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City Efforts Fail to Boost Offers to Blacks and Latinos at Top High Schools

By Amy Zimmer | March 9, 2017 10:55am | Updated on March 9, 2017 11:11am
 Black and Latinos were offered fewer seats at elite high schools like Stuyvesant despite the city's diversity efforts.
Black and Latinos were offered fewer seats at elite high schools like Stuyvesant despite the city's diversity efforts.
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MANHATTAN — Despite the city’s efforts to boost diversity at its most elite high schools, the total number of black and Latino students offered slots this year was slightly lower compared to last year, according to Department of Education data released Wednesday.

While 530 black and Latino students were offered seats last year at the eight schools requiring the Specialized High School Admissions Test, like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, this year saw only 524 seats offered to black and Latino students.

Since last year, the DOE has rolled out several initiatives designed to increase diversity at the specialized high schools, including expanding its DREAM program providing free after-school test prep to sixth and seventh graders and piloting in-school testing for the specialized high school exam at seven schools with low-income students.

But these programs did not make a dent in the demographics of the top-notch schools, remaining virtually unchanged from the year before with fewer than 4 percent of the offers given to black students, and Latino students awarded 6.5 percent of the offers.

Meanwhile black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of the city's public school system.

White students received 28 percent of the seats at the specialized high schools, and Asian students were awarded nearly 52.5 percent of the offers, the data showed. The remaining student admissions offers were made to students listed as Native American, multi-racial or unknown.

The status quo came of little surprise to Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough New York, which helps level the playing field to low-income students by offering tutoring, enrichment, test prep and more for students from middle school through college.

“Test prep on its own doesn’t make up for unequal schooling,” Wong said. “It’s a Band-Aid, at best, for what is a two-tiered educational system in New York City, and I think the rush to implement test preparation ignored the larger issues of an unequal system of education quality among different kinds of kids.”

The number of black students who took the specialized high school test in October fell by 1.1 percent to 5,847, but offers fell by 7.6 percent to 194. The number of Latino test takers, on the other hand, rose by nearly 9 percent to 6,614 while offers only rose about 3 percent to 330, the data showed.

Ryan Baxter, who runs PASSNYC, another nonprofit aimed at increasing diversity at the highly selective specialized high schools, believes that too few black and Latino students were taking the exam for a host of reasons beyond test prep.

“When we first started two years ago, I thought it was an awareness issue,” he said about the disparity in test takers, but after engaging with service providers, he realized the landscape was more complicated. “We’re learning how to provide services for at-risk and in-need students.”

His organization is currently working in six schools — three in East Harlem, one in West Harlem, Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill — offering free test prep, but also bringing in student ambassadors from Stuyvesant, experts to talk about high school admissions and an organization that provides teachers to extend the school day.

He was heartened to see the DOE’s pilot program offering the test in seven schools, since traveling to the sites for the Saturday exam is a burden on many low-income students who can’t pay for the transit on weekends.

“I’m hopeful that over time this will show a big impact,” he said, adding, “The DOE has already expressed interest in expanding the pilot from seven sites to 100 by 2020.”

Participation in the test at those seven schools increased 50 percent from 755 to 1,150 students at those schools, DOE officials said.

And while black and Latino students made up 6 percent of DREAM participants, these students represented 26 percent of the offers to black and Latino students.

Overall, of the nearly 77,000 eighth graders who applied to high schools across the city by the Dec. 1 deadline, 46 percent received their top choice and 72 percent received an offer to one of their top three, according to the DOE.

All high school applicants can participate in Round 2 admissions and have until March 25 to submit applications.