those schools in communities of color.
Sadly, the lack of students of color at the Specialized High Schools is only one piece of a larger puzzle. As we mention in our study just released today, we estimate that four out of every five New York City public high-school students, or 79%, do not earn two- or four-year college degrees within 12 years of beginning the 9th grade, which has significant consequences for their lifetime earnings and the City's economic future.
Education is the key to spreading prosperity, and we have a shared responsibility to make sure our top high schools are fair and inclusive.

Liu wrote about just this issue earlier this year at the Huffington Post.

Want to keep up with school district and leadership news? Follow @district_doss on Twitter.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP