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NYC's push to change elite high school admissions
July 20, 2014 9:05 PM   Subscribe

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for changing the admissions criteria of NYC's elite high schools, arguing that relying solely on a single exam (the SHSAT) "creates a “rich-get-richer” dynamic that benefits the wealthy, who can afford expensive test prep. However, the reality is just the opposite. It’s not affluent whites, but rather the city’s burgeoning population of Asian-American immigrants — a group that, despite its successes, remains disproportionately poor and working-class — whose children have aced the exam in overwhelming numbers."

"Asian Americans’ cultural niche comes largely from the fact that [they are] a product of a “brain drain”— the immigration preference system that encouraged the cream of the educational crop in Asian countries to come here for better schools and a better life. The “model minority” stereotype mostly comes from the fact that the immigrants who came here were the ones who were already on track to get Ph.Ds."

Diversity and elite high schools: To Be Black at Stuyvesant; Admitted, but Left Out
Previously on Metafilter: Diversity and ivy league admissions: The Myth of American Meritocracy
posted by gemutlichkeit (73 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Relevant, too, is Stuy alum Reihan Salam's piece in Slate: Close Stuyvesant!
posted by escabeche at 9:12 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


If it weren't for quotas Harvard Medical School would be 90% Asian.
posted by four panels at 9:15 PM on July 20


>See also the new SAT that's gonna be less about test prep (that you *can* study for on your own with publicly available materials and a working knowledge of math up to Geometry) and more similar to high school math up to PreCalculus. Supposedly making it more like what you learn in school will make it more fair because, as we all know, all American high schools offer similar levels of math education to all of their students.
posted by subdee at 9:49 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


If it weren't for quotas Harvard Medical School would be 90% Asian.

I'm not sure that I understand this. Are you claiming that they have a maximum limit on Asian students? Or quotas for other ethnicities including 'white'?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:51 PM on July 20


If it weren't for quotas Harvard Medical School would be 90% Asian.

OK, on review, this seems to be hyperbolic but not entirely inaccurate.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:13 PM on July 20


If it weren't for quotas Harvard Medical School would be 90% Asian.

I'm going to one-up this and say that if it weren't for unofficial limits the entirety of the university would be this way. And that a few generations ago the same would've been true of Jews. Take a look at student demographics at U.C. Berkeley and then explain to me why Harvard doesn't look the same way, other than the need to keep alumni and other vested powers placated. It certainly isn't because Harvard is a better university.

What DeBlasio is advocating is a change in the admissions procedure that would theoretically help Black and Latinos students, but would in actuality hurt mostly poor and lower-middle-class 1st generation Asian students. And of course, it would also help white students, who could get in based on things that their parents can fudge for them, like extra-curricular activities, volunteer activities, and bogus crap like "leadership potential," which from my memory middle school guidance counsellors and teachers are complete shit at assessing. The kids that my teachers and guidance staff identified as the up-and-comers in 6th grade mostly ended up barely getting into college. But they had hyper-active parents who were excellent at finding ways to kiss asses. Can't kiss a test's butt.

The thing about a test is that you can't really fudge it. You either passed, or you didn't. And if the SHSAT were biased in favor of white students then they really screwed that one up royally, because it's Asian students who are getting the high marks these days. I don't think anyone is claiming in good faith that the Department of Education is formulating a test to benefit NYC's Asian-American population. But what I can guess is that families who don't understand this system, living in neighborhoods or within immigrant communities who have never heard of Stuyvesant or Science, coupled with middle school administrators who don't have the faith in their students to reach out and encourage at least some of them to take the test the way I got encouraged to take it, result in this outcome. I knew about Stuyvesant since I was a little kid, since I had two uncles and a cousin who'd gone there, and I attended a middle school with a big enough Asian population to be dimly aware that people were starting to take cram courses for the test in the 6th grade. Most kids don't get that advantage, and then they run smack into guidance counsellors who refuse to help them register. That's a real thing that happens. Guess who it happens to the most.

Instead of fixing the structural inequalities that keep some student populations away, it looks like they're going to take the easy way out. After all, who gives a crap about what's good for a bunch of Asian kids whose parents probably can't/don't even vote anyway, right? Why bother trying to figure out why Black and Latino kids aren't even registering for the test when you can just get rid of it entirely and pretend you've done something good?
posted by 1adam12 at 10:19 PM on July 20 [17 favorites]


If it weren't for quotas Harvard Medical School would be 90% Asian.

I can't cite the work, but I recall this being something Kurt Vonnegut reported his son observed.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 10:40 PM on July 20


I can't cite the work, but I recall this being something Kurt Vonnegut reported his son observed.

Ah, you mean this from a 2007 Vonnegut speech:
About the Chinese communists? They are obviously much better at business than we are and maybe a lot smarter, communist or not. I mean, look how much better they do in our schools over here. Face it! My son Mark, a pediatrician, was on the admissions committee of the Harvard Medical School a while back. And he said that if they had played the admissions game fairly, half of the entering class would be Asian women.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:13 AM on July 21 [6 favorites]


[Mark Vonnegut] as cited by his dad, above.
posted by rongorongo at 12:39 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


It isn't about test prep - Test prep has only small effects on scores. And anyway blacks & hispanics use test prep much more than white children and get worse outcomes.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:33 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Re: 1adam12's point, I learned about Stuyvesant from MetaFilter. Last year, I think. Then again, it wasn't until my junior year of college that I learned that most people don't pay sticker price at private colleges (which is why I didn't apply--I thought they were for the rich only), and it wasn't until I was nearly done with grad school that I discovered that there was a whole network of high schools that served as feeders to elite colleges.

