Mayor’s Proposal to Address Diversity in NYC’s Specialized High School Admissions Is Too Little Too Late


CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, LatinoJustice PRLDEF,, 212-739-7581

New York, NY - LatinoJustice PRLDEF, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers College are deeply concerned about New York City’s lack of significant progress and commitment to educational reform of its admissions policies for the City’s specialized high schools. The Mayor’s recently announced reforms are a good start but the reforms may be “too little too late”. Four consecutive years of admissions data under this administration paint a dismal picture of narrowing equal opportunity, and again raises questions as to why so few Latinx and Black public school students are being accepted into NYC’s eight specialized high schools.

The Mayor during his tenure as Public Advocate had denounced the City’s reliance on the SHSAT as the sole basis for determining admission, and during his 2014 mayoral campaign, had pledged to reform the admissions process by incorporating multiple measures admissions criteria and provide critical leadership on the specialized high school admissions process. The Mayor’s announcements this past weekend were his first public steps to belatedly address the issue.

Admission to the eight specialized schools is still currently based solely on students’ rank-ordered scores on a 2.5-hour multiple choice test called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). No other indicators of academic merit are considered in admissions decisions. Students who have stellar grades and other academic achievements are often denied admission, including primarily several thousand Black and Latinx students.

Specialized high school admissions data released by the New York City Board of Education over the past decade demonstrates the continuing lack of racial and ethnic inclusion and diversity in the offers of admissions to all the specialized high schools, particularly in the “big three”: Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School.

“For four and a half years, the NYC Board of Education has failed to implement any real reforms to address the lack of inclusion for huge swaths of Latino and Black children into our finest pubic high schools”, stated Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Yale, Stanford and Columbia and other elite colleges and universities do not condition admission on just one test score. NYC’s specialized high schools should look at an array of objective factors, like grades and community service, in addition to the results of one test. It’s only fair for promising students of all races.”

Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq. General Counsel of the Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers College stated: “After years of public statements about a commitment to diversity in education, it is shameful that this administration is rolling out the most tepid of plans to address diversity in New York City’s specialized high schools. The Mayor and the Department of Education have the ability to administratively change the entrance procedures for five of the eight specialized high schools, now. Instead of taking the necessary steps to do so, they chose to punt the issue to the State Legislature, a move that virtually ensures no real changes at any of the schools anytime soon. Under this plan, the expansion of the Discovery program is not even slated to begin until 2019. This administration continues to abdicate its responsibility to the City’s Black and Brown students. Sadly, this “new” plan continues a pattern of addressing issues of race and diversity in education with half-hearted measures that offer too little, too late.”

“The continued decreasing number of Latino students being admitted to NYC’s elite specialized high schools given the large percentage of Latino students enrolled in our public schools is a fervent reminder that much still remains to be done to correct the ongoing educational inequality in our City”, said Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “While we are hopeful to see this belated effort by the Mayor and his administration to finally take some action to address this continuing crisis of exclusion and segregation of Latinx and Black students, immediate administrative action should be undertaken to open up admissions to the five specialized high schools not specifically covered by existing State Education law.”

LDF, LatinoJustice, and the Center for Law & Social Justice had in September 2012 filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) on behalf of a broad coalition of New York education, civil rights and social justice organizations. The complaint which challenged the admissions process at NYC’s elite Specialized High Schools contended that neither the NYC nor NYS Departments of Education had previously conducted a study to assess whether the SHSAT was a valid admissions indicator to determine whether there was any correlation between students’ test results and learning standards in these high schools. You can read the complaint which is still pending in OCR’s NY Regional Office here.

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