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The SHSAT is a diagnostic, the canary in the coal mine.
March 26, 2014 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Bill De Blasio blamed the lack of racial diversity in New York City's top high schools, such as Stuyvesant, on the standardized admissions test, and campaigned on ending it. The New York Times has written pieces reminding of it. But the parent of a biracial son attending Stuyvesant has a different argument: that the problem is not with the test, but with the substandard education system that dominates much of New York City.
"By having these pathetic SHSAT results publicized year after year, it shines a light on just what an awful job inner city schools are doing educating those students who can’t afford to buy their way out of a broken system, either through private schools or private tutoring centers. If the specialized high schools’ racial balances were “fixed,” we might be tempted to consider the problems they expose 'fixed,' too."
posted by corb (165 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, what a perfectly awful acronym for that test.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:40 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Wow, what a perfectly awful acronym for that test.

Or awfully perfect, perhaps.
posted by yoink at 8:47 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm a little confused here. The author of the kveller blogs states that unless you go to a private school or have outside tutoring, you cannot be prepared for these tests, and then, goes on to say that "the SHSAT is completely objective." Which, you know, is true until you figure that tons of students taking this test have no or very little exposure to the subjects of which the SHSAT attempts to objectively quiz you on.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:47 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


What? When I went to Brooklyn Tech, the black student population was the majority, with asians as the next highest group and white kids being the minority. I had no idea times have changed that much.
posted by cazoo at 8:48 AM on March 26


So for people who aren't aware of how this works: in NYC, you apply to high schools roughly the way you apply to colleges. There's a district school that you can go to by default. They have to take you. There's district schools you can apply to if they have a program you want to go to. Then there's schools you have to get into; there's no open access to them. Most have an exam (the SHSAT), others like LaGuardia (the arts school) have a portfolio/audition requirement. But the exam is it: no other requirements. I went to Brooklyn Tech -- same school as Dante -- and it was literally a building 75% full of underachievers who tested well, and some kids that wanted specifically to go there.

I went to a magnet junior high school, and we spent at least one day a week in 8th grade in a class specifically devoted to taking the SHSAT. Everyone who got into Stuyvesant was announced by name the day the results came in over the school PA. It was made to be a Big Fucking Deal. And that wasn't even the entire magnet school that got to take those classes, only the top whatever percent.

I got lucky, basically. My mom kept track of these things, the public elementary school I went to kept parents abreast of the magnet junior high school system, the junior high kept parents abreast about the high school system, the high school required proof of application to a college (an acceptance or rejection letter) as part of the graduation requirements. Which means if your parents are Too Busy or you went to a school (or even were in the percentile-section of a school, as determined by state/citywide exams) that didn't focus on getting kids into magnet programs, you were about to encounter years and years of shitty NYC public school education.

The system needs so much fucking work it is ridiculous. My wife and I will be having kids soon and holy shit I'm pretty sure navigating the school system will be a second job for me. And I went through the NYC public school system myself.

I had no idea times have changed that much.

Class of '02. It was maybe 50% Asian and 30% black/Hispanic/islander.
posted by griphus at 8:49 AM on March 26 [25 favorites]


We took a trip to shit on the SHSAT. You'll never guess what happened next.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:49 AM on March 26


And as I thought, it's yet more "bootstraps!" argumentation from someone who avoids looking at the advantages that their special snowflake has thanks to their socioeconomic status. As she openly notes, her son wasn't counted because he came in from a private school (and you can be quite sure that had he not gotten into one of the elite NYC public high schools, he would have stayed in the private system).

Once again, the issues with our schools have more to do with economics and poverty than anything else, but as long as we continue to avoid that point, we will go nowhere in fixing things.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:50 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Also, from the blog about her son being Jewish:

where he wouldn’t have stood out so much.

OK, this is New York. Your son is not going to "stand out" because of his color, or his religion.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:55 AM on March 26


This is a weird piece, as roomthreeseventeen points out. Basically it makes a slam dunk case against the validity of the exam:
The prep books are available to anyone–it’s not like the contents of the SHSAT are a secret only doled out to those with the right password. The real secret is the fact that, while the test, which is given in October of your 8th grade year, contains algebra, algebra isn’t taught in most public schools until spring of 8th grade (if at all).

Because my son went to private school, he was familiar with the material, and all he needed to do was practice the specific (admittedly Draconian) format of the test.

Unless an NYC student attends an accelerated middle school, there is no way they can be ready for the SHSAT without outside tutoring. (My son reports that every African-American he’s met so far at Stuyvesant went to one of these schools.)
But then it goes on to claim that the test is fine and the problem is that the public schools aren't doing a good enough job. But if the test isn't testing students on the curriculum their receiving in public schools it is, by definition, inappropriate. It's not as if the only alternative is getting rid of selectivity all together. Designing a test that is actually designed to measure students on their real capacity to handle the instruction that will be given at the selective schools surely doesn't require that it be structured to only admit students whose parents are sufficiently tuned into the system to have secured extracurricular tuition for their kids.
posted by yoink at 8:55 AM on March 26 [20 favorites]


I'm a Stuyvesant alumnus. There's been a lot of discussion in alumni circles about this ever since De Blasio started talking about it, and this piece has spurred even more. From what I've been seeing, there's a general feeling that the racial imbalance in the student population is ridiculous and terrible but at the same time there's little consensus on what to actually do about it. A plurality opinion, however, is that to abolish the test and/or loosen entrance requirements would just lower the standards for everyone and "destroy" the school.
posted by Bromius at 9:01 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


OK, I'm a little confused here. The author of the kveller blogs states that unless you go to a private school or have outside tutoring, you cannot be prepared for these tests, and then, goes on to say that "the SHSAT is completely objective." Which, you know, is true until you figure that tons of students taking this test have no or very little exposure to the subjects of which the SHSAT attempts to objectively quiz you on.

But that's bizarre - you can't get into a specialty high school unless you pass a test on algebra, but algebra isn't taught until after the test is given. That's awful! That's not even bad planning or bootstraps, it's criminal!

As I read this, I reflected that I've blown through every standardized test I've ever taken with little or no prep and received great scores - but I couldn't have done well on an algebra test in October of my 8th grade year because I had never seen algebra in my life until the first week of September.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on March 26


Once again, the issues with our schools have more to do with economics and poverty than anything else,

50% of students at Stuyvesant qualify for a free lunch.

Things have changed quite a bit over the past 20 years. As more middle class parents stay in the city instead of leaving for the suburbs and as the price of private school has skyrocketed, Stuyesant, Bronx Science, et al. have become much, much more competitive as parents try to get their kids in there.

The analogy of the "canary in the coal mine" is wrong, though -- the canary is the early, initial indication that something is wrong. Poor performance on the SHSAT is a sign of an entire school career of poor education. The problems that lead to underperforming on the SHSAT started in kindergarten.
posted by deanc at 9:02 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]


But that's bizarre - you can't get into a specialty high school unless you pass a test on algebra, but algebra isn't taught until after the test is given. That's awful! That's not even bad planning or bootstraps, it's criminal!

Exactly, which means the test should not be used. Even though this blogger says the test is fine.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:02 AM on March 26


roomthreeseventeen: " OK, this is New York. Your son is not going to "stand out" because of his color, or his religion."

It depends on where they go. It's perfectly possible to stand out for your race or religion in NYC public schools.

When I was at Stuyvesant (admittedly many, many moons ago) it wasn't exactly a pinnacle of racial diversity. And when I was in public school in south Brooklyn in the 70's, I was the only Jewish kid in my class for five years, because all the other Jewish kids in the area went to Yeshivas.

By contrast, when my son began kindergarten in public school in Queens this year, he was one of just three non-Asian boys in his class. The school suggested we transfer him to a more diverse class which wouldn't need such strong ESL instruction, and we did. In hindsight, we made the right decision. According to his mom, the sole remaining non-Asian student in that class is used as an example for the rest. Which is fine in principle, but if I were his parents I'd be worried that he was not receiving all the instruction and help he needs.
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


50% of students at Stuyvesant qualify for a free lunch.

deanc, I consider myself solidly middle class. I live on the Upper West Side. And if I had a child, that child would qualify for a free lunch.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:05 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


...you can't get into a specialty high school unless you pass a test on algebra, but algebra isn't taught until after the test is given.

It depends on the school, I think. The junior high I went to, we had algebra in 6th grade. But it was a magnet school. But at the same time it was still a public school, on a public curriculum which wasn't accelerated at that point yet, so I have no idea how that worked. Anyone know if they changed the system and the test hasn't caught up?

The system is almost fractally fucked-up. The harder you look, the stupider and more incomprehensibly uneven it is. A friend of mine is a high school math teacher and tried to explain to me the new curriculum and I don't even fucking know what's going on anymore.
posted by griphus at 9:06 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I think the argument is that basic algebra is supposed to be taught or should be taught in public schools, but because public schools are largely so crummy, it's important to raise the public schools up rather than lower the test down.

From my own experience in NYC public middle school, algebra was taught in 6th and 7th grade in the honors classes - but I also went to school out of neighborhood, because my mother pulled some shifty stuff with a variance to get me into a school in a wealthier neighborhood than the one we lived in. I think you almost need to be a resident of NYC to know is how very, very variant the schools here are.

When I was at Stuvesant (sheesh, it's like a weird reunion in here I guess), I remember the population as largely Asian and Russian. I do remember there were enough black students to be a significant block - they had their own section of hallway - but not much more than that.

The racial concerns are real, but it feels kind of weird how for the specific purposes of Stuyvesant, Asians don't seem to be counted as a minority.
posted by corb at 9:08 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: " deanc, I consider myself solidly middle class. I live on the Upper West Side. And if I had a child, that child would qualify for a free lunch."

Your family would have to make less than $43,600 a year to qualify.
posted by zarq at 9:08 AM on March 26


zarq, I'm just saying that $43,000 a year is not poverty.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:09 AM on March 26


For a family of 3, $43k in NYC is pretty tight, particularly if you're paying market rate for an apartment.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:11 AM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I think the argument is that basic algebra is supposed to be taught or should be taught in public schools, but because public schools are largely so crummy, it's important to raise the public schools up rather than lower the test down.

IME, the expectation that Algebra I material should be taught in middle school is a new one. When I attended a very good school in California in the mid-90s, only exceptional students took algebra in 8th grade. By the time I was a senior in high school there were 7th graders taking Algebra. My impression is that we are setting the bar higher and higher for what is considered an "average" amount of school achievement and what is considered an "exceptional" amount of school achievement.
posted by muddgirl at 9:11 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


TPS, no, that's true. But like I said, I live on the UWS, I have cheap rent, so not all families are in the same situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:12 AM on March 26


corb: "Asians don't seem to be counted as a minority."

With good reason! The school was nearly 3/4 Asian last year. :)

roomthreeseventeen: "zarq, I'm just saying that $43,000 a year is not poverty."

Not by national standards, but in many areas of NYC it might as well be if you're raising a family. Unless you're in a rent controlled apartment.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


zarq, I'm just saying that $43,000 a year is not poverty.

Given that the median household income in NYC is 50k/yr, that puts such a family solidly in the lower middle class.

Now, 75% of NYC public school students qualify for a free lunch, while 50% of Stuyvesant students do, so there is some underrepresentation, but it is certainly not a haven for children of upper middle class professionals. It seems that it serves a highly ambitious slice of the working and middle classes.
posted by deanc at 9:13 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Your family would have to make less than $43,600 a year to qualify.