And I grew up middle class. The gap for the truly poor must look (if they become aware of it) totally uncrossable.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:51 AM on July 21 [21 favorites]


The University of California is forbidden by law from taking race into account when considering admissions each year, but they do it anyway. The effect of it is to discriminate in favor of blacks and hispanics and against asians.

If admissions to the University of California were truly race-blind, half of the students would be asian.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:23 AM on July 21


Oh hey look everyone The Post has figured out a new way to take shots at DiBlasio. Ill give'em points tho. It's better than last week's inane carriage thing.

That said its a fair point. The degree to which the results of the exam look different from the city's cohort of middle schoolers is very problematic. But moving away from a purely quantitative admissions process has its own issues. It's a hard thing.
posted by JPD at 3:45 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Merits aside, magnet school admission criteria are a matter of state law. (Much like NYC tax rates, which he also proposed changing)
posted by jpe at 3:56 AM on July 21


Can't kiss a test's butt.

No, but if the test is inherently unfair, and a passing grade can essentially be paid for, de Blasio is definitely right to find other factors.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:40 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


This is a sticky issue. Many attempts to promote diversity rely on two deceptively problematic ideas: one, that minorities can be divided into neat but broad racial tranches, and two, that minorities only ever underperform on tests.

Regarding the SHSAT, this gets hinky when we see how certain subcategories of "Asian" students do very well on the test. Why is this hinky? Because the high-scoring Asians (e.g. families of educated immigrants from Hong Kong) are lumped in with low-scoring Asians (e.g. families of poor immigrants from Fujian), and then people attempt to balance that lumped-together tranche with other broad, internally diverse tranches. If you're only trying to "control" for an "appropriate" number of Asians, then not only are you necessarily creating a higher bar for Asians in general, but the high-scoring Asians will then handily crowd out the low-scoring Asians. This can also create other seemingly counterintuitive results: since some very high-scoring Asians are lumped together with some low-scoring Asians, treating the group as one group with one average can create deceptive statistics.

We see similar problems when we look at certain subcategories of "black" students: on average, families of educated African immigrants perform better in school than families of poor African-Americans who are descended from slaves. If you're only looking at what constitutes "black" diversity, then the former often disproportionately crowd out the latter, even within programs which are intended in some way to rectify the long-standing problems traced to the evils of slavery. You can run similarly disparate comparisons for any ethnic/racial/whatever group.

This is complicated by the fact that people are justifiably averse to arguments which sound like calls to dismantle Affirmative Action, etc. This is especially the case when the New York Post is supposedly advocating for poor Asian immigrants. Maybe they're sincere, maybe they aren't, but it doesn't take a genius (or a paranoiac) to feel that they're concern trolling: they're really advocating for a system which also largely benefits many white people.

However, as much as the Post is garbage, the fact remains that there are still problems which need to be addressed.

I honestly don't know what the ideal testing regimen looks like, but there has to be a way to improve what we already have.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:17 AM on July 21 [26 favorites]


I'd say about a third of the non-Asian people I've met in my life have been proud that they know nothing about math and science.
posted by telstar at 5:36 AM on July 21


I'd say about a third of the non-Asian people I've met in my life have been proud that they know nothing about math and science.

And?

Anyway, seems to me that rather than weaken the elite schools, it would make more sense to work on creating more of them. If there is indeed this great pool of needy talent. Of course that would be harder than slacking off standards, and we are talking bureaucracy.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:44 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


And the point of that comment would be? What? 13 year olds whose parents don't themselves love STEM are untermenschen?
posted by JPD at 5:44 AM on July 21


Getting the "right" people into special schools by tweaking the admissions is like getting google to return the "right" pages by tweaking the algorithm.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:14 AM on July 21


A friend of mine had a job coaching a rich guy's kid on this test for $100 an hour. She said she felt kind of bad doing it, because he didn't really deserve to get into an amazing school but probably would anyway.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:20 AM on July 21


Getting the "right" people into special schools by tweaking the admissions is like getting google to return the "right" pages by tweaking the algorithm.

If this means "any system can be gamed" - I guess that's true - but if you create a system guaranteed to give you the results you want (which in this case is elite high schools the reflect the diversity of the City's public schools) then you are sort of limiting the gaming.

If we acknowledge that the goal of these schools is to take the most gifted young people in the city and give them a great education and we accept the idea that those gifted young people should be evenly distributed across any way of demographic slicing you want to do, then our current approach the over represents some groups and under represents others is problematic. Maybe the most politically expedient answer is to just say each admitted cohort has to look like that years middle school class and curve exams based on that. Admittedly far from perfect but any qualitative approach is going to be gamed by rich folks.
posted by JPD at 6:24 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Anyway, seems to me that rather than weaken the elite schools, it would make more sense to work on creating more of them. If there is indeed this great pool of needy talent. Of course that would be harder than slacking off standards, and we are talking bureaucracy.

Lately I've been wondering why this is not brought up more. In NYC public schools it seems like all or nothing. I work with someone who is Puerto Rican living in the Bronx, whose daughter scored very high on whatever test she took before going to first grade, and was told that she was guaranteed a place in a certain school, but then somehow the place was taken away. He and his wife are on the teachers like hawks because it seems like everytime they turn around someone is try to let their daughter fall through the cracks. At this point our whole office is monitoring the situation. It's really infuriating.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:09 AM on July 21 [6 favorites]


Former high school graduate of Stuyvesant here and wanted to add some more perspective to the debate. Things may have changed from the time I went to high school but the teachers at Stuyvesant were regular public high school teachers and like any high school, most were not amazing teachers.

