How It Feels to Be an Asian Student in an Elite Public School
January 26, 2022 12:48 AM   Subscribe

"The dwindling number of Black and Latino students at these high schools is a great concern and a mystery. Bill de Blasio, when he was mayor of New York, suggested the heart of the problem." "That does not reckon with history. Decades ago, when crime and socioeconomic conditions were far graver than they are today, Black and Latino teenagers passed the examination in great numbers. In 1981, nearly two-thirds of Brooklyn Tech’s students were Black and Latino, and that percentage hovered at 50 percent for another decade." [NYT link]
posted by 47WaysToLeaveYourLover (63 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting this. I am Indian American and attended one of these so-called elite high schools a couple decades ago. It's an extremely narrow definition of "success." While I'm grateful for some of the opportunities I had there, it was also harmful in ways I didn't fully perceive until well into adulthood.

When I attended, the school had relatively low numbers of Black/Latinx students compared to the county, and that gap only widened in the last several years, directly related to the explosion of pricey test prep. One of my friends made more money tutoring for the high school entrance exam than she did as a PharmD. I'm not at all surprised to hear that a group of Asian parents are suing the school district over the elimination of the entrance exam in favor of a lottery; I'd think the easy rebuttal would be "here are all the ways that entrance exams perpetuate systemic racism." Because there are a LOT.

That said, I also dislike the implicit narrative in these sorts of stories that pits Asian Americans against Black and Latinx communities like some zero-sum game. I left my HS alumni Facebook group after getting frustrated with the repeated and rarely challenged assumptions that a school with more Black/Latinx students would be in some way "dumbed down." There is data in the working world that diverse teams produce better work; it's there anything like that for education?
posted by basalganglia at 2:30 AM on January 26 [36 favorites]


I believe this is true. And that if this is the implemented system to live by then making sure that all low income families are getting chances and inequalities should be continually evaluated for and addressed.

But I'm also terrified that we are sending 11 year olds to tutoring for an exam that defines the rest of their educational career, forcing kids to work these school weeks that go from 6am or 7am to midnight with homework and extracurricular activities, putting kids against each other for highly competitive slots that start in goddamn elementary school. What is wrong with the average neighborhood school? Ultimatly these are kids who are trying to complete basic education. Kids who score in the average range absolutely can learn rigorous and detailed material. Kids can be completely uninterested in anything requiring academic rigor can then decide they want to really learn much later in life and be successful. Kids are capable of really in depth learning when they are engaged. There's is no reason to deny opportunities to anyone who wants to take those classes and put that work in unless the goal isn't to educate kids, it is to determine capitalistic wealth distribution. This system is scary and terrifing and I want out (I have a 3 year old, and these things weigh on me already! She's in pre-k and I just want her to play with some kids and learn some shapes but she may have an entrance exam for the selective kindergartens)

I am the point where I firmly believe that these educational systems perpetuate unhealthy views of work/life balance, that insist that one must be giving their all at all times to what exactly? Work in the finance industry doing 90 hour weeks? Become a doctor with all the ridiculous amounts of debt and residency requirements that are just completely unhealthy? Do unpaid internships to be exploited by big companies for a few years of free labor? Go into academia for possible prestige and maybe a job one day? For every success story there are plenty of people in shit jobs with shit hours and shit benefits who were a part of this pipeline.

Yes, this is a defined path into a white collar world with lots of money involved I guess. I just question the path and the sacrifices to get there as if that's a model to live by. Then forcing kids to participate as if its just how the world should be.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:53 AM on January 26 [24 favorites]


This is an incredible article, thank you so much for posting! I'm going to be re-reading and thinking about it all day.

I think what I appreciate the most about it is the way it resists traditional framing of this issue as segregation while still reckoning with the injustice done to Black communities when access to gifted and talented programs is removed.
posted by MiraK at 4:10 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


“There’s a big literature on the value of accelerated classes and it’s very favorable,” said James H. Borland, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College. “There’s a strong research base that shows it’s very beneficial.”

That's a weird answer, since any school can institute accelerated classes for the benefit of students, but the issue is about the existence of entire schools that are accelerated and the ways that can be problematic to society.
posted by polymodus at 4:22 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


The article is the first I’ve seen which clearly drills down on the end of tracking in neighborhood elementary and middle schools as a potential reason why fewer African American and Hispanic kids score high on the SHSAT. Implacable hostility to elementary G&T is one of the things I hope DiBlasio took home with him from City Hall.

Like all such articles not enough time is spent on the positive reasons for the discrepancy — the decline in the highly-prepared test taking population because of the greater comfort their families have in moving to the suburbs vs decades ago, and the enthusiasm of elite private schools to enroll and provide their kids financial aid.

AlexiaSky - I’m not sure what to make of your comment. The “average neighborhood school” in NYC is bad and the average neighborhood (non-selective) high schools in NYC is terrible. People don’t send their kids to test prep because they are sadists or unhealthily ambitious for their kids … they do so because they don’t have the money to move to suburbs that let property values do the selection for them, or to send their kids to $50k/year private schools, and the selective high schools are the alternative available to them.
posted by MattD at 5:23 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


The article states "tutoring is no replacement for identifying gifted students and placing them in accelerated classes." And yet there is a movement to remove gifted classes entirely, e.g California's proposed guidelines for middle school math education, which "rejected the idea of naturally gifted children, [and] recommended against shifting certain students into accelerated courses in middle school..."
posted by PhineasGage at 5:31 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


That quote is so frustrating, Phineas. You can reject the idea of naturally gifted students but still recognize that in any given age cohort, some students are going to be prepared for more challenging material earlier than other students and thus not putting everyone in the same class all the time can make sense, particularly for subjects where later skills strongly build on earlier skills.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:29 AM on January 26 [18 favorites]


Extension work is good. Differentiated teaching is good. Encouraging a love of mathematics is good. Accelerating classes in a way that means that once you are not on the highest track, you are limited in what you can achieve is not good. The goal is not to get to calculus as fast as possible, the goal is to enrich your mind with mathematical thinking and increase your skills and conceptual understanding.
posted by plonkee at 6:45 AM on January 26 [13 favorites]


What is wrong with the average neighborhood school? ... Kids who score in the average range absolutely can learn rigorous and detailed material.

Can they (in general)? I'd love to hear from teachers with experience in this area. My child attends a rigorous academic school that's selected by lottery, not test or other application. Because of self-selection, the school is much richer than the overall public-school population, but it's still diverse (racially and economically) by general U.S. standards. My impression is that it's extremely difficult for the school to get kids from lousy elementary schools caught up, and this is starting in 5th grade, not 9th.

