The New York City Department of Education runs eight specialized high schools. These are not vocational schools offering job training. They are the gate keepers for privileged preparation for elite colleges, upper middle class careers, the perpetuation of class status. They have world-class facilities, teachers and curriculum. They have high graduation rates and close to 100 percent college admission success. The best known of these high schools are the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School. Students are admitted to these schools by their scores on a test taken in grade 8. The test is basically a mathematics test.
This year, Bronx Science admitted 968 new students. Of them, 557 were Asian/Pacific Islander; 252 were White, non-Hispanic; 89 were “Unknown”; 50 were Latino and 18 were black. Stuyvesant admitted 952 students. Six hundred eighty of the students were Asian, while another 164 were white; of the rest, 79 were “Unknown”, 21 were Latino, and seven were black. Bronx High School of Science admitted two American Indian students and Stuyvesant admitted just one.
Fifth-eight percent of Bronx Science’s admissions were Asian students as were nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of entering Stuyvesant students. Twenty-six percent of Bronx Science’s admissions were white, as were 17 percent of Stuyvesant’s admitted students. Black enrollments amounted to two percent of Bronx Science’s and one percent of Stuyvesant’s entering class; Latinos made up 5 percent and 2 percent of Bronx Science’s and Stuyvesant’s admitted students
Asians and whites, however, do not make up four-fifth’s of New York City’s school population. They only make up 40 percent of the city’s high school students. Latinos and blacks, on the other hand, make up 30 percent and 27 percent of the Big Apple’s high school students.
Here’s a math test: What is the likelihood, other things being equal, that a group making up 27 percent of the total high school students in the city would represent only one percent in the city’s best high school? Perhaps other things are not equal.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures student achievement for grade 8 Mathematics. Eighteen percent of New York City’s white students scored at the Advanced level in 2013, as did 26 percent of the Asian students. Only one percent of the city’s black and Latino eighth-graders scored at Advanced levels. If 99 percent of black eighth-graders are not performing math at advanced levels, the odds are slim that they will pass the admissions test for Stuyvesant and other selective schools.
The Big Apple is doing poorly in teaching math to black and Latino children.
There is an additional barrier. It is generally acknowledged, even by the city, that the test virtually requires extra-curricular instruction. Fortunately, private enterprise has risen to the challenge. Kaplan, Inc., a $2.2 billion company owned by Graham Holdings (the Graham family used to own the Washington Post), offers test preparation for the test. It offers “Premier Tutoring” at three price points: 16 hours, 24 hours and 32 hours. The 32-hour package costs $5,000 (payable in three installments). For this fee students receive (according to the Kaplan website), “proven, score raising strategies to help maximize . . . points on Test Day.” That might seem like a lot of money to pay for a test taken by an eighth grader, but it is very inexpensive when you consider that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics median earnings for people with professional degrees are nearly four times those of people without high school diplomas and nearly three times those of people with just a high school diploma. Other things being equal.
The median income of white families in New York City is $76,000; that of black families $48,000; that of Latino families $37,000; black households with single mothers only earn $36,000 in median income. While a Kaplan “Premier Tutoring” course would cost the White family seven percent of their annual income, it would cost a black woman raising her children without a husband present 14 percent of her annual income. That’s if she had $5,000 to spare. And how likely is that?
Okay, what can be done? Starting now, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña should offer “Premier”-quality tutoring for the test, free of charge, to all New York City students. The city should then immediately overhaul math instruction in its schools, especially those serving primarily black and Latino children.
But keep this in mind: New York City’s specialized high school problem are a particularly clear example of how gifted-and-talented programs are segregation by another name. What is happening in the Big Apple illustrates how American educational institutions limit opportunities for Black and Latino children by barring them from the commanding heights of the education system and thus from the opportunity for careers that might lead them out of the poverty cycle. How long must this continue before action is taken to bring democracy to America?
Photo courtesy of the Daily News.