The Stuy difference was the courses beyond the regular HS courses (advanced math classes, array of AP classes, labs), teams (speech and debate team and math team), the equipment and the competition between talented students. If students didn't have the chops or the self-motivation to use the facilities available to them, they probably would be better off in an average public high school.

What would we gain by admitting students who may not make the admissions test cut? The advantages critics want to see are diversity and the increased social upward mobility of Black and Latina/o disadvantaged students. The costs would be displacing one minority population in favor of another minority population. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth to think of punishing the success of one minority group for following the rules and succeeding to elevate a better politically connected minority group. The other issue is whether students who are not well prepared would be able to use the Stuyvesant advantage

Many Stuy students who are not well prepared and/or motivated and/or have no support systems fall back and drop out. My concern is the either the disadvantaged students we most want to help will be discouraged and drop out or if we have a high enough concentration of failing students we would see a gradual decline of standards. But what will most likely happen is well-off Black and Latina/o families will use the system and the purpose of elevating economically disadvantaged students will be disregarded. I also seriously doubt the Department of Education's ability to achieve their goals (Please, please look at what happened to Murray Bergtraum High School located a few blocks away from Stuyvesant High School). I also fear the resulting racial division and resentment.

I feel for this cause. I want to see a diverse and competitive student body in a nationally competitive high school but this is not the way to make it happen. It is short sighted and killing the golden goose to achieve extremely short term politically motivated results. I agree with setting up free and reduced cost specialized high school prep courses and make a *strong* effort to recruit disadvantaged students to come to the courses. I know this is already happening but if they are failing at having students pass the test with these courses, what does it say about the probability of success with a new admissions process?

This debate is a distraction from the real problem. The Department of Education (DOE) must do a substantially better job. DOE must improve the public elementary and middle school education and help Black and Latino/a parents with childhood development and educational achievement. This has to happen at an early age and the DOE succeeding at this level will pave the way for people to trust the ability of the DOE and make the education gap between different groups small enough that programs like this could succeed.
posted by ichimunki at 7:19 AM on July 21 [14 favorites]


The costs would be displacing one minority population in favor of another minority population.

Huh? This doesn't make sense to me. Can you clarify?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:35 AM on July 21


It isn't about test prep - Test prep has only small effects on scores. And anyway blacks & hispanics use test prep much more than white children and get worse outcomes.

The paper you linked to argues against the inflated claims of the test prep industry. The paper actually argues that, controlling for a variety of factors, test prep on the SAT on average will increase scores an average of 21 points (this was on the old 1600 score test). That is both statistically significant and practically significant, especially when you take into account the effect of training on a population level.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:38 AM on July 21


Huh? This doesn't make sense to me. Can you clarify?

If there are only X number of slots at Stuy, making room for a black or latino student means taking it away from an Asian student.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:44 AM on July 21


If there are only X number of slots at Stuy, making room for a black or latino student means taking it away from an Asian student.

Asian students are not a minority at Stuy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:49 AM on July 21


I also fear the resulting racial division and resentment.
I think there could also be racial division and resentment as a result of the current situation, where black and Latino students make up 70% of the students in New York City public schools and 3% of the students at Stuyvesant. At the very least, there is racial division in the sense that students at Stuyvesant are isolated from black and Latino students by virtue of having almost none as classmates.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:50 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


@MisantropicPainforest It is significant but small - I said that test prep had a small effect and that it was used much more by minority students. That is what the studies I linked to support.

If there was no test prep - minority students would do worse relative to white students than they do already, which suggests abandoning tests is no substitute for actually investing in minority education.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 7:50 AM on July 21


I have serious issues with ichimunki's post. I'll leave aside comments about "political connectedness" and just point that underlying it are two assumptions

1) SHSAT does a good job of identifying candidates with innate talent. This is problematic unless we really think Whites and Asians are innately more talented.
2) Students from less rigorous academic environments won't massively benefit from being injected into a school culture that prizes academic success in a way poorer schools might not be able to. Yes - they will need help catching up. But in theory it should be easier to catch up at 14 than at 18.

I guess the question is when is it too late to try to even the playing field? Is it 18? 14? 10? 5? I don't know.

Asian students are not a minority at Stuy.
But they are in the city.
posted by JPD at 7:52 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


They are a minority in NYC.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:53 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


And the point of that comment would be? What? 13 year olds whose parents don't themselves love STEM are untermenschen?

Stuyvesant has an amazingly accelerated curriculum.

If you're not ready for it, Stuvesant has 3 choices:

1. admit you and watch you fail.
2. reject you.

3. Stop being Stuyvesant.

It appears Deblasio has chosen #3, and it's deplorable.
posted by ocschwar at 7:54 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


No, but if the test is inherently unfair, and a passing grade can essentially be paid for, de Blasio is definitely right to find other factors.

Please. If a school where the median student is an Asian-American child of immigrants qualifying for reduced price lunch has an "inherently unfair" admissions process that can "essentially be paid for," so does every other institution on the planet.

This thing is just a political football. The NAACP has no use for Stuyvesant because it does not admit very many black students. Politicians couldn't care less about math, science, or the experiences of Asian-Americans, so they're happy to bullshit on this topic. DeBlasio's "rich-get-richer" comments are so incredibly out-of-touch that it's hard to believe that his son attends one of these schools.