I'll be in favor of getting rid of tests when you can convince me that the alternative isn't less fair. E.g., No one likes the SAT. It’s still the fairest thing about admissions.

posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:55 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


It seems like there should be options between getting rid of tests and relying pretty much entirely on tests, though -- for example, setting a required level of performance on the test and then doing a lottery amongst everyone who hits that level, rather than taking the top performers from the test. That would likely somewhat reduce the need for expensive specialized tutoring since it wouldn't be so competitive and it would increase the chances that students from families who don't have those resources would be able to make it past the entry requirements.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:14 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


Competition for these schools has become so intense in part because the "normal" schools in NYC have gotten so bad. At this level of selectivity, the effect of random noise on test results means, practically speaking, that there's no way to claim, with a straight face, that the people who make it in are the only ones who "deserved" a spot.

My mother is an immigrant and speaks English as her third language. She went to community college. My dad graduated from high school and went no further. We didn't have the money to pay for test prep - I had to use a heavily-marked up Barron's book that I borrowed from a friend because my family couldn't afford one. But I still got in. I get the impression that this would be impossible today, because competition has gotten so intense. The parents just want a proper education for their kids, and it's a sad comment on the state of NYC schools when the "elite" high schools are the only places you're assured of getting one.

basalganglia, I quit the Stuyvesant Alumni FB group because of the same issue - the posters took it for granted that more Black and Latinx students at Stuy would mean lower standards. They openly mocked anyone who suggested otherwise, or that there was anything to discuss about the best public high schools in NYC so poorly reflecting the community they supposedly served. If you wanted more equity at the science high schools, it meant you were anti-Asian. The last straw was someone telling me that my mother - who was born abroad and moved to the US speaking no English - wasn't a "real immigrant" because we're white. I'd had enough and I'm not going back.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:31 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]


I like jacquilynne’s idea of “lottery once you hit a certain bar”, but I have two other concerns. Why is there a need for a lottery? Why aren’t there just more slots? If ten times the students could pass the basic bar indicating success, why aren’t there ten times the high schools to take them?

If there’s a cost based concern, then I still see a problem— the choice to spend money and effort on a too-tiny number of elite high schools, instead of making the neighborhood public schools better. Why is it an assumption that the basic school is bad? How can we change that assumption instead of trying to rewrite how the too-few slots are distributed?
posted by nat at 7:34 AM on January 26 [19 favorites]


> Why is there a need for a lottery? Why aren’t there just more slots? If ten times the students could pass the basic bar indicating success, why aren’t there ten times the high schools to take them?

QFT
posted by MiraK at 8:03 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


It's hard to explain the flow within the classroom, but you have to pitch the direct instruction (aka whole group instruction, or direct modeling) to where the majority of the students are at. If they don't have the background to understand they'll just zone out, though they might still diligently take notes or (later on) ask questions if they are sufficiently motivated. And at an elite school, you do expect the students to be motivated...

You can sprinkle in the rigor here and there and have the high level conversations with the intellectually confident students and make everyone feel included in them, like you believe everyone in class is capable of learning at that higher level, and if enough students understand enough of the conversation it will work and everyone will feel proud to be in your class. But you do have to have a method for catching the students who aren't at the level to understand WTF you are talking about, because those students will be lost until they come to you or you go to them. And the wider the gap, the more they will be lost and the more shame they might feel about it.

Anyway I agree that a minimum required test score, and then a lottery above that level is probably the fairest way. Or expand the access. Empathy is important and turning people attending the elite schools into snobs who don't believe their fellow New Yorkers deserve to be at school with them - even if they are hardworking and deserving snobs - doesn't really do them any favors either.
posted by subdee at 8:15 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I totally agree with you nat and with the general idea that the real problem here is that students aren't getting a decent education in regular schools. If every other school didn't apparently suck, this problem wouldn't exist.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:15 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


If every other school didn't apparently suck, this problem wouldn't exist.
The lead person in this story Tausifa Haque commutes an hour and half to get to this school. The median adults' commute in NYC is only 40 minutes, so that hers is double is insane, and the idea that not one school within an hour and half of her home is decent defies belief. So yeah, NYC needs more Brooklyn Techs.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:38 AM on January 26 [8 favorites]


If ten times the students could pass the basic bar indicating success, why aren’t there ten times the high schools to take them?

Agree. But I think there aren't ten times the teachers to teach 'em.

Honestly, the best part of my fancy-schmancy high school was the really phenom teachers. Some of them were life-changing for me. But I also had teachers there that were kind of awful and sexist and racist, and no one called them out on it, because (1) authority figure and (2) most of us didn't even have the language yet to articulate why this thing that felt kind of weird was really actually not ok.

And this was at a school that had lots of extra resources and I think paid better than the (already strong) salary for public school teachers in the wealthy suburban county where I grew up.
posted by basalganglia at 8:44 AM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I missed this the first time through the article:

“ Of late, the city’s new mayor, Eric Adams, has proposed adding new gifted and talented programs in Black and Latino neighborhoods, and increasing the number of specialized high schools. City officials recently created five more such schools.”

Great. Now do that again for the next five years. And staff them well.
posted by nat at 8:59 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]


I am the point where I firmly believe that these educational systems perpetuate unhealthy views of work/life balance, that insist that one must be giving their all at all times

This is a feature, not a bug (and why I left public school teaching over 20 years ago, I couldn't perpetuate that kind of conditioning).

And yet there is a movement to remove gifted classes entirely, e.g California's proposed guidelines for middle school math education, which "rejected the idea of naturally gifted children, [and] recommended against shifting certain students into accelerated courses in middle school..."

That's because the roots of Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) are eugenicist, and the ways accelerated academic programs/tracks are implemented in the U.S. are terribly racist:

America's gifted education programs have a race problem. Can it be fixed?
Gifted education has racism in its roots: Lewis Terman, the psychologist who in the 1910s popularized the concept of “IQ” that became the foundation of gifted testing, was a eugenicist. And admissions for gifted programs tend to favor children with wealthy, educated parents, who are more likely to be white.
Giftedness as Property: Troubling Whiteness, Wealth, and Gifted Education in the United States
The purposes of this article are to illumine the racist genealogy of gifted
education policies and practices in the United States, demonstrate how deficit
discourses continue today, and provide personal examples from the field on how
educators can begin to question the status quo, resist taken-for-granted assumptions,
and make substantive changes at the local level. I also aim to demonstrate how
giftedness is an example of whiteness as property, or unearned white privilege, that,
unintentionally or not, maintains a social caste system in schools.
The Forgotten History of Eugenics
The history of eugenics in American education needs to be examined in more depth and brought to bear on arguments supporting the use of high stakes tests to raise academic standards in public schools. This history raises some challenging and disturbing questions for all of us today. What is the economic and political context in which the contemporary version of educational reform is being touted? What are the assumptions about student learning that fuel the current wave of testing? What are the effects of this testing on the lives of students and the educational climate of schools? How do these tests affect the equitable distribution of educational resources and opportunities between different school districts?
Like many of us, I was identified as a "gifted" child (at age 9), and it permanently, deeply affected my educational trajectory from that point forward (positively, superlative programs and some of the best teachers I've ever encountered), but I have no illusions that the one, single test that put me on that track was simply not fair, and I did well on it because I'm smart (whatever that means), which seemed to be a quality I possessed rather than a skill I'd earned, or knowledge I'd gained. It was presented to me as an innate aspect of my self.

