Equality of opportunity is a bedrock American principle. It’s also at the heart of the New York story, what has drawn millions of hustling, hardworking people, native-born and immigrant alike, to the Big Apple in search of a better future for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t seem to believe in equality of opportunity, judging by his proposal to change the way the city’s specialized high schools admit students.
In the name of racial justice, his plan would single out one group of children — Asian-Americans — and make it much harder for them to compete for limited seats at these schools.
New York City’s Asian-American populations are heavily concentrated in eight of 32 school districts across three boroughs (Manhattan, South Brooklyn and North Queens). Most of the schools in these districts are severely overcrowded, with Brooklyn and Queens suffering especially acute seat shortages.
Many Asian students compete to attend the specialized high schools to avoid the overcrowding. The schools also provide these students the chance to excel in a learning environment that encourages them to succeed. Some 54 percent of the admissions offers by the specialized high schools go to those eight heavily Asian districts. Overall, Asian-American kids make up 62 percent of students at the specialized schools.
Put another way: Asian-American students substantially outperform other groups in the selective admissions process.
But these aren’t the children of an Asian elite. More than half of the Asian-American students selected receive free or reduced lunches. Many are immigrants or the children of immigrants and speak a second language at home. They and their parents rightly see academic achievement as their one avenue to upward mobility.
But de Blasio now wants to block that avenue. The mayor has proposed removing the testing requirement and instead instituting a plan to “diversify” these school at the expense of its highest-performing students. The plan would reserve the majority of seats for seventh-grade students who perform in the top 7 percent of their middle schools, based on a composite score of their grades and standardized test scores.
The stated purpose is to radically increase the number of black and Latino students attending the specialized high schools. This would directly harm Asian students competing for these seats by limiting the number of students who can attend from each middle school.
Asian-American students in the eight school districts who are high-performing will compete among themselves for a much smaller number of specialized high school seats. The number of Asian students admitted to these schools would be cut in half, according to a recent analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.
Without an equal opportunity to compete, Asian-American students who would have otherwise qualified for a seat will have no choice but to attend overcrowded high schools in their home districts. That is, if they can find a seat.
Traveling to seek top 7 percent status at another middle school isn’t an option. Kids ages 10 to 12 in Brooklyn and Queens lack the proper access to public buses that would allow them to travel to an alternative school district. Parents of these students don’t typically have driver’s licenses nor the resources to shuttle their children to an alternative school, especially in another borough.