Seriously, if the test is so easily gamed and bought, then why are so many of the students not-so-rich Asian-American strivers? Er, let's just stick our heads in the sand and mouth more liberal platitudes. What a disgrace.
posted by leopard at 7:58 AM on July 21 [9 favorites]


But they are in the city.

That's completely irrelevant to elite high schools.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:03 AM on July 21


That's completely irrelevant to elite high schools.

Why is that irrelevant? Are you trying to say that having a diverse student body at a specific high school is more important (for what? The students' education? Political correctness?) than whether they are considered a minority in terms of the demographics of the greater city?
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:11 AM on July 21


Are you trying to say that having a diverse student body at a specific high school is more important (for what? The students' education? Political correctness?) than whether they are considered a minority in terms of the demographics of the greater city?

Since most colleges operate this way, I'm going to say yes, it is more important.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:13 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


If the specialized high schools were 75% black, I'm sure people would be very sympathetic to a call for reform because "diversity is inherently important" and the minority status of blacks outside of the specialized high schools would be completely 100% irrelevant.
posted by leopard at 8:55 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Any objective/inherently fair system would allow for the entire student population to be of a single race. Anything else would mean that the system is being unfair to individuals and seeing them as just being part of a group and not seeing them for who they are.
posted by asra at 9:02 AM on July 21


My .02 is that for the admissions test, it's a nature vs nurture thing with nurture playing a HUGE role. I do not mean access to test prep courses or wealth, but year's long cultural and family immersion and nurturing.

There are vast differences...but pointing this out based on ethnicities is not politically correct.

Quota system or no? That seems to be the fence. I'm surprised that for a public school (any public school), a quota system isn't already in place....
posted by CrowGoat at 9:31 AM on July 21


There are no easy answers here, but something bothers me.

If there's this much competition to get into New York's elite high schools, then there are not enough elite high schools in New York. The political pressure is so great here because there are more students that want to attend challenging high schools than there are spots to fill, and presumably there are more students who are qualified to attend challenging high schools than there are spots to fill.

So either make the schools bigger or build twice as many schools. If there's a smart kid who clears the bar but is left behind — because they have only X spots so they have to take the top X scores from the test — then that's bad public policy. I know it's not as easy as that, but if the elite schools really do lead to better education outcomes then it's a no-brainer for the city to pay for any child who demonstrates the aptitude.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:45 AM on July 21 [16 favorites]


I'm going to one-up this and say that if it weren't for unofficial limits the entirety of the university would be this way.

Usually people saying this mean that if you just admitted the students with the highest test scores, a school would be majority Asian(-American). But while this is likely far less true for a high school than an elite university, but admissions to elite universities have never been a reward for high test scores.

Most obviously, elite universities seem to have some sort of informal quotas for intended majors. If they admitted solely on test scores, they might well find an incoming class composed solely of physics and philosophy majors, which would run counter to the university's long-term goals. I can't* find data on test scores broken down by race/ethnicity and intended major. So it might be (for reals) that race and ethnicity are uncorrelated with intended majors such that most of the highest-scorers among intended physics majors are Asian, and among intended English majors, and among intended psych majors, and among intended history majors. There's some evidence to the contrary -- Asian men are more likely to choose physical sciences or engineering and less likely to choose business or humanities, while Asian women are more likely to choose natural sciences or humanities but much less likely to choose engineering -- but it's based solely on the UT system the author had data from, so who knows what the bigger picture looks like, much less the picture at elite schools as opposed to Big State U.

Anyhows, if race or ethnicity, test scores, and intended majors are all intercorrelated, which seems likely even if you wouldn't expect the correlations to be extreme, admissions to elite universities will depart from admission of high-scorers generally just because the pool of intended humanities majors has lower scores and looks different than the pool of intended STEM majors.

*For lazy values of "can't."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:02 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Any objective/inherently fair system would allow for the entire student population to be of a single race. Anything else would mean that the system is being unfair to individuals and seeing them as just being part of a group and not seeing them for who they are.

of course - except that our system isn't fair. That's kind of the point.

If the specialized high schools were 75% black, I'm sure people would be very sympathetic to a call for reform because "diversity is inherently important" and the minority status of blacks outside of the specialized high schools would be completely 100% irrelevant.

Because white dudes like DiBlasio (and me) are structurally biased towards African-Americans and away from Asians?

Yeah - all that white flight I see in the nice suburbs when Asians move in. Spot on.
posted by JPD at 10:08 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


It's not clear that the "elite" schools really produce better outcomes for the marginal student (see for example this interesting discussion). We can actually compare students who barely make it in to students who barely miss the cutoff, and there do not seem to be meaningful differences, although I wouldn't say the research in this area is conclusive.
posted by leopard at 10:09 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't the marginal attendees also be those most likely to have benefitted the most from specialized exam study and parental support?
posted by JPD at 10:15 AM on July 21


Another anecdote/data-point -- went to Stuyvesant for 2 years in the 90s then switched schools. My friends at Stuy were mostly Black and Latino. More than a handful of them also switched schools after a couple years there. Our group definitely felt isolated and like outsiders. White kids, while technically a "minority" at the school, were still generally the most popular kids at school, were seen as cool, as representing what "normal" looks like, etc.
posted by AceRock at 10:18 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Usually people saying this mean that if you just admitted the students with the highest test scores, a school would be majority Asian(-American). But while this is likely far less true for a high school than an elite university, but admissions to elite universities have never been a reward for high test scores.