According to this page, that's about the limit for a family of four (this page gives $40,793). For a family of three (a couple with one child) it gives the limit as $33,874. I don't think anyone earning that much in the US considers themselves "solidly middle class."
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


I wonder who will be our Mayor in three years! This guy is gonna be shoved out of office so fast it will be like in the Looney Tunes when Bugs would run and a puff of smoke in his shape would be left behind.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:14 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone earning that much in the US considers themselves "solidly middle class."

This is America! EVERYONE considers themselves "solidly middle class"!
posted by deanc at 9:15 AM on March 26 [22 favorites]


Having grown up on free (and then reduced) lunch, "free lunch" and "solidly middle class" are mutually exclusive unless you're getting some sort of amazing deal on rent.
posted by griphus at 9:15 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone earning that much in the US considers themselves "solidly middle class."

True. And I was basing that just on my own salary since my partner and I are not married.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:18 AM on March 26


This is America! EVERYONE considers themselves "solidly middle class"!

It's true, actually. I'm pretty sure I considered myself middle class when I was a shift lead manager at Blockbuster and was paying my $350/month rent in cash because I didn't want a check to bouce; I'll bet there are also people who spend $2500/month in groceries who consider themselves 'solidly middle class.'
posted by shakespeherian at 9:22 AM on March 26 [10 favorites]


Teaching mathematics often requires some differentiation. My kids went to a middle school that taught algebraic concepts in 7th grade and then some kids took algebra in 8th and some kids took another year of 'concepts'. And at meetings some parents regularly complained that other "feeder' middle schools were teaching math at a higher level, leaving their kids at a disadvantage. By 7th or 8th grade, many of the kids that are heading to MIT or Caltech have self selected a bit and tying all students results to math grades skews the results.
posted by readery at 9:24 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]



My impression is that we are setting the bar higher and higher for what is considered an "average" amount of school achievement and what is considered an "exceptional" amount of school achievement.


Yeah; if the public middle schools improved, the advanced schools and the standardized test would just raise the bar to trig and calc. If there are only a few good highschools and the rest are crap, there will be shady unfair ways for enterprising parents to get their kids into the good schools. Part of the solution should be wider access to quality highschool education.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:25 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


As a nation we're currently suffering one of the effects of too many MBAs: The Rise of The Administrators. The new administrators see themselves as the savior of any system they're parachuted into and any solution is going to be top-down and market-oriented. In schools the result is standardized testing, charter schools, and rigid, admin-imposed curriculum as panacea for the problems of the greater society.
The title for this post reads like a frantic defense of the validity of the standardized testing approach.
posted by Treeline at 9:29 AM on March 26 [7 favorites]


deanc, I consider myself solidly middle class. I live on the Upper West Side. And if I had a child, that child would qualify for a free lunch.

A small digression. A lot of us people who "consider ourselves middle class" should think seriously about the distinction between wealth and social/cultural capital. Lots of us who have middle-class forms of the latter two have much less of the former than our parents did, both in absolute terms and proportionally to the rest of society.

We need to acknowledge that our fidelity to the socio-cultural frame of middle-class status could be interfering with our real class consciousness, which, if it's been paying attention over the past few decades, would place a lot of "middle-class" people far lower in the wealth/income distribution than we might want to admit.

In other words, our parents were middle-class (maybe ascendant, maybe solidly), and we were raised to think of ourselves as middle-class, but the wealth referent of that index just doesn't belong to us anymore, and if we don't like that maybe we should admit that we're actually low-class and then try to do something about the downward pressure forcing us and everyone else except the 1% in that direction.
posted by clockzero at 9:29 AM on March 26 [57 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: " True. And I was basing that just on my own salary since my partner and I are not married."

Many of us who are raising families in NYC can't play those kinds of games with the numbers to qualify for free lunches. We report our household income to the IRS, and aren't working with additional unreported income from unmarried partners.
posted by zarq at 9:29 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


...shady unfair ways for enterprising parents to get their kids into the good schools...

I'm not sure I'd go so far as ascribing "shady" and "unfair" behavior to the parents. I grew up working class with a single mom (and my grandparents, who didn't work) and one of the few things there was always money for was math tutoring for me, because I was bright but never good at math. It was $25/hr, usually for an hour, usually one day a week. Not cheap, sure, but not a princely sum either. I wouldn't say the advantage I got was necessarily shady or unfair. It was just an advantage that my family had to make sacrifices to get.
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I think it's a slam dunk against not teaching algebra.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:30 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Education is a relative or "positional" good.

If the kids down the street are learning quantum physics in 5th grade, your child learning Algebra in 4th grade looks like a moron by comparison.

The fundamental problem with our educational system is that we view education as a means to keep up with and/or outperform the Jonses, rather than preparing children to be responsible adults.

If our capitalist society values competition and increased performance metrics at all costs, it will be reflected in our educational system without end.
posted by Avenger at 9:33 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Go back over this thread and look at how many people are talking about giving their kids "advantages". Advantages over whom?

There are too many future workers chasing too few opportunities, and this is reflected in our overheated educational environment.
posted by Avenger at 9:37 AM on March 26 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure I'd go so far as ascribing "shady" and "unfair" behavior to the parents.

Point well taken. Thank you. This kind of intense competition for insufficient access to quality education is probably going to produce unfairness though, and is probably not a lot of fun for anyone.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:38 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


If there are only a few good highschools and the rest are crap, there will be shady unfair ways for enterprising parents to get their kids into the good schools. Part of the solution should be wider access to quality highschool education.

The concept, however, seems to be:

a) accept fewer students specifically focused on passing the selection rubrics for the few good schools
b) accept more students who may have potential but are less prepared under the traditional rubrics
c) the overall school system magically improves

If a large city creates a limited resource, there will always be people willing to sacrifice much, much more than you are in order to get access to that resource. (see also: what it takes to get a tenure track faculty position)

This cycle will continue until the supply of a high quality education exceeds the demand or until the middle class public reverts to its traditional academic habits of moving to the suburbs or enrolling their kids in catholic school.
posted by deanc at 9:43 AM on March 26


I think it's a slam dunk against not teaching algebra.

And if the test included compulsory Chinese language, would that be a "slam dunk against not teaching Chinese"? If it included compulsory Latin, would that be a "slam dunk against not teaching Latin"? If it included compulsory Ebonics, would that be a "slam dunk against not teaching Ebonics"?

You test people on what you've taught them--there are lots of things worth learning in this world and you can always make arguments for or against any of them. But testing kids on something they haven't been taught is just nuts.
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I think it's a slam dunk against not teaching algebra.

Amen. I went to run of the mill Israeli schools. That meant being literate with 2 alphabets by end of 4th grade, 3 by the end of 5th, and algebra starting in 7th grade with geometry by the 8th. Stuyvesant's inability to draw minority students who are ready for Stuvesant is the result of bad performance by the grade schools, not anything with Stuyvesant or their admissions test.

The same problem continues at MIT: for all the feel good statements about affirmative action, there is no affirmative action happening at MIT. The 'tute does not want to admit students who will be overwhelmed by the freshman year, chewed up, and spat out, leaving humiliated, frustrated, and indebted. So, minority admissions remain low at MIT. Not MIT's fault.

Education is a relative or "positional" good.

And I think Romney's talk of the 53% versus the 47% points to the heart of the matter. We have a system that does sort our young into something like a 53% and a 47%. If you jump through the right hoops, you make it into the former, and the system looks out for you, and teaches you to expect this as an entitlement. If you don't, you're in the 47%, and you deserve all the shit coming at you.

And that's the problem with this whole process: not that some kids get into the brainiac schools and some don't. It's that the ones who don't are shuffled into a position in our society that years later they're literally too humiliated to smile to anyone because they haven't had the money for dental care. It's not the game that's unfair. It's that the stakes tied to it are unjust.
posted by ocschwar at 9:48 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Another alumnus here. I came from a lower-middle-class family. We couldn't afford private test preparation or even the test preparation book, so I didn't get any. Instead, I had to study with and borrow books from a friend whose family could afford them. Many of my junior high school classmates did take those private courses to prepare for the test. All of those kids (to my knowledge) were the children of Asian immigrants, and not a single one of the private course students passed the test. The four of us who got in studied alone or in small groups.

I went to public schools right up until high school, and I don't recall most or even many of the students at Stuy being from private schools. They existed but they were a rarity. I had one classmate from UNIS and I didn't understand what that even was. This was, however, a long time ago.

If you didn't learn algebra in middle school, then Stuyvesant does not and can not exist to help you catch up. There are no remedial classes there. It is an academically rigorous school, it needs to be academically rigorous for its existence to make any sense, and if your entire public education up until the 8th grade has failed you then Stuyvesant, Science, and Tech aren't the answer. Reducing them will make them fail. They will become meaningless. You're not doing anyone any favors by putting students who have been cheated by public schools into an environment where most students take differential equations or calculus by junior year and you're not even ready to take them by graduation. It's a place for nerds, it's helped a lot of bright kids from poor families get private-school-caliber educations, and its continued existence is important.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:48 AM on March 26 [12 favorites]


From a slightly different angle:Stuyvesant High: Asian-American Domination In Elite Schools Triggers Resentment, Soul Searching
On the other side of the argument, Guofang Li also believes that applying affirmative action-type policies to public school admissions would be disastrous.

“The school [Stuyvesant] is diverse, just [with] different [racial] ratios,” she said. “Normally, most schools in suburban areas are 75 percent white and 25 percent other ethnic groups; while urban schools [may typically have a] 75 percent black or Hispanic population and 25 percent other ethnic groups.” Guofang Li noted that such racial compositions are accepted by most people as “diverse,” but when Asians form the dominant ethnic group (as in Stuyvesant), suddenly questions and complaints arise.

“I do think people have a perception [of] what a diverse school has to be,” she said. “[But] if Asians are in good schools, they have a problem with it.
posted by corb at 9:50 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I think it's a slam dunk against not teaching algebra.

You are assuming that testing for algebra when the vast majority of students haven't been taught algebra in their classes is not a deliberate tactic designed to keep students with the 'wrong' background out of elite schools, whereas I think it is precisely that.
posted by jamjam at 9:54 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]



You are assuming that testing for algebra when the vast majority of students haven't been taught algebra in their classes is not a deliberate tactic designed to keep students with the 'wrong' background out of elite schools, whereas I think it is precisely that.


If by "wrong background" you mean "won't be ready for calculus by junior year," then yes, you're right.
posted by ocschwar at 9:57 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


There are too many future workers chasing too few opportunities, and this is reflected in our overheated educational environment.

I think that's the key here. Decent job opportunities are now only available to a thin slice of the public with the right academic background. If doing decently well in any public school and finishing a degree at a local CUNY campus gave you a decent shot at a middle class life in the NY-metro area which itself had good schools, then there would probably less obsession going on.

But the solution of "let's figure out a slightly more fair way to distribute this highly rare resource" is just continuing the lottery economy by a different means.
posted by deanc at 10:00 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Maybe not teaching algebra is the deliberate tactic.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:01 AM on March 26


Stuyvesant's inability to draw minority students who are ready for Stuvesant is the result of bad performance by the grade schools, not anything with Stuyvesant or their admissions test.

On the other hand, does Stuyvesant need to test algebra specifically to find students who are "ready"? Are kids who didn't get to take algebra before October of the 8th grade so far behind that they'd never be able to handle that level of education?

If by "wrong background" you mean "won't be ready for calculus by junior year," then yes, you're right.