Except that I was actually a smart kid because I had an older sister who taught me to read very early on; and a mom who was a teacher with a quasi-Socratic approach to learning about everything; and a house with books and stuff to feed an inquisitive mind; and a stable environment in which to calmly discover and learn from those things; and excellent maternal nutrition and health during pregnancy; and excellent nutrition, sleep and nurturing as an infant; all of which helped my budding brain thrive. None of those things had anything to do with the innate capacity of my brain, and any kid will receive massive cognitive benefits from the things I list above--which means that I was lucky more than anything else. If every single kid had the kind of prenatal and early childhood benefits that I had, then maybe a testing system that sorts into academic tracks could possibly be fair. But that is not our world.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:03 AM on January 26 [22 favorites]


The goal is not to get to calculus as fast as possible, the goal is to enrich your mind with mathematical thinking and increase your skills and conceptual understanding.

Yeah but… if you can do pre-calculus, what are we actually able to do for you in this regard except send you onto calculus? I buy on some level that this evinces a pessimistic view of what K-12 education can offer, same as the old idea of skipping grades outright - congrats, you cleared the level, onto the next one! But I’m also not at all sure that this is wrong in practice.

For the above reason I’m pretty strongly in favor of advanced classes. But growing up where I did - town with a pretty big and all around pretty “good” public high school with a particularly academically competitive sub-population due to the demographics of the town -

That's a weird answer, since any school can institute accelerated classes for the benefit of students, but the issue is about the existence of entire schools that are accelerated and the ways that can be problematic to society.

the “selective school” model has always seemed kind of strange to me, too. I suppose there are cases in which concentrating the advanced classes makes sense as far as efficiency but it feels like it should be possible to offer both advanced material and a somewhat more integrated environment. So I sort of conditionally defend the selective schools because I don’t feel like the movement against them ultimately supports what I support but I don’t really like the idea very much.
posted by atoxyl at 10:28 AM on January 26


I think that the concept of separating youths that excel early in modern educational environments is an interesting juxtaposition to the idea that desegregation busing worked.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 11:08 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


I notice there hasn't been much discussion of the article's hook about being an Asian kid in these schools. I don't know if that's because people thought it was an uninteresting part of the story, a needless or intentional distraction, or something else. I attended a rural midwestern school system nothing like this (at the time, the high schools I attended didn't offer calculus or AP classes), but I'm Asian-American and I can imagine being demoralized by well-meaning folk who say "we need diversity in our gifted schools" but then see my face and go "but not like that". Or who refer to schools with less than 50% white kids as being "segregated". I understand the intention there, but the word carries a lot of baggage that seems unfair to put on the non-white kids of working class immigrants. Is it because most of these kids do not come from working class families? Are the named interviewees the exception to the rule?

I think reframing the discussion away from generic "diversity" and toward having schools reflect the makeup of the communities they serve (as others in this comment section have done) is a good move. If you are not racist, then you should agree that the ability to succeed in a school like this does not correlate to race. Therefore, any truly fair process for selecting students by ability result in a student body that more or less reflects the community. That's just statistics.

One commenter above mentions that they had to leave a discussion group because any criticism of this system was met with accusations of being racist against Asians. I'm sure the accusations were unfair! But unfortunately I feel like we live in a time where it's important to also say that anti-Asian racism is real and that some of the people who dislike the current system dislike it because they are racist toward Asians. I don't think that the person who wrote the comment disagrees with these statements, I just think it's important to say them out loud.
posted by jomato at 11:54 AM on January 26 [16 favorites]


Therefore, any truly fair process for selecting students by ability result in a student body that more or less reflects the community.

I found that many of the graduates of these "elite" schools, including Asian American grads, do not accept this premise, and firmly believe that the reason there are so few Black students at these schools is because of cultural or genetic inferiority. And they have become far more open about sharing these views than I could have imagined in earlier years. They believe that the current system is the most fair and that the students who don't gain admission don't deserve it, either.

When my grand-uncle went to Stuyvesant in the 1930s, the complaint was that too many Jews were enrolled. How, the city fathers wondered, was it possible that the City's best public schools were dominated by poor Jewish kids of immigrants from Poland or Russia who couldn't even speak English? There was much hand-wringing. Today's situation is unusual because there's not really any argument that these measures would increase the number of white students in the classrooms. It won't. White kids don't want to attend Stuyvesant any more, and their parents don't want them in that pressure cooker. Black kids either don't know it exists (the kids I've talked to in my mostly Afro-Caribbean neighborhood haven't heard of it), go to middle schools that refuse to help them apply, or believe that they don't belong there because the school is for Asian kids only.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:08 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


I went to Stuyvesant (class of '85), and I think getting in was the single-most important achievement that set me on the path to success. I wish there were more programs like that in NYC, as Stuy wasn't the be-all and end-all some would make it out to be.
posted by AJaffe at 12:20 PM on January 26


A really interesting thought regarding acceleration in schools- here in Victoria, Australia, English is the only compulsory subject in Year 12. So, you can't accelerate it and drop it- you must take English (language arts, whatever) in Year 12. (Yes some kids do English Literature or English Language but in my school you had to also do English). So when we were figuring out how to accelerate the English program, it wasn't as easy as accelerating the maths. Except they found kids were missing foundational maths when they accelerated!

It's complex.
posted by freethefeet at 12:46 PM on January 26


I think that the concept of separating youths that excel early in modern educational environments is an interesting juxtaposition to the idea that desegregation busing worked

I grew up in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during the glory days of true integration through busing. And yes it fucking worked.
Effects of Desegregated Education. The results of the regression analysis indicate that the more time both black and white students spent in desegregated elementary schools, the better is their academic achievement (measured by standardized tests) and the higher are their secondary track placements.
We had no idea how lucky we were. (CMS is now completely resegregated)

I've never lived in a place where the local school system had selective schools like those in NYC--the magnets I know about are just lottery. However, North Carolina has the amazing North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham (with a new campus now opening this year Morganton). Applying to NCSSM for 11-12 grade is like applying to college, grades and SAT scores are both considered, and you have to meet the minimum standards for admission, but there is also a legislative requirement that all Congressional districts get a certain number of slots. This means that if you're from a mostly white wealthy suburban district, you are competing only with your neighbors, and so it's harder for you to get in than for kids from the mostly Black and Hispanic districts in Charlotte or Durham, and way harder than for the Lumbee kids from down east. It makes the school a better experience for the students, with rural, suburban, and urban kids of all backgrounds all living and taking classes together, and it helps the state justify to all communities spending a lot of taxpayer money to provide this free residential education to a few hundred students.