No. I am saying that Asian students with good overall qualifications are rejected in favor of white applicants with the same qualifications. I am saying that Asian applicants have to work their asses off to prove that they are individuals and not robots, whereas the individuality and humanity of white applicants is taken for granted. Asian students are not test-taking machines, but that's exactly how they're treated by college admissions committees no matter what is in their application packages. If an Asian student plays the bassoon, or is a competitive squash player, it's because they are trying to game the system. But if a white applicant does these things? He's awesome.

But thanks for buying into the terrible stereotype. You just proved my point.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:21 AM on July 21 [14 favorites]


Because white dudes like DiBlasio (and me) are structurally biased towards African-Americans and away from Asians?

You think you're being sarcastic, but yes, exactly this. I find the dismissiveness towards the experiences of Asian-Americans somewhat extraordinary. If Stuyvesant was 75% black, anyone who said that the minority status of blacks outside of Stuyvesant was completely irrelevant would be slammed as utterly disingenuous. The fact that you and de Blasio have all this wonderful liberal cred in your minds doesn't change this.
posted by leopard at 10:31 AM on July 21 [8 favorites]


If there's this much competition to get into New York's elite high schools, then there are not enough elite high schools in New York.

... Depends on how you want to define "elite," right?
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:32 AM on July 21


I'm not dismissing the experiences of Asian-Americans, I'm dismissing the idea that African-Americans are a favored minority over Asian-Americans.

That's frankly such a laughable concept that if a white dude said something like what you said about "No would care if Stuy were 75% black" they'd be roundly attacked for being racist.
posted by JPD at 10:37 AM on July 21


If there's this much competition to get into New York's elite good high schools, then there are not enough elite good high schools in New York.
posted by maggiemaggie at 10:39 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


JPD, a few things:

1. You actually have no idea what race I am, so please feel free to attack me for being racist. I can take it.
2. No one ever said that Asian-Americans are descendants of slaves, victims of Jim Crow, victims of white flight, victims of the war on drugs, or in general have had it worse than blacks in America. I'm sorry to disappoint you, I'm sure it seemed like an easy shot to win.
3. I will stand by "if Stuyvesant were 75% black" comment. Go back and read it. Since you seem to be having a hard time following the thread, let me explicitly say that in this hypothetical, anybody who said that the minority status of blacks was "completely irrelevant" would *deserve* to be slammed.
posted by leopard at 10:52 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


And I don't see how de Blasio's comments to the effect that:
Using the grueling two-hour test as the only basis for admissions creates a “rich-get-richer phenomenon,” because wealthy parents can afford expensive test preparations for their children, he said in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News Editorial Board.
can be viewed as anything other than completely dismissive of the experiences of the Asian-American students at the specialized schools. He's completely ignoring the realities on the ground in favor of a comfortable liberal narrative.
posted by leopard at 10:57 AM on July 21


I'm not dismissing the experiences of Asian-Americans, I'm dismissing the idea that African-Americans are a favored minority over Asian-Americans.

I don't think he's saying that African-Americans are a favored minority over Asian-Americans, in general. I think he's saying that African-Americans are a preferred minority over Asian-Americans in the minds of white liberals, as exemplified by de Blasio's discomfort over Asian-American overrepresentation in elite schools at the perceived expense of black students, despite the fact that Asians are also a minority which has been historically underrepresented until very recently, and despite the fact that the Asians which make up this student population are actually much more financially disadvantaged than is stereotypical.

But it has been argued here that the fact of Asian-American minority in the surrounding culture is irrelevant, and it has been argued that the entrance exam disproportionately favors white and Asian applicants, because those racial populations can so easily be bound together to support one argument and separated to support another.

Asians and Asian-Americans aren't just a different kind of white person, who have somehow managed to sneak into the halls of white privilege at the expense of other racial minorities. To paraphrase a comment from the last time we had an in-depth discussion over whether Asians were taking over everyone's schools:

80% white, 10% Asian, 5% black, 5% Latino -- diverse;
50% white, 40% Asian, 5% black, 5% Latino -- not diverse.
posted by Errant at 11:08 AM on July 21 [18 favorites]


I went to Stuy almost two decades ago, back when the Asian population was only 40% or so. I'm not sure what the answer here is, but I don't think it's easy and I don't think we'll actually ever find it.

Mostly because the problem isn't the test, it's everything leading up to the test. It's knowing about the test. The problem is the middle schools that feed Stuy, Science and Tech. No one in an official school capacity ever told me about the test, or encouraged me to take it. That's the thing about the NYC public school system. You have to know how to work it to get the most out of it, and that knowledge is not equally distributed.

And just like the community of Asian immigrants to which I belonged, that were the actual ones who encouraged me to go to Stuy, so is the real advantage of the "elite" schools--not extra funding (though we had quite a lot, compared to other schools), not better teachers (we had plenty of terrible ones). It was being in a community that expected everyone to do well. That's the advantage.

It's optimistic on the one hand, because unlike funding, there's nothing preventing you from having that kind of community in the 4th or 5th or Nth best school in NYC. But on the other, more real hand, I have no idea how you create that community without it emerging naturally from the group of people you put together.
posted by danny the boy at 11:35 AM on July 21 [12 favorites]


FWIW, de Blasio's son Dante is about to enter his senior year at Brooklyn Tech. I think he has a stake in this, but I'm not sure it's an "out of touch liberal" stake.

(I don't envy Dante de Blasio. Being the son of the guy who's trying to change admissions policies is probably not going to be a lot of fun, assuming that the kids at Brooklyn Tech have now figured out that he goes there.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:36 AM on July 21


In NYC public schools it seems like all or nothing. I work with someone who is Puerto Rican living in the Bronx, whose daughter scored very high on whatever test she took before going to first grade and was told that she was guaranteed a place in a certain school

I assume the certain school was an elementary school... it's hard for me to imagine any high school guaranteeing a child admission based on first grade testing?