Is that particular subject important enough that the algebra on the admission test essentially weeds out everyone who won't be at that point? If the equivalent in other subjects (that is, testing specific knowledge that has to be taught) were on the test -- for example, Spanish past participles or metaphor in Chaucer -- wouldn't that be kind of troubling as a de facto background-check?
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


A counterpoint: Why Asian Americans Should Support Affirmative Action. (although this article is focused on California college admission policies).

The idea that all Asian Americans are model minorities who benefit from background-blind policies is quite false. I grew up in a community with many poor Laotian immigrant families and Laotian-Americans who do not fit the stereotypes of model academic overachievers.

If by "wrong background" you mean "won't be ready for calculus by junior year," then yes, you're right.

But according to the OP, many students who did not have algebra in 7th grade take test-prep to pass the test anyway. Are these students prepared for calculus by junior year? If this is the true requirement, then competitive high schools should have course requirements similar to colleges, rather than relying on a single test (the "test-only" policy).
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


a deliberate tactic designed to keep students with the 'wrong' background out of elite schools, whereas I think it is precisely that.

Oh yeah, the current system has been cleverly engineered so that children from all-powerful Chinese, Korean, and Indian immigrant families hog all the valuable educational resources the city can provide. You can't beat the Man.
posted by leopard at 10:04 AM on March 26 [10 favorites]


It's that the stakes tied to it are unjust.


True, but when "average" people in the "47%" have a steady job, a house, a car, a steady retirement, and the assurance that public college tuition for their kids will be negligible, these people are regarded as living off the government or greedy unions and getting unearned benefits they don't deserve, holding back the more ambitious hard workers/taxpayers/shareholders.
posted by deanc at 10:07 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I mean, as far as I can tell, we're not talking about throwing out admissions requirements entirely and just letting "anyone" into Stuyvesant. De Blasio is talking about getting rid of the test-only policy and looking at a more comprehensive admissions system.
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Honestly, choosing whether or not to teach algebra is a school tactic, but a lot of it has to do with recent moves towards integrated schooling in NYC public schools. When I was a kid, even in my crazy, super-violent elementary school, we had differentiated classes - four of them - separated by ability level. In the higher level classes, they could teach higher level work. I remember learning things like base 8 in third grade. Now, the new idea is integration of all ability levels, so they kind of have to teach to the lowest common denominator. This means that if you're a school with a lot of struggling students, it would be irresponsible of you to teach algebra to all students early on, when you know most of them can't handle it. Which means the kids that can handle it lose out. The only classes restricted to an ability level are the special "Gifted and Talented" classes, which not every school has, and are also co-located at the worst schools, where parents may not want to send their kids.
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Teaching mathematics often requires some differentiation.

Christ, they're teaching calculus to kids now??!?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:11 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Now, the new idea is integration of all ability levels, so they kind of have to teach to the lowest common denominator.

Please tell me this is deliberate!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:12 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Is that particular subject important enough that the algebra on the admission test essentially weeds out everyone who won't be at that point?

In a science-oriented high school, yes, calculus is that important.

It is one of those sad facts of life that decisions that are made for you when you are young come back to haunt you later in life and will require lots of catch-up work if you want to compete on the same level as those who had those early advantages.

The key is to actually provide those opportunities to catch up AND to blunt the consequence of not necessarily being top level.

In an ideal world, getting into Stuyvesant or not shouldn't really determine the rest of your life's opportunities and wouldn't make a hugely stark difference in the academic opportunities you would have in the rest of NYC. But it does, and the reason for that is because the alternatives are worse.
posted by deanc at 10:13 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


But according to the OP, many students who did not have algebra in 7th grade take test-prep to pass the test anyway. Are these students prepared for calculus by junior year?

The issue isn't how much math they took before Stuy. It's how much math they KNOW before Stuy.

Hence the test.
posted by ocschwar at 10:14 AM on March 26


Please tell me this is deliberate!

...sometimes I can't help myself.
posted by corb at 10:15 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


But according to the OP, many students who did not have algebra in 7th grade take test-prep to pass the test anyway. Are these students prepared for calculus by junior year?

Since, presumably, the test prep teaches them algebra, I'm guessing that the answer is "yes."
posted by deanc at 10:16 AM on March 26


I have long thought that any discussion on education was bound to get very confused, with a zillions opinions on what needs to be done. Now, reading the comment here, it strikes me as impossible to discuss in any worthwhile way. Thus we have, at a minimum:"
1. unions to blame
2. poverty to blame
3. race to blame
4. bureaucracy to blame
5. testing to blame because...see above.
6. private schools to blame--they take away the good students
However: we do know that some schoos are suceeding, despite many of the issues noted by me above...where, how, why is this so?
posted by Postroad at 10:17 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


The issue isn't how much math they took before Stuy. It's how much math they KNOW before Stuy.

Hence the test.


I am really good at taking tests. Give me a week and test prep material and I will pass your test. Subject matter doesn't really matter. Does that mean I learned the material sufficient enough for later courses?

The smartest chemist I know got an 1150 or so out of 1600 on her SATS (that's a poor score). Thankfully elite colleges don't have a test-only policy.

Since, presumably, the test prep teaches them algebra, I'm guessing that the answer is "yes."

I don't think that this is a good assumption. Test prep teaches people how to pass a test. Whether or not that includes actual, useable skills that they can build upon later is not a given. I crammed for the Calculus B/C AP test without having taken the class and I don't feel like re-taking advanced Calculus in college was a waste of time.
posted by muddgirl at 10:20 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Education serves a large number of purposes, some of them contradictory.

The specialized high schools in New York mainly serve to identify the most promising math and science students in the city, put them together in the same building and give them high-quality instruction for four years, and then ship them off to top colleges and universities. These schools are public schools -- they do not cost money to attend and admittance is based purely on a standardized test score, not on a personal recommendation or connection or interview or essay. They attract a large number of poor students, children of immigrants, students whose parents do not speak English, etc. As a result they meet a meritocratic ideal in many ways that other educational institutions do not and this is a point of pride for many.

It is true that the world is not fair, but I'm uncomfortable with pointing a figure at an institution like Stuyvesant and demanding that fairness begin there. The racial statistics are distressing but ultimately the secret weapon that the Asian-American community has is a simple insistence that children study hard. Maybe that's not fair but so many other things are much less fair.
posted by leopard at 10:21 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]


I am really good at taking tests. Give me a week and test prep material and I will pass your test. Subject matter doesn't really matter. Does that mean I learned the material sufficient enough for later courses?

Show my an 8th grader who can fake it with algebra, and I'll show you an 8th grader who can just keep at it and learn trig, analytic geometry, and calculus, if he or she is so inclined.
posted by ocschwar at 10:22 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


The thing is, for all the excellent points in this thread, in many urban environments the education the kids are getting IS shit, and I know because I've taught in them.

There are tons and tons and tons of reasons for this, many of which have to do with the kids' environments (lead paint, poor nutrition, &c.) and other developmental stuff (I've had many kids with fetal alcohol syndrome or who were born addicted to various things), there are issues of family poverty and lack of education and lack of opportunities and these are all very much problems, but the thing is that when it comes down to it, everyone except the very brightest, hardest-working students with the most stable and supportive families are basically SOL because being in those environments can reset the idea of a student's appropriate educational level.

I'm NOT blaming individual schools directly for this, for the most part, because the burden on them is absolutely enormous, but Jesus fuck there is not enough being done. The day-to-day classroom environment is often terrible because you have students who should not be in a general education classroom and the systems to put them somewhere appropriate are, at best, Byzantine, so a whole slew of inappropriate behaviors is normalized and that cuts down on learning. Even as a teacher from a VERY different background (I went to private school in New England; my high school was founded in the 1700s and has an endowment and stuff) your expectations of "normal" or "acceptable" just change. When there're only two kids on grade level in your class, you start to think of that as advanced and the kids who are only a year or two behind as proficient. When, as a student, you see a child with SEVERE developmental issues (still unable to use the bathroom at all in second grade; his dad would come and change him twice a day) call your teacher a white bitch and run screaming from the room and there's nothing anyone can do about it, it doesn't really create a positive learning environment (that kid did eventually get sent to a dedicated school, but it took a TON of effort and a bunch of lawyers, and he'd done the same thing all year in first grade and no one did a damn thing. He left in like February I want to say?).

How do you get a good education when that's happening?

Bottom line: I haven't worked in New York (although I have friends who have) but I've worked in DC public schools with similar populations and, yeah, odds are very good that, for a number of reasons, the vast majority of kids, even the "normal" ones, are not getting an education that prepares them for a decent high school.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:23 AM on March 26 [17 favorites]


OK, this is New York. Your son is not going to "stand out" because of his color, or his religion.

Ridiculous. Lots of neighborhoods in New York (and lots of schools) are racially unintegrated enough that people of a particular race or religion will stand out there. It's perfectly possible in a New York City neighborhood or school to stand out because of your race or religion.
posted by Jahaza at 10:24 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


As a result they meet a meritocratic ideal in many ways that other educational institutions do not and this is a point of pride for many.

I disagree that a test-only policy is a "meritocratic ideal" because I don't think that admissions tests are inherently meritocratic. They have a long history of being used to filter out "undesireable" elements.

Show my an 8th grader who can fake it with algebra, and I'll show you an 8th grader who can just keep at it and learn trig, analytic geometry, and calculus, if he or she is so inclined.

Granted, but does that mean that someone who CAN'T fake it with algebra is less-desirable or less-worthy? Or that a school made up (hypothetically) entirely of fakers is a quality school that we should be spending tax-payer dollars on?
posted by muddgirl at 10:25 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I don't think that this is a good assumption. Test prep teaches people how to pass a test.

I'm not sure it is fair to claim that the only teaching and learning that ever happens is with an earnest, involved teacher in a school classroom where all the students truly "understand" the material. Test prep classes do intensely dump the material on the students and drill it into their heads. I think it is a pretty decent assurance that someone who went through that and demonstrated that level of competence on the test would be prepared for the next level of math classes.

Teaching to the test, when it comes to math, is a highly underrated method of learning.
posted by deanc at 10:25 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]



Granted, but does that mean that someone who CAN'T fake it with algebra is less-desirable or less-worthy?


Less desireable for Stuyvesant? YES. Less "worthy"? See my earlier comment. The problem is that we equate the two.

(By the way, Stuyvesant is not the only sought after elite program in NY. Go to any of the performing arts high schools and buy a ticket to one of their productions. The kids will leave you slackjawed with the quality of their work. Broadway quality performance in a high school auditorium.)
posted by ocschwar at 10:28 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I think it is a pretty decent assurance that someone who went through that and demonstrated that level of competence on the test would be prepared for the next level of math classes.

Why is this method of demonstrating competence better than, say, requiring students to have gotten an A in an Algebra course prior to matriculation? Or using the combination of criteria (test school and school grades) to form a more complete picture of students?

I'm not arguing that students who do well on the test aren't capable of doing well in a high-performance environment. I'm arguing the exact reverse - NOT doing well on an admissions test is a poor way of separating out students who CAN'T achieve at a school.

Less desireable for Stuyvesant? YES.

Why? Again, the smartest chemist I know did relatively poorly on her math SATs. Didn't prevent her from kicking my ass throughout college.
posted by muddgirl at 10:30 AM on March 26


(And I'm talking about a high-intensity tech college that I imagine is similar to the kind of nerds-only environment Stuyvesant is known for.)
posted by muddgirl at 10:32 AM on March 26


Less desireable for Stuyvesant? YES.