I'm glad to hear NCSSM is opening a new campus. It would be even more amazing if every student had the opportunity to take elective classes like the Freshwater Ecology class I helped teach a few times in Durham.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:50 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


Perhaps relevant that the journalist of this piece has a track record of putting out journalism that aims to appear to be neutral, but consistently takes a somewhat right-leaning stance on culture war issues. I'm not saying that discounts all the points in the article, and I appreciate the interviews he's done with the students - and I think the article does a strong job of pointing out the ridiculousness of the fact that it's 2022 and we still rely on the "Asian" box for a really broad swath of the world - and still categorize all of the Middle East as "white."

Anyway, this made me think of a recent-ish This American Life episode that looked into the impact of the number of universities that canceled the SAT requirement due to the pandemic. It then did a profile of UT Austin, which does admissions a bit differently. From the transcript:

Every year, they admit most of their freshman class based strictly on student's class rank-- who has the highest grades in their high school-- without paying attention to their SAT scores at all. This law is known as the Top 10% Rule because the way it worked when they started was that if you were in the top 10% of your high school class, you were automatically admitted to UT Austin. Since then, the percentage of students has gone down. Now it is the top 6% of your class, but it works the same. It doesn't matter what you get in your SAT. If you're in the top of your class, you're in.

So what you end up with is the top students from rich suburban high schools around Dallas and rural towns in West Texas and Latino majority schools in the Rio Grande Valley. And it makes for a very different freshman class at UT than you would see at most state flagship colleges.


Anyhow, it follows one student who is over her head in her math class, and it's worth a listen to anyone interested in these issues. The conclusion (and the journalist for this story is someone who wrote a book called "The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us" so he's looking a wide array of sources/data here) is that generally, the students who start behind do struggle, but most manage to catch up by the end of the first year.

The UT Austin system works, in other words. Because if a kid is at the top of the high school class, even if it's not a "good" high school, it suggests they are motivated, and motivation matters about as much as skill or being "gifted" or whatever. I teach at the college level, and this matches my experience - the students who are willing to push themselves often grow significantly over the course of the semester, and it's a particular joy to see a student who struggled in a class they took with me their freshmen year totally excel in a course they take with me as a sophomore. So one alternative would be to allow every middle school to send a certain percentage of their students. No doubt there are inquisitive and potentially brilliant 8th-graders in every middle school. It might be a rough adjustment at first, but they ought to have the chance.
posted by coffeecat at 2:58 PM on January 26 [9 favorites]


This law is known as the Top 10% Rule because the way it worked when they started was that if you were in the top 10% of your high school class, you were automatically admitted to UT Austin. Since then, the percentage of students has gone down. Now it is the top 6% of your class, but it works the same. It doesn't matter what you get in your SAT. If you're in the top of your class, you're in.

UC does this, too. I guess that’s a little different because as far as I know they don’t guarantee admission to the flagships of the flagship system - just some campus in the system. But I don’t think it’s quite as simple as them always sticking you at Merced, either, because I know people who in their own assessment got into Berkeley/L.A. on the basis of being relatively strong academically from a disadvantaged background, despite explicit affirmative action being forbidden by law. So I don’t know exactly how it works in reality.
posted by atoxyl at 3:38 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


>>If ten times the students could pass the basic bar indicating success, why aren’t there ten times the high schools to take them?

>Agree. But I think there aren't ten times the teachers to teach 'em.

I don't think it's a cost issue, or even a teacher issue. If you wanted to make ten times the number of selective high schools, all you'd really have to do is... designate ten times the number of selective high schools, and start assigning students to these schools based on achievement/test scores/whatever. Even if the teachers were exactly the same, just having classrooms full of self-selected/motivated/parentally-supported kids would probably make classroom management much easier and the instruction "better". And it would likely be a desirable posting, so there would likely be no shortage of teachers willing to work there.

Of course they wouldn't be instant-Stuyvesants, but they don't have to be to make a difference.
posted by alexei at 5:13 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


From what I understand, most of the NYC high school system runs on choice, in that students may choose from many different destinations and often end up attending a school that is out of their neighborhood. There are "second tier" elite schools like Brooklyn Tech, there is a performing arts school (LaGuardia, aka the basis of the TV show Fame), and middle-of-the-pack students tend to travel to schools that they picked for various reasons.

So that's good, I guess, but none of it alleviates the severe and troubling weirdness of almost zero Black students at Stuy. Just blowing up Stuyvesant and creating cool incentives to go to 10 other schools might rebalance things a lot.
posted by anhedonic at 6:07 PM on January 26


Yeah but… if you can do pre-calculus, what are we actually able to do for you in this regard except send you onto calculus?

Statistics and graph theory come to mind, and neither require derivatives or integrals to be meaningful when taught in high school. And they combine wonderfully. But mostly I suggest these because these give me a leg up in collegiate and professional life, and so few engineers understand the central limit thorem or even the 68-95-99.7 heuristic.
posted by pwnguin at 6:28 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Competition for these schools has become so intense in part because the "normal" schools in NYC have gotten so bad.

“Up the Down Staircase” was written in what, 1962?
posted by Melismata at 6:34 PM on January 26


I think reframing the discussion away from generic "diversity" and toward having schools reflect the makeup of the communities they serve (as others in this comment section have done) is a good move.

These schools do not reflect the makeup of the communities they serve, at all. Though you'd be somewhat hard-pressed to remember that reading this article.

The framing of the article is terribly insidious. These are nice kids, right? Hard-working? Dedicated to their educations? Don't they deserve "this?" Well, they do indeed seem like nice kids, but that's not why they deserve a good education. Everyone deserves a good education. These kids do not deserve one more than the other children in the NYC public schools.

The maintenance of the exam schools is largely a cynical gambit to keep some white parents in the system past elementary school. If a side effect of that is the other spots mostly fill up with stereotypically "nonthreatening" Asian students rather than stereotypically "scary" black students, all the better to reassure those quietly racist parents! Meanwhile, as the disadvantaged fight over the scraps, Dalton et al sit smugly unquestioned on top of their giant treasure hoards. White supremacy never misses.

A couple of contrasting pieces to read:

Black at Stuyvesant

She got into one of NYC’s top high schools. Four years later, she wishes she hadn’t.

posted by praemunire at 6:44 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


There are people in this thread who have gone to highly-gifted schools - I can’t and don’t mean to speak for your experience below.

I was a poor kid with advanced academic skills at a “normal” school, and some of the academic part was lonely and hard (and some was amazing! I blazed my own path). But all of the classmates at my ivy-league school who went to the “elite” public (or private) schools came away with the idea that they were, and *needed to be*, fundamentally better than other people. It showed up in different ways in different people: as toxic, chauvinistic narcissism, as sometimes-debilitating perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and workaholism, as calm, kind competence that isn’t explicitly prejudiced but nonetheless believes that it belongs to a different category of human beings - and it has always come with some lack of empathy for people who aren’t as smart as they think/have been told they are. Some of those people have learned empathy - some haven’t (and that includes people who are dedicated doctors and public servants).

