Education Opinion

Elite High School Admissions

By Walt Gardner — June 13, 2014 1 min read
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Differentiation in education in this country is anathema. The latest evidence comes from New York State, where a move is underway to change the process for admission to elite public schools (“Lawmakers, teachers union push to change elite high school’s admission process, boost diversity,” New York Daily News, Jun. 10).

Ever since 1971, the most selective schools have relied solely on a single test score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test to determine who is admitted. There are two separate but related issues here. The first is the use of only one criterion and the second is the effect on student diversity.

I understand the argument that admitting students solely on how they perform on a single test is unfair. But isn’t that the way lawyers become licensed? Examiners look exclusively at the score on the bar exam. They do not take into account the GPA of law school graduates or recommendations. The same holds true for CPAs. Let’s not forget that state constitutions guarantee only a basic education for all students. It does not guarantee an advanced education for all students. Elite high schools fall into the latter category.

There’s no denying the absence of diversity in New York City’s eight specialized high schools. For example, the latest test was taken by 28,000 students citywide. Yet only five percent of the overall seats were offered to blacks and seven percent to Hispanics, even though 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic (“Status Quo at Elite New York Schools: Few Blacks and Hispanics,” The New York Times, Mar. 11).

But rather than tinker with the admissions process to achieve a stipulated diversity goal, I think the answer is to improve the quality of the schools that blacks and Hispanics attend prior to applying to elite high schools. This would help put them on an equal footing with white and Asian students. I do not believe that racial discrimination has anything to do with the racial composition of the student body at the schools in question.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.