Why?


Because Stuyvesant wants to put you through calculus in your junior year. If you don't want that for yourself, don't go to Stuyvesant. Nothing wrong with doing it senior year. Or in vollege even. In a school where that's the plan.
posted by ocschwar at 10:32 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Granted, but does that mean that someone who CAN'T fake it with algebra is less-desirable or less-worthy?

When it comes to being able handle the high level math requirements of Stuyvesant, yes. The inability to even drill yourself to death on the subject matter that you hadn't seen before is a sign that you aren't going to make up the lost ground that you missed before showing up.

It seems pretty self-evident that any inequities in admission to Stuyvesant are the result of poor preparation before students have a chance to apply and poor choices for non-Stuy/Science/Tech options. Fix those problems, and Stuyvesant starts to look like less of a issue.

In fact, you would probably have fewer white and Asian students applying to Stuyvesant in the first place if there were lots of other high quality opportunities in their local neighborhoods.
posted by deanc at 10:32 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I disagree that a test-only policy is a "meritocratic ideal" because I don't think that admissions tests are inherently meritocratic. They have a long history of being used to filter out "undesireable" elements.

*All* admissions criteria have a history of being used to filter out "undesireable" elements. If you want to filter out immigrant kids from Stuyvesant, just add an essay to the test. If you think there are too many Asian kids, let's go to a broader set of criteria. Etc etc. Do you really think the standardized test was designed to produce the current racial demographics at Stuyvesant?
posted by leopard at 10:33 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


This is interesting. I went to Stuy for my freshman year and decided to leave partially because it was so homogenous there (and partially because the commute was a bitch, I lived up near Columbia and Stuy was over on 1st back then) to go to a neighborhood school which was more diverse (Humanities, which doesn't exist anymore, and was admittedly of higher quality than most normal high schools) and I feel like I got a better, more well-rounded education there than I would have at Stuy. The only thing that sucked was losing orchestra.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:34 AM on March 26


As a former teacher and current elementary school librarian in high needs schools, I also find conversations and articles like this often very frustrating because I think a lot of people bring many assumptions or biases or whatever based on very different experiences; everyone has an opinion on education, which is great! Education is important! But seriously, if you don't know, I mean actually REALLY KNOW, what these schools are like, it might well be very different than you think and the problems are not easy to solve. I said in a thread the other day that I had more to learn than contribute which was true, but this is an area in which I actually do have a lot of first-hand knowledge and it can be difficult and frustrating to see people make assumptions about the roles or abilities of schools, especially with very specific challenges and student populations.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:35 AM on March 26 [13 favorites]


1. unions to blame
2. poverty to blame
3. race to blame
4. bureaucracy to blame
5. testing to blame because...see above.
6. private schools to blame--they take away the good students



Speaking as a teacher who has taught in extreme poverty and extreme affluence, #2 is the only one that makes sense to me. Not just poverty, but generational poverty. Every teacher I know can adjust for all the others, but poverty and the social problems that go with it is just impossible. Most teachers in poor areas are working really, really hard and it's a pretty thankless job.

My students mostly come into first grade or even Kinder reading, and the kids on the other side of my district come in not speaking English, and also with rotten teeth, malnourishment, no computer or even books at home, parents who have to work two jobs to stay afloat, etc. They're great kids and fun to teach, but how can we expect the same level of academic performance from them?

#1 and #6... actually, if you compare affluent public school kids to kids in private schools, they're basically performing at the same level. See this article in the Atlantic.

#3 -- I'd love to say that this is a non-issue, but I've known racist teachers... but in my experience affluent black and hispanic kids with educated parents do just as well in school as anyone.

#4 and #5 - This is a problem, but teachers are good at working around these things and doing what needs to be done. This is my experience only, in 2 southern California districts.
posted by Huck500 at 10:36 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


1. unions to blame [...] 6. private schools to blame

Let's not forget 7. Stuyvesant is to blame for existing.
posted by ocschwar at 10:39 AM on March 26


I'm a Stuyvesant grad, and all I can say is that if I got in, ANYONE ought to be able to. :-)
posted by AJaffe at 10:39 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Why is this method of demonstrating competence better than, say, requiring students to have gotten an A in an Algebra course prior to matriculation?

Honestly? Because there are a lot of schools where an A mean "didn't get in fights in the classroom" or "had nice handwriting" or "faked it okay" or "this class was called 'algebra' but in practice it had to be remedial and many kids were learning to multiply so you could get an A without actually knowing any algebra".

I have a lot of issues with standardized tests, God knows, as does every teacher I know, and they are shitty in a lot of ways, but if you're applying to attend a science school it's not really unreasonable to make sure you can actually do math, and a test is the simplest way to do that.

I actually think basing this on grades would be awful for a lot of kids who were admitted to the school and realized they were completely out of their depth through no fault of their own. That would be a really terrible position for them and it would make people feel better because, hey, more poor Black kids in good schools, but admitting you to a challenging school for which you haven't been prepared is just setting you up to fail.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:41 AM on March 26 [17 favorites]


Honestly? Because there are a lot of schools where an A mean "didn't get in fights in the classroom" or "had nice handwriting" or "faked it okay" or "this class was called 'algebra' but in practice it had to be remedial and many kids were learning to multiply so you could get an A without actually knowing any algebra".

Which is why colleges have a comprehensive admissions program, not test-only or grades-only or essay-only or interview-only or recommendation-letters-only, no?

but admitting you to a challenging school for which you haven't been prepared is just setting you up to fail.

How do Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech etc. handle unprepared students now? Do they really have no students who can't handle the course load? Again, I went to a focused-math-and-science college and I find that hard to believe.

I'm not qualified at all to comment on the NYC public school system in general.
posted by muddgirl at 10:48 AM on March 26


How do Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech etc. handle unprepared students now?

You fail, go to summer school, maybe pass there, retake the class if not and repeat until you a) drop out, b) transfer out or c) get the requirements needed to graduate.

Also, in re: why the specialized high schools use only a test: part of that is utilitarian. There's a lot of application for these schools. I can't find the numbers on applicants, but just for reference, Brooklyn Tech had a student body of 6,000 when I went there. It's a lot easier for the administration to say "Okay you got 300 points, you can go to schools C, D or E."
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


(The school puts pressure on you to transfer out if you're steadily failing across the board, but they can't kick you out.)
posted by griphus at 10:53 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Oh man, I have a million thoughts about this. Sorry, in advance, for the wall of text. I'm nothing if not a product of NYC magnet schools, and my mom has long worked for a program that provides free SHSAT test prep for students from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds.

One thing that bears mentioning is that elementary and middle schools need to provide students with more than academic support. In schools with a disproportionate number of kids with behavioral issues, or with a focus on remediating students to bring them up to grade level, the odd kid out who tests well and is on grade level isn't likely to get the time of day.

That student isn't necessarily going to be told that the test exists, or that it's for them, let alone to have encountered the kinds of problems they'll see on it. And unless he or she has an adult, parent or otherwise, with the time to point them toward taking the exam, and fill out forms with them, and tell them how to study, and spend an hour and a half riding the subway on an early Saturday morning to take them to the testing site with all their pencils sharpened in a row, that kid isn't likely to take the test to begin with.

And if they do take the test? Forget algebra for a second. The test is going to be a million times easier for someone who's encountered a logic problem before than for someone who's looking at one for the first time. It's going to be easier for someone who has particular forms of cultural competency that have nothing to do with aptitude per se. (I mean, shit, a sample reading question from the official handbook [PDF] involves Mary Cassat and French Impressionism).

In short, the best way to succeed at the test is to have mastered the specific kinds of questions it asks and acquired a background in the Western canon. As such, it selects kids with a particular background, or who have the time and guidance to bone up on a bunch of stuff that they aren't encountering in a classroom. Period.

And if, somehow, through their own grit and genius, a kid manages to become the one student from their school who's accepted? NYC magnet schools are highly competitive, and in my experience, don't go out of their way to provide students with a ton of social, psychological, or academic support. The assumption seems to be that if you passed the test, you're high functioning, and you should be able to figure it out—and if not, you can go elsewhere. Which isn't going to help kids who feel alienated, or need the least amount of guidance with non-academic issues (commuting, budgeting time, engaging in extracurriculars, family issues, etc.) in order to succeed.

tl;dr: In order for the exam to be fair, we need to look not just at the content of the text, but the academic and (maybe more importantly) social support structures that lead up to it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:56 AM on March 26 [12 favorites]


How do Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech etc. handle unprepared students now? Do they really have no students who can't handle the course load? Again, I went to a focused-math-and-science college and I find that hard to believe.

Okay, but there's a big difference between "This is a lot of work and I'm struggling with it" and "my previous school didn't give me the basic grounding I'd need in these subjects so now there is basically no pathway to success for me." Also, yeah, I'm sure some of the students can't handle it but letting in a bunch of unprepared students from crappy schools who then fail en masse isn't really a solution.

There are studies that show that if you can't read by third grade you're basically screwed and it's virtually impossible for you to catch up, ever, which sounds ridiculous but it's been demonstrated that after that you are so far behind that basically no amount of remediation is going to be sufficient. I don't know if these studies have been done for math, but there's something similar at play here; up through about third grade, you're still learning to add and subtract and stuff. After that, you need to know how to add and subtract and everything to do any other math. If you don't have a firm grasp of place value and rudimentary number sense and everything from a relatively young grade, plus decent fluency, later math is going to be really rough for you.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:57 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Go back over this thread and look at how many people are talking about giving their kids "advantages". Advantages over whom?

Wanting your child to have every opportunity is admirable. Wanting your child to have every advantage is despicable.

This distinction between freedom and cheating seems to have somehow been perverted into a freedom to cheat.
posted by srboisvert at 10:59 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Who is talking about cheating?
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Speaking as a teacher who has taught in extreme poverty and extreme affluence, #2 is the only one that makes sense to me. Not just poverty, but generational poverty.

Seattle teacher here. I substitute, so I get around. I can't echo this strongly enough. The best, most pleasant day in a high school on the southeast side of town would still be intolerable at most of the high schools on the north end of town. Same district. The differences are economic (and ethnic, but those so often go hand-in-hand).

Every teacher I know can adjust for all the others, but poverty and the social problems that go with it is just impossible. Most teachers in poor areas are working really, really hard and it's a pretty thankless job.

The hardest I ever worked in my life as a teacher was a semester in a predominantly black, low-income high school language arts classroom. Basic training was easier, and the angriest, most in-your-face screaming drill instructor was less hostile than some of the kids in my class... and in most places, kids think I'm one of the most fun teachers ever.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:01 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Wanting your child to have every opportunity is admirable. Wanting your child to have every advantage is despicable.

If you give your child an opportunity that's not available to literally everyone else on the planet, they have been given an advantage. Since the distinction between advantages and opportunities is basically a matter of semantics, it seems like a very strange place to draw a strong moral line.
posted by leopard at 11:04 AM on March 26 [9 favorites]


Let's not forget 7. Stuyvesant is to blame for existing.