But at any rate, "all or nothing" has not been my experience with two kids in two different public high schools in Queens. Neither of them attended/is attending a specialized school. But when we were going through the 8th grade application process, there were quite a few good schools they could apply to, any of which we would have been happy for them to attend.

I think the struggling schools and the elite schools in NYC get all the press, but actually there are quite a number of excellent high schools with good track records for student outcomes. And they have the benefit of more accurately representing the neighborhood diversity-wise because they don't depend only on testing for admissions.

Elementary school is tougher though--kids don't have as many options there. And of course, the quality of your elementary/middle school education is going to affect the choices available to you when you apply to high school.

None of that is to take away from the difficulties facing your friend, maggiemaggie. Parents should not have to be working all the time to make sure their kid doesn't fall through the cracks--what a shame.
posted by torticat at 11:49 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Keep using Liberal as a pejorative. Its a winning gambit.

Twice you've made an assertion that somehow your hypothetical of a majority black school would represent diversity to "liberals" while a majority asian school does not. If that existed it would be equally problematic.

This issue here isn't "the value of diversity." Its that the specialized schools are supposed to attract the smartest kids across the city - and just by looking at the demographic breakdown we know that can't be the case.

If you want to argue the time to intervene is at an earlier age and by the time kids are entering High School its too late I think that's a reasonable response.

80% white, 10% Asian, 5% black, 5% Latino -- diverse;
50% white, 40% Asian, 5% black, 5% Latino -- not diverse.


Yes - I would agree that's bullshit.
posted by JPD at 11:49 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


That's the thing about the NYC public school system. You have to know how to work it to get the most out of it, and that knowledge is not equally distributed.

Oh, and that is totally true, of the non-elite but "good" schools I talked about in my last comment too. It takes a lot of research to find out what's available to you and then a fair amount of jumping through hoops to take the various tests or go to interviews or whatever the schools where you are applying require.
posted by torticat at 11:55 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or does it strike anyone else that the actual problem here is competitive 'elite' high schools that are having admission criteria rather than just... letting in everyone?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:04 PM on July 21


How could an elite high school possibly let in everyone who wished to attend? That's... weird.
posted by Justinian at 12:11 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


yeah maybe just not have elite high schools? just have... high schools for people who live in the town. like they do in most places.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:20 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Keep using Liberal as a pejorative. Its a winning gambit.

It's not that "liberal" is pejorative. It's that there is an element of liberal politics that views minor gains for one racial minority as progress and major gains for another racial minority as "problematic", all the while presenting itself as the preferable alternative to the more obvious racial bias in conservative politics. It is this aspect of liberalism that says "we're less racist than those guys, so don't antagonize us when we're racially biased against you". One can be generally aligned with liberal politics while still criticizing the ways in which it does its purported constituency a disservice.

Twice you've made an assertion that somehow your hypothetical of a majority black school would represent diversity to "liberals" while a majority asian school does not.

I don't believe he's making that assertion. However, I will. Majority-black schools represents diversity to liberals in ways that majority-Asian schools do not, and this isn't hypothetical. There are actual majority-black ("historically black") schools, and people think that that is a good and strive actively to preserve that demographic status; and there are increasingly majority-Asian schools, and people think that is a worrying trend which requires a recalibration of admissions standards in order to prevent. The student population diversity of UC Berkeley concerns people in ways that the student population diversity of Delaware State University does not.

If it's not clear, I have absolutely no problem with historically-black colleges and universities. But I note the disparity of concern with interest.
posted by Errant at 12:26 PM on July 21 [9 favorites]


But thanks for buying into the terrible stereotype.

I can see why you would think that, and my comment probably wasn't helpful, but I was really only toying with the idea of what we would expect race-neutral admissions to look like. I certainly agree that admissions office(r)s tend to be prejudiced against Asian applicants.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:46 PM on July 21


MisantropicPainforest: "yeah maybe just not have elite high schools? just have... high schools for people who live in the town. like they do in most places."

Should we also not have advanced classes in these local high schools? Or any choice at all about what classes you take? Should we not have different kinds of colleges? You're only allowed admission to whatever's closest to you?

Why should a single school have to have the resources to accommodate both vocational training and top tier college prep? The NYC dept of ed teaches 1.1 million kids in 1700 schools. It would be a scandal if they didn't specialize.

You're arguing against NYC having the only public high school in the country designed for LGBT kids, a conservatory quality performing arts high school, and the country's oldest vocational school, teaching art and design.
posted by danny the boy at 1:06 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Torticat, my friend was told his daughter's test scores guaranteed her admission to a certain elementary school, but was then told there was no room, so yes I was talking about elementary school not high school.

But the angst around NYC schools, at least among the folks I know, seems to start in kindergarten.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:10 PM on July 21


Lots of great conversation! To answer some questions:

1. Clarifying minorities - My simple personal definition of minority are poor people who are different (race, disabilities, sexual preference, etc.) than the people in power and are discriminated against based on that difference. I acknowledge diversity is a made up concept and everyone has their own view. I used to help African, Latin American and Asian charity organizations complete foundation grant applications. The applications often include diversity forms. We found it all kinds of hilarious thinking about rich white people as minorities. Of course, the foundations wanted us to only count non-white people. As a short answer, I do think of poor immigrant Asians as a minorities.