To top it all off, I have met zero elite-school grads since graduating that Ivy - even just the shortest list of most-prestigious institutions in the US needs far more people than all the elite schools combined can matriculate, and employ scads of brilliant, creative, motivated people who maybe never even took an AP class.

I feel physically hot and knotted and frustrated. “Gifted” kids are not inherently deserving any more resources than anyone else. What about accelerated arts/entertainment schools for the creatively-gifted kids? What about sports intensives? What about language studies? What about schools that get kids into trades or entrepreneurship? What about kids who don’t fall into any of these categories? Why should money that could pay for smaller classrooms and better-paid teachers and diverse enrichment classes for ALL THESE KIDS be invested in accelerated classes for students like me? Pardon my French, but FUCK THAT FUCKING NOISE.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 8:29 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


I think that school in America is tasked with doing too much: It's simultaneously a day care, a development league for professional sports, a factory for America's jobs market, and a search program for the smartest people so they can be given special opportunities not afforded to everyone. Not to mention an occasional shooting range. All this run on an ever-shrinking budget, and now the PTA meetings are being astroturfed by agenda-driven wingnuts yelling about masks. Frankly I'm a little surprised if anything ever goes right in them anymore. Thank god I don't have kids.
posted by axiom at 9:13 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


PhineasGage, this And yet there is a movement to remove gifted classes entirely, e.g California's proposed guidelines for middle school math education is really frustrating to me, as a person who went to school in California in the 80s and 90s. I was reading at an 8th grade level in 6th grade. In Jr High there were several levels of English class, but in 9th grade we all had to take the same class - something about making sure everybody met basic literacy standards. They knew I met the basic standards! I'd been reading 2 years above grade level for several years! And I still have no idea how listening to my less-literate peers read Romeo and Juliet aloud was supposed to benefit me.

(On the other hand, I managed to get into the advanced math track and stay in it by the skin of my teeth, which meant I had Calculus in high school, which let me go to the Stem-focused college I wanted to go to. I do think it's kind of ridiculous that a choice I made to take a placement exam in 6th grade ultimately affected my choice of college.)

Oh, and regarding the article - I would bet money that the schools that aren't offering algebra etc. are justifying it on the grounds of making sure no students get left behind / everybody meets minimum standards.
posted by elizabot at 10:10 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I'm honestly not sure how I feel about a lot of this, but I can't see any way that it's fair to assign kids leaving middle school based on a test that includes algebra when, if the article is correct, algebra is not taught at many city middle schools.

It seems fundamentally unfair that a student could ace every math class they're offered and then effectively fail this test given by the same school system because they've never been taught the material.
posted by smelendez at 1:21 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Part of the conversation about maths acceleration is around an assumption that learning maths is linear and that people who are good at maths will do best if they take calculus as early as feasible. This is not true. People who are good at maths will do best if they are stretched to solve harder problems on whatever level of material they are currently studying. The stronger your foundation, the quicker and easier you can pick up higher level school mathematics. And a way to make the entrance exam a little fairer, would be to based the test on material that a student working at their expected level would have covered but make the questions more difficult. I have a maths degree, and have seen maths exams aimed at 11 year olds that I can see are based on material that under 11s would have learned, but are still clearly able to differentiate between candidates. Those questions are really hard.
posted by plonkee at 1:42 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


More money should be spent teaching math and history to smart kids for the same reason more money is spent teaching singing to kids who can already carry a tune, and coaching basketball to tall kids ... because there is a disproportionately large return in making the better the best.

Test-selected public schools are extraordinarily pro-equity because they provide poor and middle class kids access to the better-->best transformation which wealthy families can obtain for themselves through economically-exclusive private schools and suburban schools.
posted by MattD at 7:10 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Besides logistical challenges of expanding the exam schools there are some real downstream consequences for the system. For instance, what happens to so called “less desirable” schools when the “easier to teach” students self select out? (Answer: a downward spiral where the more kids who can leave, leave ~> lower enrollment ~> decreased school funding ~> budget cuts ~> makes the school less appealing ~> more students who can leave, leave, leaving harder to teach students ~> and so on). Of course NYC must also balance expansion of exam schools with students self selecting to remain or depart the school system entirely.
posted by oceano at 7:20 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The maintenance of the exam schools is largely a cynical gambit to keep some white parents in the system past elementary school. If a side effect of that is the other spots mostly fill up with stereotypically "nonthreatening" Asian students

This seems pretty dismissive of the Asian families as a constituency.
posted by atoxyl at 7:56 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


“Gifted” kids are not inherently deserving any more resources than anyone else. What about accelerated arts/entertainment schools for the creatively-gifted kids? What about sports intensives? What about language studies? What about schools that get kids into trades or entrepreneurship? What about kids who don’t fall into any of these categories? Why should money that could pay for smaller classrooms and better-paid teachers and diverse enrichment classes for ALL THESE KIDS be invested in accelerated classes for students like me?

What school did you go to that didn't have all that? By comparison the gifted kids didn't get much other than slightly smaller class sizes.

arts: music is a requirement (even if you don't care about playing an instrument or singing).
sports: REALLY exists!
language studies: exists! though the languages are often limited
trades/agriculture/wood shop: exists!

test that includes algebra when, if the article is correct, algebra is not taught at many city middle schools
I'm not sure about NYC, but kids start learning algebra in like the 3rd grade, as in X + 5 = 11. They just don't call it 'algebra' until jr high.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:08 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


This seems pretty dismissive of the Asian families as a constituency.

It turns out that power structures radically overvalue the interests of white people, so they're going to care a lot more about retention of white parents in the system than about anyone else.

NYC's population is only about 15% Asian (vs. 42% white, 29% Hispanic/Latino [not racially differentiated], 24% Black), though I don't have the figures for school-age kids at my fingertips. So it's really not that large a constituency, even assuming it makes sense to use the broad "Asian" category, which I know some people think is not appropriate anymore. And if concern tracked population size, there wouldn't be so few Hispanic/Latinos or Blacks at the school.

(I thought it was unnecessary to make any kind of elaborate disclaimer that discussion of an unjust system's assumptions and intentions doesn't involve endorsement of them, but I guess not. Consider it made. I'm going to extend you the courtesy of assuming that you don't believe that Asian families somehow care more about their children's success than Black or Latino families.)

More money should be spent teaching math and history to smart kids for the same reason more money is spent teaching singing to kids who can already carry a tune, and coaching basketball to tall kids ... because there is a disproportionately large return in making the better the best.

In public education, we should not be invested in achieving "disproportionately large returns" on certain students. We should be attempting to get the best out of all the students. The whole point of a public education is to equip all people with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to find good employment, successfully navigate the intellectual demands of modern life, and be good citizens.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Test-selected public schools are extraordinarily pro-equity

Equity isn't good enough, we need true equality in educational opportunities, and that includes meaningfully accommodating what has happened in a child's life before they ever get to school--as I mentioned above, many advantages have already typically accrued to a child to be able to do well on those tests before they ever get to school. So tests are often bad metrics.