Admittedly I didn't read every comment, but I haven't seen anyone complain that Stuyvesant should be closed.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:04 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Stuyvesant's Artista (national honors society) program requires that students complete both tutoring and service hours for membership. Other Stuy students looking for assistance can request it for up to two subjects, not including SAT prep or essay review.
posted by zarq at 11:05 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Didn't the NY school system elect to go for Common Core in 2010 with the proviso that they could add more standards? Here's the math standards, page 36 is 7th grade, looks like algebra is in there. Do the schools get to pick and chose which standards they'll adopt? Good math teachers are hard to find.
The NYT had an op-ed from a professor suggesting that algebra be dropped. A parent wrote about that first, fix the math curriculum.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:06 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


From what I remember of Stuy, the problem with people not doing well once they got there was rarely one of not understanding the material, but more one of blowing off class to go do other things. Choice, rather than failure. (This ties into what griphus said about underachievers in many ways)
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]



The hardest I ever worked in my life as a teacher was a semester in a predominantly black, low-income high school language arts classroom. Basic training was easier, and the angriest, most in-your-face screaming drill instructor was less hostile than some of the kids in my class... and in most places, kids think I'm one of the most fun teachers ever.


I'm going to use this as a pretext for mounting my hobby horse yet again.

These kids grow up watching their parents. Their parents struggle to cope when they have been designated for the 47% and marked for being shat on, 24/7. Unsurprisingly, they grow a bit of an attitude.

That is the problem.
posted by ocschwar at 11:08 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Stuyvesant's Artista (national honors society) program requires that students complete both tutoring and service hours for membership.
That's admirable, but it doesn't do much to address the issue of students who could use adult guidance with non-academic issues.

Choice, rather than failure.
I went to Hunter, but not Stuyvesant (got in and didn't go, for whatever reason). There were definitely a handful of slacker kids at Hunter. But in my experience, the majority of kids who dropped out or headed elsewhere had personal and psychological issues for which there just wasn't a support system.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:08 AM on March 26


These kids grow up watching their parents. Their parents struggle to cope when they have been designated for the 47% and marked for being shat on, 24/7. Unsurprisingly, they grow a bit of an attitude.

That is the problem.


I don't think it's that simple. There are plenty of poor immigrants who are designated the same and treated the same and don't end up with "that attitude".

Terrible (violent) instincts result from more than just a reaction to society, but also a personal cultural vacuum.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:14 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen anyone complain that Stuyvesant should be closed.

Take away the algebra requirement, and you've taken away calculus. Take away calculus and you've effectively ended Stuy.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:17 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


I have trouble believing that the only way one can learn calculus in grade 11 (which is when my school taught it) is by having learned algebra before grade 8 (in the same school, we learned it in grade 8, so not in time for a fall entrance exam). I'm not arguing that calculus isn't important, or that algebra isn't an absolute prerequisite, just that you don't need to have algebra three and a half years before you start calculus.
posted by jeather at 11:21 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


n short, the best way to succeed at the test is to have mastered the specific kinds of questions it asks and acquired a background in the Western canon. As such, it selects kids with a particular background, or who have the time and guidance to bone up on a bunch of stuff that they aren't encountering in a classroom. Period.


Except that in the case of Stuy, a whole lot of immigrant students with little or no background in the Western canon are acing the test, which is what this article is about.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:43 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


But does it really boil down to calculus? I ask because I went to a regional/suburban-but-not-big-city-suburb public school, AND I was tracked into the slower math track - we actually tried fighting the tracking specifically because I wouldn't get calculus, only to have the school double down and insist I was where I belonged. So in 12th grade I only made it to trig. And I got into (prestigious Ivy school) - the first person from my high school to do so in over 15 years - despite it. This was 1987, between baby booms, so competition wasn't anywhere near as fierce as it is now. But are the top schools really only taking kids who succeed in taking calculus? Is there now no future for a high-achieving language person who can barely do advanced math but is able to do well enough on the SATs to keep in the running?

Granted, this doesn't solve for the issue at hand - kids need to learn language arts skills in school as well, and that also can be keeping them back on these tests. But I never saw high school calculus as the be-all-and-end-all measurement for getting a good spot in higher education. Is this just accepted wisdom here, or are there numbers to show that without it, you're screwed? (Or is this literally just a Stuyvesant thing?)
posted by Mchelly at 11:56 AM on March 26


Which means, as they said, those immigrant students 'have the time and guidance to bone up on a bunch of stuff that they aren't encountering in a classroom'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:56 AM on March 26


Interesting NYT story from 2012, about a black female student at Stuyvesant. She went to middle school in Westchester.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:59 AM on March 26


Hey, get rid of Stuy and use the students to dissolve the bad schools a bit.

But you kind of need places like that once you've created groups that are so poor they make traditional schools useless; the kids with the really terrible backgrounds make it close to impossible to make a normal classroom work, including for the kids with less-terrible backgrounds.

Schools can only do so much, you need an integrated approach, including health care, maternal care, housing, food, addiction treatment, etc. etc. etc. (and yes, that includes income redistribution, too)

Unless NYC has the power to do that, its education system won't work because the teachers are faced with problems they can't fix (as are the teachers in most poor places in the US).

The ship has a hole in its hull, but instead of pumping out the water and patching it, people are fighting to make it to the upper deck.

If you could solve the problem of the really screwed up kids, then normal all-admission schools would work okay, and the smart kids in them would have a fair chance to make it into an elite program.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:01 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


immigrant students with little or no background in the Western canon are acing the test

Hence the "time and guidance to bone up" part. If your parents are sending you to a cram school, or you attend a school where, thanks to the concentration of students who are prepping for the test, you can passively learn a ton of information about what the test entails and how to sign up for it, you're at an advantage.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:12 PM on March 26


How about instead of making kids compete to get into a good school, make all schools good? Start by fixing the funding and staffing problems. Most of the rest will take care of itself.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:17 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Ok, just to make one thing clear and I'm going to try to do this as sensitively as possible.

I grew up in a neighborhood which is now considered an official Chinatown. Most of the Asian kids we're talking getting into Stuy about are coming from very, very different circumstances than the black and Hispanic kids. They're poor -- like my immigrant family was poor -- but most of them don't live in the ghetto. They don't live in the projects. They are poor, but they are also not caught in the middle of generations upon generations of utterly failed infrastructure. They live in immigrant communities, like the one I grew up in and still live in, which, again, aren't the best of circumstances but very, very different from the projects. There's a big, big difference between living in a basement on Avenue U and living on the 13th floor of the Marcy projects.
posted by griphus at 12:17 PM on March 26 [18 favorites]


If you give your child an opportunity that's not available to literally everyone else on the planet, they have been given an advantage. Since the distinction between advantages and opportunities is basically a matter of semantics, it seems like a very strange place to draw a strong moral line.

I used words to make my point and they had meaning. So yeah it was all just semantics. LOL.
posted by srboisvert at 12:58 PM on March 26


The difference between an advantage and an opportunity is small enough that its absurd to laud one and condemn the other, I think that was the point.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:02 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]



Granted, this doesn't solve for the issue at hand - kids need to learn language arts skills in school as well, and that also can be keeping them back on these tests. But I never saw high school calculus as the be-all-and-end-all measurement for getting a good spot in higher education. Is this just accepted wisdom here, or are there numbers to show that without it, you're screwed? (Or is this literally just a Stuyvesant thing?)


Not just a Stuyvesant thing. There are counterpart schools in other cities. And there are kids in every city who actively want an accelerated education in the sciences, which does boil down to learning calculus as soon as is feasible. I went to one of those schools in another city, and then to a certain engineering school just downriver from a certain Ivy. And from there I can report to you that without calculus done in high school, freshman year can be quite the ordeal.
posted by ocschwar at 1:06 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Is there now no future for a high-achieving language person who can barely do advanced math but is able to do well enough on the SATs to keep in the running?

Where I went to school in California, the math track for a "gifted" but not super math gung ho student like myself was Pre-Algebra (7th grade) > Algebra (8th grade) > Geometry (9th grade) > Advanced Algebra 2 (10th grade) > Pre-calculus (11th grade) > AP Calculus (12th grade). IIRC, the calculus was a pre-requisite for the AP Physics and AP Chem classes. It was taken as a given that a student needs to take those classes to have a shot at getting into the top-tier UCs, much less an Ivy League, not just because of the classes themselves, but because of the GPA advantage they give. If all your classmates who are also competing with you to get into the same schools are taking the AP math and science courses, you need to take them too to keep your GPA competitive.

Obviously GPA isn't the only thing that gets you into a good school, but each student is well aware of how their particular college admission equation balances. I.e. "I know my math grades are lower, but my humanities grades make up for it and my SAT scores are in the top range, and my GPA is still in the top 1%, and these extracurriculars are also a plus, but if I don't take AP Calc, then I'd have to get an A in regular calc so my GPA stays high, whereas I can be sure that I can manage a B in AP Calc which would give me the same GPA..."

At the very least, students (especially less math savvy students) want to test out of calculus with the AP exam so they don't have to take a potentially much more rigorous calculus course in college, or so they can get to their major-relevant courses more quickly. So it's not just a NYC/Stuyevesant thing to assume you need to take the most advanced math course available to you.
posted by yasaman at 1:13 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


How about instead of making kids compete to get into a good school, make all schools good? Start by fixing the funding and staffing problems. Most of the rest will take care of itself.

I will do my best to answer this question from my personal perspective; the short answer is "that would be great" but the real answer is "that is a fantastic goal which is shared by virtually all teachers, administrators, and school districts, and if we could manage it we would but we can't even though we are trying." Here are some obstacles:

1) Money. It's hard enough to get money to make sure poor kids have enough to eat, much less fund schools for them. Stuff is being cut, and making all schools good would be insanely expensive.

2) Special Needs. Schools with these challenges need a lot more than other schools because the academic and emotional needs are higher. This is true in terms of food and stuff (my old school used to pass out food to families every month), but also in terms of educational needs. For a number of reasons including, as mentioned above, lead paint, nutrition, environment, stuff that happened in utero, family circumstances, and so on, these areas have many, many more kids with special education needs, not even including having more ELLs (English Language Learners). This has a lot of effects which apparently I will outline in a subsection:
A) You need a lot more teachers because these children often have IEPs (individualized education plans) that place them in smaller classrooms.

B) This often means that some of the children with the most intense behavior issues are in the same classroom which leads to catastrophes but that's where they need to be, legally.

C) These teachers need lots of training and you might even need to make sure that they are trained in restraint (hell, I literally restrained two kids yesterday and it was just a regular fifth grade class, and my current school is OODLES better than my last school! I'm not really supposed to because I haven't been trained but obviously I'm not just going to let them hit each other). It's hard to find enough people who meet these qualifications.

D) Working in these classrooms can be exhausting and there's high burnout (this will show up later on the bigger list, too!); who wants to wake up every morning to feel like you're babysitting a bunch of violent children with little to no self or emotional control who attack each other and you? And work really hard to plan lessons you may never get to teach? I have such unbelievable amounts of respect for the dedicated SpEd classroom teachers at schools where I've been; it's exhausting, heartbreaking, and even physically frightening.