Also note, Asian constitutes many sub-sets such as Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Indonesian, etc. Often, immigrants from the Middle East also term themselves Asian (Persian, Iraqi, etc.). It would be good to get a further breakdown of what Asian means in this context.

2. Racial division and resentment - This could be broadly interpreted and what I meant is racial division and resentment within the school. Right now, all students who attend passed the test. No one can say this one person got in because of the color of their skin. This is a common complaint of affirmative action but this is more relevant in this case because the testing process is so clear-cut. There will be resentment against Black and Latina/o students. We are dealing with mostly low-income Asian, Black, Latina/o teens with parents who are in immigrant neighborhoods. This is a timed powder keg waiting to explode with the spark of perceived injustice especially in this era of school violence. We're taking the focus away from meritocracy and on race. Also consider Stuy is a haven for Asian Am students who tend to be bullied in other schools. Why is it not OK for Asians to have a school where they are the majority?

Please consider reading the Philadelphia Story - (http://newamericamedia.org/2011/12/philadelphia-story-voices-of-asian-american-bullying-victims.php)

3. Assumption the SHSAT identifies innate talent - I'm glad you noticed my underlying assumption about talent. I thought about how to explain it but ultimately did not put it in my comment. I guess it's all about your definition of talent. I think the SHSAT is a good measure of talent needed to get by in Stuyvesant. Does it measure talent needed to succeed in life or be a good person? No. Does it give the school an idea of how a student will do in a heavy testing environment with competitive pressure? Yes. I personally learned a lot studying for the Stuy test. I knew NOTHING about logic and I was far behind on the math and grammar needed to ace the test. Studying for the test got me up to speed and taught me basic test taking skills I applied to taking the SAT and GRE. This type of talent is not innate but this takes time, motivation and dedication. I wish Stuyvesant was the nurturing sort of place where lower performing students could be brought up to speed quickly. :( It's not. No one will hold your hand and there will be many many tests.

4. Catching up students at 14 rather than 18 - *eek* I would one up JPD and say we need to go back even earlier to elementary school and reform mass systems. Let me explain why. The reason why Black and Latina/o (BL) enrollment is declining in Stuy is because private schools are becoming more competitive about luring high achieving BL students. We're all grabbing for the same small set of students that can do the work and pass the tests. Why not expand the pool? Make a huge pool of qualified candidates? Instead of the DOE distracting us by saying we need to throw a few ten or hundred BL students into this testing ground so maybe they can succeed - let's look at DOE's abysmal track record in elementary school education, let's make a concerted effort to have the schools make better candidates who can do the work! I also believe this is not just about DOE and schools but our culture, loss of community and the social safety net all colluding to lose kids early. I argue it is extremely difficult to close the gap in high school. We're already having enough trouble keeping and motivating high achieving BL students. Why compound the problem without fixing the root? To share a bit of my personal life, I have a history tutoring promising BL NYC elementary and junior high students in math. I have a good idea of how big the gap is for promising students and have doubts as to the success of "catching up"students from NYC public schools who are borderline on this sort of test. I'd be happy to discuss the reasons why in-depth if needed.

5. High schools and Politics - Yes, public schools mostly generally suck in New York City and we need better schools. My fear about different admission standards beyond testing is the injection of politics into Stuyvesant admissions. NYC politics and DOE bureaucracy/politics are NOTORIOUS for fucking up good things. IF NYC and DOE were functional and the gap needed to catch up students smaller, I would say opening Stuy up to different admissions standards was doable and I would be a staunch cheerleader for the cause. But it's not. I think deBlasio is smoking some good stuff or is an extreme idealist if he thinks politics will not eventually lead to "other items" being considered for admission including money, power and connections.

Guys, please take my comments with the best of intentions. I'm looking at what's best for the students and using my personal experiences in the NYC public school system/Stuy. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions.
posted by ichimunki at 1:56 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah - all that white flight I see in the nice suburbs when Asians move in. Spot on.

I know you meant this sarcastically but this has happened, you know. San Marino, in the San Gabriel Valley near Pasadena, in southern California, is a "nice suburb" by any definition: median home price of $2 million, median household income of nearly $140K, completely made up of (large) single-family detached houses. In 1970 it was 99.7% white; in 2000 it was 52% white and 48% Asian; in 2010 it was 41% white and 54% Asian. Writ large, this is the story of the San Gabriel Valley.
posted by andrewesque at 2:08 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Toronto has a couple of excellent arts schools, technical schools, a program for LGBT students - and no specific elite academic schools. Instead, most state schools have access to the academic resources and courses needed to get into a top Canadian university. That's not to say that every school is equal - we have our problems with inequality by income. But you still have a chance to go to a very good school, even if you don't do well on a test at age 13.

We as a society have to decide: do we concentrate our resources on a few children (whose family drive - more important than income - probably means they would do well no matter what), or do we work to make all schools better? All schools should have the kinds of resources that elite high schools have.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't have some streaming: gifted kids are outliers just like those with developmental disabilities, and need special education as well. But they don't actually need more resources. They are sort of the kids who will read Shakespeare whether they get taken to the theatre or not -- we should be taking the other kids to the theatre. (I was actually in a gifted program - we went to plays five times a year, versus never for my brother's regular class in the same school board. That was a terrible choice: we didn't need the enrichment, 90% of us would see theatre with our families, but most of his class wouldn't).
posted by jb at 3:01 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


For many parents, particularly the brain drain immigrant set, there is a lot of anxiety around the success of their children. The success path has been historically understood as:

1) Achieve high grades in school
2) Go to an elite University/or College
3) Get a high paying job

The figurative payout at the end of all of that dedication and hard work is a literal paycheck. They want their children's life to be better than their own by being able to afford more, and live with less financial risk. Learning to work the system isn't the first step, the first step is learning that there is a system to be worked. Guidance counselors may not necessarily tell you about the various tests, or the gifted programs, or how to avoid your "zone school" and get to a "good school". This is where being part of a community helps. Particularly if members of that community has already gotten their kids to step 2 or 3.