By comparison the gifted kids didn't get much other than slightly smaller class sizes.

Smaller class sizes + the most capable teachers on campus = huge advantages, actually. (Fully half of my south Louisiana, medium-sized public high school GATE teachers had PhDs in their field, and were only HS teachers because it was in a GATE program.)

The basic thing to displace conceptually is the idea that a kid comes into school with more or less "intelligence," or cognitive ability, that can be meaningfully measured and quantified. What a child can or cannot do intellectually when they enter school is far more dependent on their home environment than their actual brain capability. IQ is a racist concept, through-and-through, and any notion of there being intrinsically, immutably "smart" kids and "dumb" kids is, in my long experience as a teacher, simply wrong. (An easy for instance, my wife currently teaches a 6-year-old kid who is way behind level developmentally, but is a very bright kid--his learning problems are attentional and emotional, and that was learned before he got to school; so he's an intellectually very capable kid, sitting in a room where everyone else can read fluently by now but he's still identifying letters and numbers. He's not dumb, he's just not able to successfully learn well in a basic classroom setting right now. With in-class support from a paraprofessional assigned only to him, he is quickly catching up, and also learning how to learn in a classroom.)

Almost every human being is capable of astonishing intellectual feats (learning your native language, for instance, is the most formidable intellectual accomplishment most of us will ever achieve, not because we're dumb, but because language acquisition is that remarkable a thing to do, no matter how common it is). Schools, especially for young children, should act in ways to nurture the potential of every child, because every child really is capable of more than anyone thinks, and because that's the best way to serve all the rest of us, our society.

In public education, we should not be invested in achieving "disproportionately large returns" on certain students. We should be attempting to get the best out of all the students. The whole point of a public education is to equip all people with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to find good employment, successfully navigate the intellectual demands of modern life, and be good citizens.

On preview, QFT.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:42 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


So I agree that this article does a good job with the point that “Asians” are not a monolithic group (especially in New York City).

I do find it problematic that earning a spot at one of these exam schools requires outside knowledge on how to work the system, and requires content knowledge that hasn’t been taught in all middle schools.

I’m inclined to think that automatically accepting the top x% of each middle school to fill a sizable proportion of the seats is a policy that should be strongly considered). Perhaps have an exam option for a small proportion of seats (e.g. for those that didn’t attend a NYC public school in 8th grade, or those who may have missed the cutoff at their current middle school). And I know that these selective, exam based high schools are a valued NYC tradition. And I acknowledge the perspective that an exam where everyone is graded on a common scale is very egalitarian. However, I don’t think we can have a conversation about the exam schools in 202x without acknowledging the distortionary effects on the entire system. The status quo is failing to identify talented kids from all backgrounds. Moreover, changing the policy for selective high schools admission might make boundary changes of elementary / middle schools less contentious if the more privileged parents could see that having their kids attend more diverse schools (which won’t hurt their kids), might make it easier to attend a selective high school.
posted by oceano at 8:48 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Well shit, I was an Asian student at Brooklyn Tech in the mid 80s. I don’t have a lot to add to this conversation except that the numbers in the article seem inflated. When I was there, you could count the number of white students in each classroom with one hand. The Fort Greene of today is not the same as it was back in my day. It’s no longer considered a “black” neighborhood which may have hampered white parents from sending their kids there. Stuyvesant was the top choice for most people because who wouldn’t want to go to high school in exciting Manhattan instead of boring old Brooklyn? Times sure have changed. I guess my point is that gentrification and the return of white flight has everything to do with the new demographic of urban magnet schools. Maybe hurting one racial group instead of helping another is not the right direction we should be taking?
posted by cazoo at 8:53 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Schools, especially for young children, should act in ways to nurture the potential of every child, because every child really is capable of more than anyone thinks, and because that's the best way to serve all the rest of us, our society.

Sure, but in concrete steps, what do you want them to do? I mean, it's not outrageous to say that some kids can be better at school in the same way some kids are better at video games and some kids are better at sports. Are you really suggesting that we partition kids by what they excel at when they are young for the rest of their life?

Not only that, it does a real disservice to most kids when the variance is so wide (and the variance is insanely wide by 3rd and 4th grade). Individual learning plans? that's kind of the opposite of a classical education.

"courtesy of assuming that you don't believe that Asian families somehow care more about their children's success than Black or Latino families."

At a population level, of course not. But the variance in individual families, and in those with parents interested in traditional educational achievement vs those that care way more about other things, is pretty wide.

So I'll go on record as saying that schools can't fix all that is wrong with society, and that breaking kids up by educational attainment is maybe not perfect, but it's the best we can do with the system we have, and ignoring that there are kids who are more interested in educational attainment [not necessarily 'gifted'] is not going to solve anything.

I also think that if you have more high achieving kids than your high-achieving school can admit, then that's a good problem to have, and instead of kicking out the ones not quite good enough by vague or gameable metrics, you need to create more of them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:01 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


(I thought it was unnecessary to make any kind of elaborate disclaimer that discussion of an unjust system's assumptions and intentions doesn't involve endorsement of them

Not sure how you figure I was taking that as an endorsement. I was taking it as a decidedly negative characterization of the politics around schools, it just also felt like an unhelpful oversimplification. It’s an oversimplification in the now, because (based on your population demos) some of these schools are at 400+ percent proportional representation of Asian* students (and like 40-50 percent proportional for white students, 5-25 percent proportional for Black). In these conversations somebody inevitably says something along the lines that we shouldn’t pit the interests of the Asian minority against the Black/Hispanic minority, and of course we shouldn’t, but which demographic would be disproportionately likely to feel like they are losing something if admissions became a lottery overnight? Sometimes the conflict of interest exists as a practical matter regardless of arguments about the ideology of white supremacy, so any changes to the system have to be navigated with that in mind.

If the article’s claims that the specialized schools used to serve the Black and Latin communities better are legit it’s maybe also a historical oversimplification but I don’t really know enough about NYC to try to make an argument here.

* I agree that there are issues with the category but there are obviously issues with all of the categories
posted by atoxyl at 9:41 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


And believe me, I have also seen some serious racism/racial supremacist ideology directed by Asian parents (or even kids) even in my nonselective-public-school-with-an-advanced-track upbringing, so I’m not making those kind of parents out to be the victims here, either. I just have a sense that, even if you want to trace this all genealogically to early 20th century white supremacy or eugenics, there are limits to the usefulness of that framework in understanding what’s ultimately a conflict between groups over how public resources should be allocated to their kids, which of course they all care very much about.
posted by atoxyl at 9:58 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


which demographic would be disproportionately likely to feel like they are losing something if admissions became a lottery overnight?

They might feel that way. Are we obliged to honor adult feelings of anger at losing access to an unjust privilege? I'm not mad at these kids, I'm not mad at their parents for trying to do their best by their kids, but nonetheless the system isn't right.