E) It's really difficult to find a balance between treating some of these students like they can't do anything and setting unreasonable expectations for them. On the one hand, it's easy to set your standards so low that you're failing your students by not pushing them, and on the other hand if you're expecting students with severe disabilities to be at the same level as their peers you're setting them up (I had one student who was classified as MR, meaning Mentally Retarded, a term still in professional use, who by the end of second grade even with one-on-one help from me, and his SpEd teacher, and small group work, and whole class work, could not tell you which part of a book was the cover by the end of the year. His only testing accommodation was large print.). Just saying "teach them well" or "teach them what they need to know" isn't really helpful or specific; how do you really determine if you're teaching in the best way for kids who function so differently? It's a really big, hard, important question that's worth answering but it calls into question the entire idea of how you make a school "good"; what counts as "good" for a second grader who can't write the number "five" correctly more than sixty percent of the time? His outcomes are just naturally going to be different than those of many students.
3) Teacher Numbers. Mentioned before, but having enough qualified teachers is huge here. It's exhausting and painful and SO MUCH WORK (I used to get to school at 6:30 in the morning, leave between 5:30 and 6:00 at night, keep working at home, and work on Sundays. I took Friday from 4:15 until Sunday morning off). Who would want to do that? I mean, you can say "just pay them more" but there isn't enough money for that and plenty of people decide, perfectly reasonably, that the tradeoff isn't worth it. Tons of teachers quit every year; I worked with a man who had been a highly-reviewed teacher for years somewhere on the west coast, came to DC, and by Christmas was out for the rest of the year on depression/stress related disability. For a lot of people, no amount of money is worth that. Also, where do you find teachers? Do just hire random people with no experience? Trust me, you do NOT want people with no training in these school environments; it's a safety issue and not just an educational issue. Many people with teaching experience know enough not to get themselves involved in a bad situation, so who is there? This is why you end up with so many TFA people and stuff. There just aren't enough qualified teachers for the number of people you'd need even if you had money to pay them all.

4) Teacher Retention, which is a similar but slightly different issue. Teachers get better with experience, like everyone, and these schools burn people out pretty quickly. This means that instead of developing strong groups of teaching professionals, you get a new group of TFA or similar every year. There are all these systems in place to make sure that teachers are doing a good enough job and that we're setting "standards" which can be just as stressful as the actual teaching (freaking out about this is part of the reason I'm not a teacher anymore; too stressful for me, not worth it). It's just really hard to get people to stay. They burn out really fast and so we just keep replacing them but it means we aren't developing as many really experienced, qualified long-term teachers in these areas (the best commentary I've seen on this, absolutely one hundred percent not joking, is this Onion article). These are the students who most strongly need good, experienced teachers and people just aren't staying in these jobs. I believe the average tenure of a new DCPS teacher is two years, which means you leave just as you're finally learning what you're doing.

5) Consistency. Things are so bad in many of these schools that, if a program or person doesn't work right away, the school district gets rid of it/them (see teacher retention, above). I get why there is this urgency, but it means that schools keep implementing systems that might well be great except that they're never given time to work. There's apparently an entire discipline called "Implementation Sciences" and the term they use to describe the first year of any new process is "messy", which, like, probably all of us know. This means that the new system, obviously, does not solve everyone's problems right away. Because things in these schools are so drastically terrible, that means it's scrapped in favor of something new so you get a bunch of messy implementations and you never actually get to the point where a program is running well. I've been part of several cycles of this and in some cases each successive program might have been fine if we'd ever actually done it properly but we don't. Administrators also then get frustrated because they lack teacher buy-in while all the teachers are like "I wasted all my buy-in energy on the last four new programs. Why would I buy-in to this when I know it'll be gone in two months?".

6) Family circumstances and poverty. I've had plenty of students whose families didn't own any books, or who moved around a lot, or even who were homeless. Their families also, often for very good reasons, have a great deal of distrust for the school system. Yes, there are libraries and bootstraps and whatever, but expecting a seven-year-old with fetal alcohol syndrome to read for half an hour every night when he lives with his aunt and ten siblings because his mother is on drugs again and can't take care of them is not entirely reasonable. This is a long, long topic and many people know more about it than I do so I'll try to be brief although there is A LOT to say here: some of these kids have no books or personal space or possessions. They come in to school filthy. The adults in some of their families can't read (I've had parents unable to read my report card comments). Some of my friends work at "good" schools where the kids come into kindergarten at least knowing the alphabet, maybe even how to read. School functions in a very different way for them and it's not going to work if we treat every school like it's that.

7) Racism. Definitely a part of all this, both in terms of getting funding and in terms of kids not feeling like they have opportunities and actually not having them. Also a long, long section if this were, like, a Master's thesis instead of some woman on the internet saying stuff.

8) Student Expectations. A lot of my students haven't really understood why they're in school and what it can accomplish, or they have a very different sense of what appropriate behavior is than is held by the dominant culture. This is reinforced by behavior many of them see from their peers; again, if you have a couple of very seriously ED (Emotionally Disturbed) kids in your class you don't really realize that it's completely inappropriate and unacceptable to start yelling things and swearing at the teacher and hitting people.

9) School Expectations. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, when you work in these settings it's super easy to re-set what you believe is appropriate or normal; my current school has 28% of students proficient in reading and my first thought was "whoa, that's actually really good" but, um, no, it isn't.

10) Where do you start? Do you just write off all the kids currently in bad schools for whom it's "too late"? There are places that do this, schools that will completely segregate their freshman with different entrances and everything and yeah, keep trying to teach the older students but sort of assume nothing's going to change there. Some schools will let in only freshmen, then add another class so there are now freshman and sophomores and build from there. Some schools have done this multiple times so apparently it's not the most effective. If you don't want to write off all the kids in anything other than kindergarten (many of whom are already way behind; I know it sounds silly, but if you come in without any sense of the alphabet or numbers or letter sounds, you can start kindergarten below grade level), what do you actually DO? Do you shuffle kids around so they're in the grade where they can perform instead of their grade based on age level? Do you make each class six kids and teach exactly what those six need? Where do you get the teachers? Where do you get the space? Where do you get the curriculum?

There's obviously A LOT more to say here, but this is already way, WAY longer than I intended, for which I apologize. In order to prevent this becoming an irritating back-and-forth or the Pterodactyl show I'm going to try just to lurk for this thread now but I'm genuinely always really super happy to talk about this because I care about it a lot and I think it's very important. I love my kids and I want to help them and the problem is that it's hard, so, yes, I would love to "make all schools good" and so would every one of my colleagues (at this school, anyway, not at some of my past schools), but fixing "funding" and "staffing" problems is sort of meaningless without a plan and there is just SO MUCH happening with all this.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:30 PM on March 26 [56 favorites]


ocschwar "and that is the problem". I am going to use this as a pretext for my own hobby horse. I doubt if there is a singly poster or reader that does not recognize the grinding reality of poverty, the toil on the human soul, spirit, dreams and performance. Some persons, for what ever reasons (genetic/luck/support/love/etc) transcend it. It is also well established that income and wealth is inequality distributed and the disparity is increasing. Just as poverty grinds, privilege nurtures positive opportunities and experiences. And just as the poor are not necessarily evil/failures/etc. the privileged are not necessarily greedy/self serving etc. The point--railing against these facts does little if anything to change them--it does absolutely nothing to change the circumstance of an individual, a teacher in the classroom, or the day to day life of anyone or anything. Sweeping and necessary social change is generational and the focus of daily living is what we can do to change daily life--disabling generational poverty may explain parental limitations but the simple fact is the teacher in the classroom has to forthrightly deal with the issue and parental behavior/responsibility/commitment has to also be dealt with forthrightly.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:32 PM on March 26


Education serves a large number of purposes, some of them contradictory.

The specialized high schools in New York mainly serve to identify the most promising math and science students in the city, put them together in the same building and give them high-quality instruction for four years, and then ship them off to top colleges and universities. These schools are public schools -- they do not cost money to attend and admittance is based purely on a standardized test score, not on a personal recommendation or connection or interview or essay. They attract a large number of poor students, children of immigrants, students whose parents do not speak English, etc. As a result they meet a meritocratic ideal in many ways that other educational institutions do not and this is a point of pride for many.


Apparently, most Stuyvesant students cheat to get through:
...
All this makes for a culture in which many students band together, sharing homework and test advice in a common understanding that they simply have to survive until they reach their goals: dream colleges and dream jobs.

“I’m sure everybody understood it was wrong to take other people’s work, but they had ways of rationalizing it,” said Karina Moy, a 2010 graduate of the school. “Everyone took it as a necessary evil to get through.”

It is not clear how common academic dishonesty is at Stuyvesant or other large, competitive schools, and several of those interviewed said that they had never cheated. When the school’s newspaper, The Spectator, conducted a survey of 2,045 students in March, 80 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.
...
And if people think that poor students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds have or would have equal access to the essentially social networks which facilitate this normalized cheating, I think they are deluding themselves. Even after the biased admission process, schools like Stuyvesant are anything but meritocratic.

Failing to give the vast majority of NYC public school students access to classroom instruction in algebra which would allow them to compete on an equal basis with the children of a largely economic elite who do get instruction in algebra one way or another only serves to help perpetuate an elite which does not deserve its elevated status, and whose incompetence to do the jobs they have cheated to get screams at us anew from every day's headlines.
posted by jamjam at 2:28 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how "most students admitted to cheating at least once" amounts to "most students cheat to get through."

Also, ironically, the cheating networks were the most egalitarian and social-status blind institutions in my high school.
posted by griphus at 2:52 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Failing to give the vast majority of NYC public school students access to classroom instruction in algebra which would allow them to compete on an equal basis with the children of a largely economic elite who do get instruction in algebra one way or another only serves to help perpetuate an elite

On the other hand, demanding that students master algebra, handing out accolades, academic attention, and socio-academic rewards for those who do, and failing those who cannot perform at that level ALSO perpetuates and elite, so... pick your poison.

What you're saying is that the schools need to identify potential achievers who would be able to do well on the SHSAT, take them aside for remedial and intensive drilling that parents normally provide to get them up to speed, while likely culling some students who can't handle the pace. And while I don't think that is a bad idea, it runs up against other stakeholders of these schools who don't want resources spent on cultivating their own elites.

In any case, the "elites" of New York City are not going to Stuy, they are going to Dalton and Colleigiate. Ire towards Stuy is ultimately ire towards the middle and working class families trying to get their kids a good education while staying in New York City and resentment about resources being spent on middle class families. That serves only the interests of those who would rather public funds not be spent too much on schools in the first place.
posted by deanc at 3:01 PM on March 26 [11 favorites]


On the other hand, demanding that students master algebra, handing out accolades, academic attention, and socio-academic rewards for those who do, and failing those who cannot perform at that level ALSO perpetuates and elite, so... pick your poison.

Surely, one is more meritocratic than the other…
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:07 PM on March 26


In any case, the "elites" of New York City are not going to Stuy, they are going to Dalton and Colleigiate.

Yeah the actual Junior Masters of the Universe aren't the kids passing around answers to a math test in a public school, no matter how good of a public school it is. The elite has never needed to cheat on that piddly scale and don't need Stuy.

Some kid from Midwood copying off some kid from Astoria on a test to get an A- instead of a B+ isn't remotely the same problem as mom and dad endowing Ivy University with a new dorm on behalf of some kid from wherever it is those people live (UWS?)
posted by griphus at 3:15 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


In any case, the "elites" of New York City are not going to Stuy, they are going to Dalton and Colleigiate.

QFT.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:15 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I question whether there is more cheating at Stuyvesant than any other NYC high school. I used to teach in a low achieving, >95% black high school in Chicago, where cheating was so rampant that the faculty just came to ignore it and pretend it wasn't going on.

Stuy is the focus of much grandeur and media attention, so when cheating is reported there, it's a big media issue.

The cheating narrative is also a way to spew coded racist FUD at Asian achievement. When Asians get higher grades, it must be because they cheat. When Asians do well on a test, it must be because they attend prep classes, where they mindlessly drill test tactics instead of doing some mythical Real Learning. Many SHSAT haters would have us see Asians alternately as heartless note-passing Fu Manchus, or mindless Red Guards chanting from vocabulary lists. It's complete crap.

