Sept. 26, 2019 By Allie Griffin
Mayor Bill de Blasio is rethinking his approach to the diversity issue in the city’s specialized high schools, admitting his controversial plan to ditch the use of a single admissions test is not the best option.
At a roundtable discussion for ethnic and community broadcast media at City Hall yesterday, de Blasio answered a question about the specialized schools testing, stating that he would work with others to come up with a new approach and admitted that his plan to remove the test failed.
In June, the mayor announced the plan to phase out the single Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) over three years. Instead, admissions to the specialized schools would be based on middle school students’ class rank and scores on statewide tests.
The mayor’s plan aimed to redistribute the demographics of specialized high school students to better reflect the public school system’s demographics as a whole, he said. While black and Hispanic students make up 70 percent of the city’s school population, they account for only 10 percent of specialized schools’ students.
The plan caused an uproar among elected officials, as well as Asian American New Yorkers, who make up the largest percentage of students in the city’s specialized schools — about 51 percent.
Congresswoman Grace Meng was an outspoken critic of the proposal since it was first announced, and she criticized the mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza for failing to consult the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
“To exclude impacted communities from such discussions, or to pit them against one another, is not leadership,” Meng said in June.
Meng is not the only Queens pol who opposed the plan to end the single test admissions process. Council Member Robert Holden, Assemblymember Ron Kim and State Senator John Liu were among several local officials who criticized the plan and how it was put together.
Many took offense at comments Carranza made on Fox 5 in reference to the Asian American community.
“I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” Carranza said to Fox 5. “Either we believe the kids — black kids and brown kids — can’t compete, or there’s something wrong with the system that’s not casting a wide enough net.”
In response, Meng issued a statement that his comments were false and insulting to Asian Americans.
“I also take issue with reported comments made by the chancellor about one ethnic group owning admission to specialized high schools,” she said.
Liu called the plan racist in a video that surfaced in April and said that the mayor should have involved the Asian-American community when he drafted his proposal.
“The mayor and the chancellor excluded the entire Asian community from the process, and my position, my conclusion from that was the plan that the mayor announced last year was a racist plan,” Liu said in a video on the SinoVision site. “And because it’s racist, we cannot use that as the starting point of any kind of discussion.”
In order to scrap the test, a new state law would have to be approved and the backlash has caused the mayor to rethink his approach.
“We’re going to listen to everything because our plan didn’t work. I think it was a good plan, but it didn’t get passed,” de Blasio said at the media roundtable Wednesday. “So we’re going to start over, listen to everyone, and listen for something that will get us progress.”
He said he still believes the single test is “the fundamental problem,” but admitted his plan to address it wasn’t effective and said he would take responsibility for it. He said the city needed to listen to people and stakeholders to come up with a new solution.
“I don’t think you can truly change things by keeping the same test in place, but some would argue there’s a way to do it while keeping the test and we have to have that dialogue too,”
Meng, who graduated from a specialized school, Stuyvesant High School, applauded the mayor’s new comments.
“The mayor’s efforts to address diversity at New York City’s specialized high schools were flawed from the beginning, and I’m pleased he has now recognized that his plan was not an effective solution,” she said in a statement.
She agreed that diversity within specialized high schools needs improvement, but again denounced the lack of input affected communities like Asian American families and leaders had in the mayor’s proposal, calling it “unacceptable.”
“Going forward, the mayor MUST make the process more open and inclusive, and ensure that all stakeholders – including Asian American leaders – have a seat at the table when it comes to considering any reforms at the city’s specialized high schools,” Meng said. “Pitting communities against each other over this issue cannot be allowed to occur again.”