I think a problem here really is the article framing. How to deal with these systematic issues to maximize equity while maintaining some form of buy-in from as many stakeholders as possible--that is a genuinely tough question. I'm not sure if I have an answer. But a puff piece about how good these kids are and how hard they work (which, yes! I'm sure they're all great kids!) and how the ones not most affected don't really experience the inequity (which, yes, I don't expect even a good-hearted, bright teenager to see the problem when it doesn't impact them directly)...there's an agenda there, and it's not to explore how we can get all high schoolers in the public schools the best education. You can reject the implicit argument here forcefully without thinking that everyone arguing about what is best to do is being sneakily racist. So I hope we can avoid falling into that trap here.

(There's a whole "upper-middle-class white parent panic" in NYC during the pandemic that I think this article should be read against, but I don't have a good link to offer. Sometimes being adjacent to wealth and power, but not quite having it on the same scale, can really screw with your moral compass.)
posted by praemunire at 10:44 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


So much energy is wasted arguing over the least unfair way to allocate the scarce resource of a good education. I appreciate that some of that is driven by hopelessness, because many of us reasonably don't believe we can make a larger investment in schools and make a good education less scarce. I feel pretty low optimism myself that American society can get there, at least in the near term. But that's obviously the real answer.
posted by prefpara at 10:54 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


My generally wealthy, suburban, county-wide school district has a significant racial and ethnic achievement gap that tracks racist housing segregation patterns throughout the district. It also operates nationally prominent STEM middle and high school magnet programs in which Asians, particularly those who lived in the wealthier parts of the county, are significantly over-represented. My school district recently reconfigured the admission process for the middle school magnet program. There's still an entrance exam, but the district now takes into account the overall academic success of a student's local middle school. The stronger the cohort at a student's neighborhood school, the harder it is for that student to get into the magnet program. Many people criticized this change as a pretext to take into account race and ethnicity and to reduce the number of Asians in the magnet program, since many Asians live in identifiable geographic clusters in my county (and to the extent the change followed complaints about the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students, it's hard to ignore that criticism). But the policy is cleverly race-neutral, and I think this change represents a laudable reconceptualization of the magnet program seats so that they are no longer resources to be hoarded by those with the means to pay for test prep, or as achievements to be won by a deserving few, but as a balancing factor that doles out additional educational resource to kids who need them but who, because of where they live, would not otherwise receive them.

But my school district could sell this change because the local middle schools with high-performing cohorts really are high performing. It's not too hard to convince people who bought $1-$2 million homes because of the "quality" of the local schools to content themselves with the benefits provided by those local schools, even if it means giving up a seat in the magnet program halfway across the country. The people not willing to so content themselves are the ones arguing to "open up more magnet seats," when really what they want is a magnet school in their part of the county that they can fill up with their own children.
posted by hhc5 at 11:07 AM on January 27


nonetheless the system isn't right

I’m not saying it is. I primarily meant that I think that falling back on “this is all rooted in white supremacy” feels like talking around the immediate stakes of the issue in a way that many of the most direct stakeholders are unlikely to buy. And not because they are white but because they disproportionately are not.

How to deal with these systematic issues to maximize equity while maintaining some form of buy-in from as many stakeholders as possible--that is a genuinely tough question.

Indeed.
posted by atoxyl at 12:18 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Smaller class sizes + the most capable teachers on campus = huge advantages, actually. (Fully half of my south Louisiana, medium-sized public high school GATE teachers had PhDs in their field, and were only HS teachers because it was in a GATE program.)

In my (limited) experience, high school "gifted" "classes" was a study hall for kids in too many AP classes to catch up on homework, while the teachers pushed questionable books on emotional IQ like Reviving Ophelia and Tuesdays with Morrie. It didn't even occur to me that you might staff these classes with highly educated people instead of teachers who got into it because it sounded easier. All teachers with fast track classes still had normal pace students and classes in their daily routine, but I recall the ones where you ended up with seniors only being comparatively competent -- it doesn't take a PhD to teach the trapezoid method, and apparently some researchers are unaware of it. I ended up with over a year's worth of college credit by graduation, but only spent 1 semester in the gifted resource room.

So, I feel pretty confident that ending those worthless IEP only classroom 'enrichment' programs in favor of accelerated curriculum would actually worsen the achievement gap. But maybe my own experience does not generalize.
posted by pwnguin at 12:21 PM on January 27


There’s tons of stuff that can be brought into a larger understanding of the issue. It’s a foregone conclusion that selective schools (or schools self-selected by academically competitive parents, for that matter) look “good” because you’re pulling in the students who are already doing well and excluding the ones who aren’t! The primary belief that I bring to this that weighs in on the pro selectivity/tracking side is that it is valuable (for the students, and yes, for society) for students to have access to material fully commensurate to their ability/level of understanding. As I said earlier I prefer ways to achieve this that are not as drastic as having separate schools. That’s kind of foreign to me to begin with. But I won’t claim to fully understand the resource considerations that go into this for a city.
posted by atoxyl at 12:34 PM on January 27


There's an alarming trend I see in my community directly resulting from the broader discourse of topics like this, including the comments here, that I want to bring up. But first, here's how I (and people in my community organizing groups) perceive the issue:

There is a scarcity of good public schools in major cities, and getting admitted into one provides immense downstream benefits. Black and brown students are under-represented in elite admission-based schools because they are structurally pushed out from opportunities related to educational attainment. Asians are over-represented in these elite admission-based schools because they are structurally pushed out from opportunities that aren't related to educational attainment. (Wealthy white people, of course, flee to the suburbs or pay for nice private schools).

Advocating for a lottery-based system or any approach that will effectively reduce the number of Asian students allowed access to this artificially scarce good will immediately lose you the political goodwill of many Asian community groups. The only viable approach to build cross-racial solidarity is to create more opportunities for both groups (more schools! more after-school programs! etc.), so that Black and brown students are not pushed out of educational opportunities, and Asian students are not pushed out of other opportunities.

My concern:

You know what I see in my community, which includes formerly incarcerated Asian men, and Asian people at risk of deportation? Increasing radicalization towards right-wing beliefs, especially amongst young men and older parents who were previously not politically inclined. This is happening because when they try to advocate for themselves (often in "imperfect" language, without the fancy 5-dollar words used by progressive white people), they are immediately denounced as racist. Recall the recent thread here about the Asian woman murdered in NYC -- plenty of white people minimizing anti-Asian violence and telling Asian commenters that they're overreacting. Many Asian kids and older folks see things like that, feel unheard, and are now turning to beliefs of hatred and violence. Do you know what that hatred and violence looks like?