Non-Asians cling to such narratives because they obscure the reality that the rest of us just don't do as well. I think it's pretty clear that Asians do better because many of them come from high-pressure, high-support families that greatly value education. Lots of cultural nuances feed into this. Even among poorer Asian families, the children do better than economically comparable non-Asians. Yes, being born into such a culture is a form of privilege. No, it is not a form of privilege we non-Asians should delete by abolishing the SHSAT or otherwise fudging data.

Let's just say we rejiggered the admissions process so that the various racial groups attended Stuy proportional to their population. Does anyone seriously think this would redistribute opportunity? I'd predict the Asians relegated to worse schools would not, in the long term, do much worse, and the blacks and Latinos who went to Stuy would not do much better than had they not.

Stuy is a great school, but it isn't magical. I doubt attending Stuy makes you much smarter—the causality runs more the other way. The idea that you can change someone's socioeconomic lifecourse at age 14 by sending them to a better school shows serious institutional hubris, and an unwillingness to confront the awkward realities that make some groups do better than others.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:19 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


The same problem continues at MIT: for all the feel good statements about affirmative action, there is no affirmative action happening at MIT.

Affirmative action at MIT.
posted by klangklangston at 3:25 PM on March 26


"Now, the new idea is integration of all ability levels, so they kind of have to teach to the lowest common denominator. This means that if you're a school with a lot of struggling students, it would be irresponsible of you to teach algebra to all students early on, when you know most of them can't handle it."

I got into magnet schools in my home district, and they were based on the Open Schools philosophy, which meant not only are the classes explicitly not differentiated, but they're also mixed-grade. Teaching was not to the least-common-denominator, it was to the general average of the eighth-graders, with the older/higher achieving students expected to work with the lower achieving students to help them catch up. It worked marvelously, much better than the differentiation of the traditional schools. Things weren't dumbed down, they were taught in a broadly participatory way.

I will say that I can still do cemrel computing despite that being absolutely useless in the real world. YAY OPEN SCHOOLS!
posted by klangklangston at 3:33 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


children of a largely economic elite... to help perpetuate an elite which does not deserve its elevated status

Yeah, not really. The students at Stuyvesant are not children of a largely economic elite, unless the term "economic elite" means "above the poverty line" which is a new and unconventional application of the term.

Your argument is almost entirely circular and seems unfounded in any actual knowledge of the way these schools work (no, success is not driven by one's connections in cheating networks, this is so unbelievably ignorant). Because the schools are prestigious, you conclude that the students are part of an economic elite and that the selection criteria are designed to keep the "wrong" people out. You propose changing the selection criteria so that a new, more "deserving" crop of students is selected, although you have no justification for this other than that surely the existing system is corrupt and unfair.

The cheating narrative is also a way to spew coded racist FUD at Asian achievement.

Bingo. Well, you also see the cheating narrative about places like Harvard, so it also taps into general resentment towards markers of prestige and success. But if the students at Stuyvesant had the exact same economic status but were 75% Hispanic and black, would jamjam really be here arguing that the admissions criteria were rigged in favor of an undeserving "elite" and that they need to be changed so that more deserving students could be admitted?
posted by leopard at 3:33 PM on March 26 [8 favorites]


Teaching was not to the least-common-denominator, it was to the general average of the eighth-graders... It worked marvelously...

Any data?

I too am beginning to suspect a lot of veiled racial fears of "Asians" are coming out. That something similar to the Jew quota of the early 20th cen. is going on is pretty obvious, though I'll bet even in the administrative halls of power talking amongst themselves they manage to cloak it in bullshit.

One thing to keep in mind is IT IS A GODDAMN MATH SCHOOL. They better fuckin' have calculus. And you could maybe come up with a curriculum that had algebra in freshman year, speed it up, and still get through calculus. Then they'd test for whatever comes before algebra these days and the kids from shitty conditions would just fail that instead of algebra, while the cram school kids would just score even higher. (The GRE math section for technical grad school is like that - you're basically expected to get 800 minus a couple calculation errors. It was somewhat odd because I didn't have to study so much as practice - long division by hand is not something I do too often.)
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:04 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


What's up with the "pace" stuff? What's the hurry? Are we in danger of falling behind the Soviets again?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:16 PM on March 26



The same problem continues at MIT: for all the feel good statements about affirmative action, there is no affirmative action happening at MIT.

Affirmative action at MIT.


IOW, the usual boiler plate. I stand by what I said.
posted by ocschwar at 4:27 PM on March 26


"Any data?"

From looking around for papers, I can't find a ton of well-designed, well-reviewed literature on it. What I could find seems to show that there's a negative effect of forcing teachers to do it without them wanting to, and that the teachers who want to do it tend to be more experienced, higher-quality teachers to begin with, so disentangling the positive effects of those classes from socio-economic or teacher quality factors seems to be difficult. There's a lot of crappy data out there, from partisans on both sides. Maybe someone else can find a better literature review — I don't have access to social science indexes on the same level I once did.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


What's up with the "pace" stuff? What's the hurry? Are we in danger of falling behind the Soviets again?

That's the funny thing, isn't it? Certainly there are some students and families who want a more intensive, faster-paced academic experience. If none of that mattered, then everyone else would just laugh off their hyper-ambition while the more laid back would just spend their time enjoying hanging out in the Dairy Queen parking lots shooting the breeze with their friends.

But spending more time on faster-paced academics does matter and does have rewards. If there were no tangible value to attending Stuyvesant, then there wouldn't be that big of a demand for it, and those who didn't attend Stuyvesant would regard the school as an eccentric haven for people who enjoyed taking lots of prep-tests to get in and thinking about math all day. But the school is valuable for those who get a chance to attend, so other people want the same kind of opportunities it provides. So the question becomes how to give those academic opportunities to others, because we recognize them as beneficial to those who have them.

If the testing rubrics don't actually measure knowledge of the material and ability to handle the academics, if taking calculus your junior year isn't really important, and if all Stuyvesant does is churn out test-takers who aren't actually that much more qualified than many other students in the NYC public school system, then why do people want to have greater opportunities to attend that school?
posted by deanc at 4:56 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl for Education Secretary.
posted by zardoz at 5:12 PM on March 26 [10 favorites]


The cheating narrative is also a way to spew coded racist FUD at Asian achievement.

Resorting to a cheap and obviously dishonest accusation of anti-Asian racism in a futile attempt to buttress a losing argument is in and of itself a pernicious act of anti-Asian racism very much in the way Godwinning is an act of anti-Semitism.
posted by jamjam at 5:22 PM on March 26


LOL @ the real racists.
posted by leopard at 5:45 PM on March 26


The same problem continues at MIT: for all the feel good statements about affirmative action, there is no affirmative action happening at MIT.

Affirmative action at MIT.

IOW, the usual boiler plate. I stand by what I said.


Look at the breakdowns of the latest incoming class for MIT and the percentage of URMs (24%) enrolled at MIT is much closer to affirmative action-practicing Harvard (26%) than non-affirmative action-practicing Cal Tech (14%), which strongly suggests MIT does practice affirmative action.
posted by gyc at 5:47 PM on March 26


Resorting to a cheap and obviously dishonest accusation of anti-Asian racism in a futile attempt to buttress a losing argument

I wouldn't call that NYT article you linked to an example of anti-Asian racism - it's more of an example of NYT trend pieces that MeFi loves to mock - but it's a bit much to say you won the argument after quoting it, especially since the comment right after yours pointed out your rather exaggerated interpretation.

"Sixty to 70 percent of high-school students report they have cheated. Ninety percent of students admit to having copied another student’s homework." The 80% of Stuyvesant kids who "said they had cheated in one way or another" (on a student newspaper survey) appear to include homework copiers, so I'm not seeing how Stuy is exceptional there.

I should also point out that the assumption of "social networks" giving Asian kids an advantage in studying/cheating together demonstrates an ignorance of the complications between ~different kinds of Asians~, especially where immigrants outnumber those born in America. This is one of those topics that, if you haven't had firsthand experience or done extensive study, it's best not to pontificate on them. Actually, it's best to refrain even if you (think you) know a lot. The dynamics between Chinese vs Korean vs Japanese students, between East vs South vs Southeast Asians, or hell, between Different Kinds of Chinese, all vary from school to school, year to year. It's influenced by everything from the political climate between their home countries to the immigration policies of the host country.
posted by fatehunter at 7:24 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


That DiBlasio and his ilk appeal to the Ivy League "comprehensive" admission approach shows exactly what they want to do: exclude Asians by any means possible, because that's how the Ivy Leagues obtain demographics which are so profoundly at odds with the distribution of evidenced academic talent in this country.

If they really wanted to increase the number of African Americans and Hispanics who qualified to attend the specialized schools, they would introduce a non-parent driven escalating tracking system in the neighborhood schools. Take the smartest third of the kindergartners and put them in a single first grade class. Take the strongest third of those by third grade and put them in a dedicated intermediate school. The strongest third of those by fifth grade and put them in an accelerated middle school. Concentrating resources and diluting distraction = success. Wouldn't surprise me if you had a 50% black and Hispanic class at Stuyvesant drawn from those eighth graders, quite close to parity.
posted by MattD at 11:10 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


"That DiBlasio and his ilk appeal to the Ivy League "comprehensive" admission approach shows exactly what they want to do: exclude Asians by any means possible, "

I always like an argument that starts from insane bad faith and goes from there.
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


If they really wanted to increase the number of African Americans and Hispanics who qualified to attend the specialized schools, they would introduce a non-parent driven escalating tracking system in the neighborhood schools. Take the smartest third of the kindergartners...

Do you actually believe that "the smartest" metric wouldn't immediately be gamed by parents with the resources to do so?
posted by Etrigan at 4:09 AM on March 27


MattD,

why do the Ivy Leagues want to exclude as many Asians by any means possible?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:22 AM on March 27


It's at moments like this that I wish Michael Young's Rise of the Meritocracy were required reading in every school system in the world.
posted by jb at 6:39 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


why do the Ivy Leagues want to exclude as many Asians by any means possible?

Racism, of course, which Asians do not yet have the political power to overcome. It's just like the Jew quota.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:52 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Ivy Leagues universities are racist against Asians? Do you have any evidence for this?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:54 AM on March 27


And if people think that poor students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds have or would have equal access to the essentially social networks which facilitate this normalized cheating, I think they are deluding themselves.

Sometimes when I hear people talk about the school I attended, it bears zero resemblance to the one I knew. Stuy was definitely segregated, but it had nothing to do with economics. My own friends there ranged from someone who was literally homeless while attending school to people whose families had summer homes. I didn't even realize any of it until after I was out of school, because that stuff just didn't really register at Stuy.

Cliques tended to center around what people did or who they wanted to be rather than how much their parents made. For example, the 6th floor was the Magic floor, where people would sit down on the floor and play Magic: The Gathering. If you played Magic: The Gathering, you could hang out there. There was a clique for drug use that also all hung out together in a specific location. There was a clique of goths. There were cliques of roleplayers. There were cliques for everything, like any high school, but it really wasn't this cut-throat elitist thing that I think people are imagining.
posted by corb at 8:14 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


That DiBlasio and his ilk appeal to the Ivy League "comprehensive" admission approach shows exactly what they want to do: exclude Asians by any means possible

This is just nonsense.

Racism, of course, which Asians do not yet have the political power to overcome. It's just like the Jew quota.