Many parents feel that there is so much at stake; that the wrong school or an average test score will condemn their child to a life of mediocrity if not poverty. In NYC in particular, people are very aware of the financial spectrum and how much closer to the bottom they are than the top. This adds to the anxiety.

When it is discovered that there are certain High Schools that have a high percentage of Ivy League bound students, and that there are certain high paying careers in NYC that almost exclusively hire top-tier University graduates, parents who belong to these communities will do almost anything to get their kids on that path and will start their preparation from a very early age. I would say that for many of them, not doing so would be an indication of a lack of love for their children.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 3:45 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


jb: "That was a terrible choice: we didn't need the enrichment, 90% of us would see theatre with our families, but most of his class wouldn't)."

Here's the thing: that was me, and my family would certainly NOT have taken me to see a show otherwise.

And the twist: my sister, who went to the local high school, also went to the theater with her class.

I don't know what that means though.
posted by danny the boy at 5:18 PM on July 21


I went to a couple elite magnet public schools with completely arbitrary racial quotas (let's say 15% white, 15% black, 15% Latino, 10% neighborhood / other) . The result of this was one school had a slight majority of black students, another majority Eastern European Jewish, another Mexican, another Indian/Pakistani.

I am COMPLETELY IN FAVOR OF RACIAL QUOTAS, whether arbitrary or weighted for demographics. If you've got a couple minutes, I'll explain why.

1. There are only a handful of test-in free admission schools in Chicago. There are maybe a thousand spots a year at each entry point (let's say kindergarten, 7th grade, and 9th grade) and literally tens of thousands of kids with the right test scores or verbal skills to make the cut. There is no way to make this fair. If you weight it equally by race, you will have a multicultural community of high performing students, but (in Chicago) a lot of deserving white and Latino students don't make the cut because there are so many more of them. If you weight admissions solely on test scores, you will have just as many high performing students, but a disproportionate number will come from families with more resources to pump into pre-K activities. This community of students will probably be less diverse (at this point in time where the middle and upper class is disproportionately white).

So why is diversity important? What makes multiculturalism more important than test scores?

2. Read the newspaper, watch the news, listen to a political debate. There is so much racist dog whistling couched in "common sense" rhetoric and false equivalence. A columnist may say it subtly and a commenter may put it more bluntly: "look at the numbers" "there are higher numbers of blacks in prison because blacks are *inherently* more violent" "whites are more successful because whites are smarter and harder working."

No one who went to a school like mine thinks like that. Students flourished and crashed at the same levels in my schools but there were different reasons for failure and they were societal, not genetic.

Well - off students were less likely to work an afterschool job and, like a Choose Your Own Adventure, they were more likely to get their homework done, have a hobby or sport, or fall deep into drugs. White students were more likely to get treatment for drugs, where black students were more likely to get arrested. I don't want to trot out out a bunch of stereotypes or statistics. Rich black kids had different problems and pressures than rich white kids. Poor Vietnamese kids had different support systems than poor Russians or Puerto Ricans, none of whose situation could be described as just a "white", "Asian", or "Latino" experience.

I hope I haven't lost the thread. My point here is that we've got the same number of success stories, but they're a lot more likely not to dismiss a job applicant with a name they can't pronounce, or because someone wears religious garb or speaks with an accent, or keeps their hair natural. I'm not sure if we're losing the middle class as we know it but I'm watching a burgeoning black and latino middle class that the politicians don't even see coming and it's beautiful.

--
The problem however, is that there are still tens of thousands of smart kids getting left behind, and hundred of thousands more getting entirely shat on.

A decade after I graduated hs, Chicago struck down the rule saying no magnet school could have more than 35% white enrollment and a lot of schools are becoming playgrounds for the rich (green is the important color but a lot more white people have it). White parents in affluent neighborhoods are petitioning to have one high performing school expanded. There is a perfectly fine school their kids are eligible to go to but they don't want that. If they all worked together, they could help turn that school into an elite. They don't want to. They don't want to bus their kids to a south or west side magnet. So instead of elevating their neighborhood they're pitching a fit, threatening to send their kids to private and Catholic schools and they're demanding a bigger chunk of the money that could be going to overcrowded, underperforming, dangerous schools in the name of "fairness".

I understand looking out for your own, especially when it's your own kids, but when you're talking about fairness (for any one group), it's far from fair.

*The issue of poorer Asian Americans and poorer whites and newer immigrants and people from different national origins and communities falling under one generic umbrella and receiving different advantages and disadvantages is an important one, but I don't think it's one that should be solved at the expense of diversity
posted by elr at 6:47 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I should mention that I wasn't able to go to an elite school til I was in 4th grade when another white/Jewish kid's family moved, leaving open a Caucasian slot for me.

Until then, I was at a neighborhood school, and my parents were a big part of the PTA, and very active in improving my school for me and my peers.

I'm sure, or at least I hope, that most parents whose kids don't make the cut, are as active as mine in their local schools, even if they feel cheated.
posted by elr at 7:02 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


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