So yes, you can complain about how there's too many Asian students in these schools, or call Asian students/parents racists, but you should understand how that may impact us creating a unified progressive moment, and also how it does not address the root problem. Let's fight for a system that works for everybody, and not fall into the trap of pitting racial groups against each other.
posted by bongerino at 1:37 PM on January 27 [9 favorites]


Segregating students this way also disregards that not every student is good at every subject. One of my good high school friends was kept out of the advanced English classes she would have loved because her math scores weren't high enough. This was not a matter of encouraging her to focus on what needed more work; it was a matter that there was the gifted track and the non-gifted track and the boundary between them must never be crossed. (And heaven forfend we admit the remedial track exists.)
posted by Karmakaze at 2:18 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Advocating for a lottery-based system or any approach that will effectively reduce the number of Asian students allowed access to this artificially scarce good will immediately lose you the political goodwill of many Asian community groups. The only viable approach to build cross-racial solidarity is to create more opportunities for both groups (more schools! more after-school programs! etc.), so that Black and brown students are not pushed out of educational opportunities, and Asian students are not pushed out of other opportunities

Ok, but your solution is a long-term one. I agree a lottery system doesn't seem like a good solution, but the suggestion above for a certain top percentage from every middle school would make the elite schools more representative of the city as a whole, would still reward 'merit/achievement,' and would be more equitable. And worth noting that many of the students in the article expressed concern for the low number of Black/Latinx peers. You also can't build cross-racial solidarity if some groups are systematically excluded.
posted by coffeecat at 2:47 PM on January 27


Segregating students this way also disregards that not every student is good at every subject.

I mean, there’s some recognition of this. NYC has a performing arts specialty public school! Unfortunately this recognition rarely recognizes categories of talent beyond “STEM,” “general academics” and “singing or dancing or whatever.”
posted by atoxyl at 2:51 PM on January 27


I agree a lottery system doesn't seem like a good solution, but the suggestion above for a certain top percentage from every middle school would make the elite schools more representative of the city as a whole, would still reward 'merit/achievement,' and would be more equitable.

I agree with this 100%! I came from a magnet school system that did something similar, and I thought it worked pretty well.

To be more clear, my point is that dismissing the concerns of Asian parents or calling them racist, when many of them are not particularly privileged, will push them to the right. While some might call the overrepresentation of Asians in elite schools a form of privilege, others see it as a consequence of structural barriers in other paths to success.
posted by bongerino at 3:21 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


The_Vegetables, I'm confused by your comments.

You ask someone else,
Are you really suggesting that we partition kids by what they excel at when they are young for the rest of their life?

Is this meant to be sarcasm? I ask because it seems that is exactly what you think we should we should do with gifted kids:
breaking kids up by educational attainment is maybe not perfect, but it's the best we can do with the system we have

You also recognize that
some kids can be better at school in the same way some kids are better at video games and some kids are better at sports
but dismissed the point I made about about specialized/intensive programs for kids with other skills, like sports, by saying that arts, music, sports, language, and shop programs "exist", and asking, What school did you go to that didn't have all that?

Do you genuinely believe that all public highschools have access to diverse, well-funded arts, music, sports, language, and shop programs? I've got a heap of research and thirty-seven years of close contact with city school districts that contradict that belief, but I'm not going to waste time adding links if you're just trying to be glib.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:55 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


To be more clear, my point is that dismissing the concerns of Asian parents or calling them racist, when many of them are not particularly privileged, will push them to the right.

Ah, gotcha- I misunderstood what you were responding to upthread, sorry.

Anyhow, perhaps this thread has died down, but if anyone is still around I just read this op-ed in the NYTimes about the Harvard affirmative action case that gives a more nuanced take (i.e. resists just labeling it as part of the right-wing agenda). I found it interesting, and figured others here may as well.
posted by coffeecat at 9:09 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I attended a selective high school (not in NYC). I have taught in three NYC high school, at varying levels of selectiveness.

I see this repeated assumption that teachers of "accelerated"/"gifted" kids are the best teachers, but what the hell is that based on?

These are some of the easiest kids to teach. They are motivated. They are literate. They tend to have better emotional regulation and social skills (because "giftedness" is highly correlated with supportive/attentive/stable home lives).

All the schools had a mix of quality of teachers (to the extent that I could judge). But the best, most creative, most dynamic, etc, teachers were in the "worst" school. You kind of had to be either great, or resigned to being (both you and the kids) miserable.

To the extent that accelerated schools might have better teachers, my guess is that it's 50% due to the fact that it's more pleasant teaching in those settings so motivated teachers try to get there, and 50% due to the fact that it's easier to be a good teacher for good students.

"...since any school can institute accelerated classes for the benefit of students, "

Officially this is highly discouraged. It's considered tracking and a way to perpetuate inequality and oppressive systems.

So everyone gets put into AP classes or regular classes together, with the idea that the high kids can pull up the low kids and the low kids have full access to their potential.

In practice, it is next to impossible to teach a class like this well within the constraints of the average teacher schedule. Not only do you need a certain ratio of motivated to unmotivated kids to even keep behavior management at a manageable level, the gulf levels is incredibly vast. Many high school kids are kids are reading and writing at an elementary level.

The average teacher has about 150 students spread across multiple course preps (i.e. 2-3 different lesson plans per day), and a total of 1 free 45 minute period allocated for planning *plus* grading. We are generally not provided usable curriculum or textbooks. To be able to successfully differentiate to such a wide group is a Herculean task and will inevitably fall short for some students.

So... what ends up happening is that entire schools end up "tracked" and that way everyone can pat themselves on the back for the number of APs they offer, etc.

I do think overall NYC *is* better than many other places, but yet the whole system is rotting, top-heavy with administrators who feel like they have to be laser-focused on the metrics that will keep their schools funded and micro-managing teachers, burnt-out and overworked teachers, photocopiers that are broken, paper that doesn't get restocked, endless "new" systems that inevitably deep down are just another cash cow for somebody's sister's consulting company or new ed tech project; standardized testing that enriches the testing companies; libraries that are shut for renovation for years in a row; etc etc etc).

There is no meaningful attempt at remediation for students who are below grade level. They get pushed along (everybody needs the graduation rates) and the gulf among students just keeps widening to the point where it really is unfair to the students to all be forced into the same classroom with a single overworked, overstretched teacher.

If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing, I'd cut class sizes drastically and provide multiple teachers or an aide for pretty much every lower level class, at least in higher needs schools. Everybody knows that makes a huge difference. No one is willing to pay. Our union told us that if teachers fight for smaller class sizes, the district will demand that *we* personally fund it by cutting our salaries, because they would call it a perk for teachers rather than an educational benefit.

Fighting about the elite schools is the most depressing thing for me. OF COURSE the issue is systemic and needs to be addressed from pre-k up. But it's been decades and the status quo has only gotten worse. At this point I think it may actively be immoral to continue to provide state funding for schools that have not been able, in 30 years, to achieve racial diversity. But just ending the selective schools won't automagically make things better for everyone else either. So a tiny handful of the student/parent population go round and round on a fight that is incredibly high stakes for them and incredibly useless to the vast majority of students, and the fake (politically/culturally manipulated) scarcity of meaningful great education continues.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:26 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


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