And this is offensive, historically ignorant, nonsense. No one is talking about imposing a "quota" on Asian admits to elite universities. People are just anxious to increase the numbers of traditionally underrepresented minorities at those schools. To suggest that efforts to minimize barriers to entry for black, latino and native american entrants is all just some kind of cunning, racist cover for anti-Asian bias (you know, just how the "Jew quota" was implemented by bringing in more black and latino applicants back in the 1930s, man) would be funny if it wasn't so transparently dishonest.
posted by yoink at 8:16 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Ivy Leagues universities are racist against Asians? Do you have any evidence for this?


"The Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade wrote in his 2009 book, "No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life,'' that “to receive equal consideration by elite colleges, Asian Americans must outperform Whites by 140 points, Hispanics by 280 points, Blacks by 450 points in SAT (Total 1600)." As Ron Unz demonstrates, the percentage of Asians among the student bodies of Ivy League schools has been a steady 17 percent, give or take a couple of points, for about 20 years."

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/12/19/fears-of-an-asian-quota-in-the-ivy-league/discrimination-is-obvious

If that's not discrimination against Asian-Americans and the effective imposition of a quota on Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.
posted by gyc at 8:47 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


If that's not discrimination against Asian-Americans and the effective imposition of a quota on Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.

Think for just a second what that calculation implies, for example, about the relative scores of white applicants and black applicants. Now, do you really want to be the person who is trying to claim, in all seriousness, that the fact that white applicants have to perform better on the SATs than black applicants to receive "equal consideration" is proof that the US is racist against whites? Really?

This whole "OMG, its anti-Asian racism" thing is just a crappy stalking-horse against affirmative action programs largely designed to help black Americans. But people know that it's more politically acceptable to decry "racism against Asians" than it is to say "let the blacks go to hell!"
posted by yoink at 8:54 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Think for just a second what that calculation implies, for example, about the relative scores of white applicants and black applicants. Now, do you really want to be the person who is trying to claim, in all seriousness, that the fact that white applicants have to perform better on the SATs than black applicants to receive "equal consideration" is proof that the US is racist against whites? Really?

This is literally too dumb to respond to.

This whole "OMG, its anti-Asian racism" thing is just a crappy stalking-horse against affirmative action programs largely designed to help black Americans. But people know that it's more politically acceptable to decry "racism against Asians" than it is to say "let the blacks go to hell!"

Just because people are pointing out anti-Asian discrimination to make political points you disagree with doesn't mean anti-Asian discrimination isn't actually happening.
posted by gyc at 9:11 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


This is literally too dumb to respond to.

It is exactly the same calculus that you're relying on to "prove" anti-Asian discrimination. Your words:
If that's not discrimination against Asian-Americans and the effective imposition of a quota on Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.
Still, if that means you've realized that your argument was "dumb," I'm only too happy.
posted by yoink at 9:14 AM on March 27


… given that the 17 percent is roughly three times the percentage of Asians in the general population, and that SAT scores are not the only (or even best) marker for school success, it's a pretty dubious claim, especially when balanced against other objectives that the school may be seeking for its students.
posted by klangklangston at 9:15 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I doubt if there is a singly poster or reader that does not recognize the grinding reality of poverty, the toil on the human soul, spirit, dreams and performance.

A big barrier to addressing poverty in this country is the myth that we have a fair process by which any young person can climb out of it by getting that golden ticket to a good college. And that therefore, you can speak dismissively of our working poor as losers who had their chance and blew it.

I went through that process, got my golden ticket, and last year went to a high school reuinion to meet up with those who did not. Because as a kid, I was a circus poodle par excellence, and jumped every hoop and wagged my tail on cue. My classmates who didn't are now struggling and they don't deserve to be, because the process was not fair, and the stakes should not have been that high.

So when MeFi liberals go on and on about tinkering with things like the admission process into Stuyvesant, all they're really doing is reinforcing the myth of the fair process. Not only is the process unfair, it cannot be made fair.
posted by ocschwar at 9:19 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


I agree with the first part, that the process isn't fair. I think the second part is a dubious claim, and would retort that though the process isn't fair, and perfect fairness may be impossible, that does not mean that the process cannot be more fair than it is now.

If the failure of liberals is in reinforcing the unfairness through attempts at reform, the failure of the conservatives is deciding to not address the unfairness at all. That'd leave only the radicals, whose flaw is that they generally don't have any practical means of addressing the unfairness.
posted by klangklangston at 9:23 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


that the fact that white applicants have to perform better on the SATs than black applicants to receive "equal consideration" is proof that the US is racist against whites

It is proof that there is a definite preference given to Black people in college admissions vs. White people, which is, you know, the mechanics of Affirmative Action. Now the argument we won't fight here is this corrects for the implicit preference given White people due to racism, White privilege, and White supremacy, plus the "benefits of diversity" idea. But in this case now the first argument is gone - or are we correcting for Asian supremacy and privilege now?

Letting a few Black kids into top colleges and then failing them disproportionately due to a combination of lack of support and mismatch doesn't threaten the supremacy of White conservatives OR liberals. Letting MIT et al start getting a quarter+ Asian does, but frankly I don't think the politicians can stop them - you can drive them to libertarianism if not outright
Republicanism or reaction , though, which I've seen happen.

Additionally, above about mostly benefiting Black Americans - sure they're Black Americans too, but 40 odd prevent of Ivy League Black students are immigrant-origin, a much more privileged demographic.

There is also evidence from CA and TX that the actual implementation of Affirmative Action there was to transfer seats from Asians to other minorities, with little effect on White people.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:39 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Letting a few Black kids into top colleges and then failing them disproportionately due to a combination of lack of support and mismatch

Except this doesn't really happen, cus when 'black kids' are 'let in' to 'top colleges', they do quite well.

"That study shows that the schools with the highest graduation rates for blacks are actually some of the most selective colleges in the country. Harvard ranks at the top, with 94 percent of black students graduating, and Brown is not far behind, at 89 percent. (The national average is 39 percent.) At some schools, such as Vassar, blacks actually have higher rates of graduation than whites. At Harvard, the graduation rate for blacks is only 3 percent lower than for whites, while at Brown and Princeton, the difference is 4 percent in favor of whites. At the other Ivy League schools, the discrepancy is considerably larger, ranging from 10 to 21 percent. All but the University of Pennsylvania, however, do better than the national average of 20 percent."

http://www.brownalumnimagazine.com/content/view/1564/40/
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:48 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Interesting... I have work to do but I think I am correct for most selective schools if wrong for the tippy-top of Harvard. I do still count the "other Ivy League" with 10-21 % as top schools, and I think it's worse elsewhere.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:57 AM on March 27


This whole "OMG, its anti-Asian racism" thing is just a crappy stalking-horse against affirmative action programs largely designed to help black Americans. But people know that it's more politically acceptable to decry "racism against Asians" than it is to say "let the blacks go to hell!"

Anti-Asian racism is a real thing and if you're really not familiar with the phenomenon of "too many Asians" at institutions that heavily emphasize standardized testing you are not qualified to have an opinion about what this discussion is "really" about.
posted by leopard at 10:00 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


But in this case now the first argument is gone - or are we correcting for Asian supremacy and privilege now?

Exactly. Stuyvesant is a school that routinely sends kids whose families are on food stamps to the Ivy League, but because their parents stress education and the students don't live in the ghetto and aren't crippled by generational poverty, some well-meaning liberals here are happy to call them unfairly "privileged."
posted by leopard at 10:05 AM on March 27 [4 favorites]


Who called them unfairly privileged? I mean, not just privileged, but specifically unfairly privileged?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:14 AM on March 27


think the second part is a dubious claim, and would retort that though the process isn't fair, and perfect fairness may be impossible, that does not mean that the process cannot be more fair than it is now.

Well, let's look at the current situation:

New York has many, many students applying to Stuyvesant. Many of them would be ready for Stuyvesant if they had received a good preparation for it in grade school. But, woulda, coulda, shoudla. They aren't.

Stuyvesant rejects them. That's unfair.

Stuyvesant could accept them, and watch them get chewed up and spat out. That would be unfair.

Stuyvesant could change its program to something they can handle, and effectively stop being Stuyvesant. That would be unfair.

Or Stuyvesant could close outright. Also unfair.

Ergo, the second part is so obvious it borders on tautological. There is no way to make fair admissions processes for intense accelerated education programs.
posted by ocschwar at 10:18 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Or another school as good as, or nearly as good as, Stuyvesant accepts them. Fair.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:01 AM on March 27


MisantropicPainforest, see jamjam's thrice-favorited comment about cheating and privilege (explicit), or yoink's comment that it's perfectly reasonable to expect Asian-Americans to score hundreds of points higher than other groups to be admitted to top colleges and universities (implicit).
posted by leopard at 11:06 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Christ on a cracker!

That is an amazingly tendentious reading of those two comments.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:41 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Or another school as good as, or nearly as good as, Stuyvesant accepts them. Fair.

We're talking about an accelerated math program. If another such program accepts kids who are not ready for it, it's an unfair exercise in futility.
posted by ocschwar at 11:49 AM on March 27


Or another school as good as, or nearly as good as, Stuyvesant accepts them. Fair.

This is an important point. Stuyvesant is just one school, and it can only accept so many students. If the admissions test is unfair, it should be made more fair. If high achieving students aren't receiving sufficient support leading up to the test, we should see what can be done to support them.

However, we should also be working toward a system wherein we don't conceive of a simple binary between one individual institution, or set of institutions, and all the rest of everybody. Maybe instead of focusing on just one school (which we're really using as a catchall for the specialized schools) we need to focus on the full range of schools that are available.

We need solutions that meet the needs of the students who almost got in to Stuy (or Bronx Science, or Brooklyn Tech), but didn't. And the next tier of students after that. And so on. The DOE, to its credit, has opened a new range of specialized high schools, providing a greater range of options in all five boroughs. And there are options beyond the SHSAT schools, too.

After all, the idea that "you either get into this one school, or your life will be shit forever" is detrimental crap. It's damaging to the students who don't get in and think their lives are over. It's shitty for the students who do get in, but are convinced that if they slip up once, they are going to end up destitute on the streets. And it's awful for the children who weren't eligible to take the test, but who still have their entire lives ahead of them, and myriad ways in which to thrive.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:35 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Christ on a cracker indeed, please enlighten us on the proper interpretation of "economic elite," "does not deserve its elevated status," "anything but meritocratic," "essentially social networks that facilitate this normalized cheating," "biased admission process.". I'm just a simple caveman but I had this vague impression of something not quite fully fair and just? Maybe? As I said, I'm just a simple caveman so I'd be happy if you could translate jamjam's comment down to my level as it's entirely possible I missed its subtle nuances.

Yoink's comment was not as ridiculous but he basically says that Asians needing to outscore other groups to be admitted is no more evidence of discrimination against Asians than whites needing to outscore other groups is evidence of discrimination about whites. Save alive dissected this above, this goes right to the rationale for affirmative action and again, while I am just a simple caveman, I was not aware of Asians imposing slavery and Jim Crow on everyone else.
posted by leopard at 12:36 PM on March 27


please enlighten us on the proper interpretation of "economic elite,"

When people speak of the 'economic elite' I don't think that they think of Asian Americans.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:45 PM on March 27


Well, when people talk about the student body at Stuyvesant High School, they are talking about Asian Americans, since 75 percent of the students there are Asian American.

I will grant that it's possible that the author of that comment didn't have the slightest clue about what they were talking about. That does seem like a more charitable reading.
posted by leopard at 12:51 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


MeTa
posted by griphus at 7:42 AM on April 1


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