Tag Archives: SHSAT

Stumbling Towards a Post-Racial World: We Have a Long, Long Path Ahead

The stain of slavery and Jim Crow appeared to be erased with election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Many commentators, both conservative and liberal, have celebrated the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, claiming the election signified America has truly become a “post-racial” society. It is not just Lou Dobbs who argues the United States in the “21st century …is a post-racial society.” This view is consistent with beliefs the majority of White Americans have held for well over a decade: that African Americans have achieved, or will soon achieve, racial equality in the United States despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

 America was looking forward to a new emergence of Camelot. Younger voters flocked to the poles in unheard of numbers; a wave of progressive voters revived and seemed to presage the end of the Republican Party and a new era of progressive legislation waiting to become law.

A black president would influence generations of young children to embrace a new vision of American citizenship. The “Obama Coalition” of African American, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters had helped usher in an era in which institutional racism and pervasive inequality would fade as Americans embraced the nation’s multicultural promise.

While the two terms of Obama may not have lived up to expectations, and while the Republican Party didn’t fade away we seemed to have moved past endless decades of racism and repression.

We brushed away the increasing number of vile racist comments and threats and failed to comprehend that the election was only the first step of a long, long road

Claude Steele … argued that the crippling academic achievement gap between Black and White Americans can be closed if the nation has the sufficient will to end the decades-old practice of imposing negative stereotypes on Black children.

Eight years later Obama’s farewell address was a list of achievements; an upbeat view of the future and a realization that we were far from a post-racial society.

There’s a … threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

 Three years into the Trump presidency much of the Obama achievements have been ripped away or hanging on frayed strings. The future of our democracy is threatened from within and we fear we are edging towards wars abroad.

Beneath suits and dresses of too many Americans we see the cloaks of the Klan.  Attempts to address inequities that were once collective actions across the political spectrum are now bitterly attacked.

In New York City attempts to address the inequities of the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT); the results of the SHSAT test in the spring of 2018: only nine offers of admittance to Black students out of over 900 offers. The Hecht-Callandra Law (1971) contains an alternative admittance pathway,

The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools.

The Bloomberg-Klein (2002-2014) mayoral administration abandoned the implementation of the Discovery Program; attempts to replace the law failed.

A report from the Center for NYC Affairs examines the impact of the new admissions standards proposed in the de Blasio bill, a bill that has not moved forward in the legislature.

The School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a blue ribbon mayoral panel, issued two reports, one supporting the integration of schools and a just-released report to end the Gifted and Talented programs created, once again, by the Bloomberg-Klein administration. G & T programs begin testing for admissions  at age four and the overwhelming number of classes placed in middle class schools.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metro Center, is a member of SDAG, and, a highly respected, award winning scholar, wrote an op ed in the New York Daily News defending his recommendation to end the G & T programs,

Though cloaked in language that attempts to make the focus on race less obvious, it boils down to a defense of systems that have unfairly and disproportionately benefited whites for generations.

 In the world of Twitter Kirkland was subjected to personal attacks,

David E. Kirkland


Sep 20

When you challenge the system and those who benefit from it, both the system and the privileged resist. Perhaps, I’ll analyze the discourse of those who are resisting me. This analysis will makes a point; however, I’m more interested in conversation and a commitment to our kids.

David E. Kirkland


Sep 20

I wrote a piece about how racism motivates resistance to change in education. All of today, I’ve been inundated with people calling me names and distorting my argument, attempting to pit me against Asians. This is how I know that the perspective is right–it’s challenging people.

The debate around school integration and the elimination of G & T programs has dominated the news cycle; and, unfortunately the “debate,” fueled by the NY Post, is nasty and nibbles at the edge of racism.

In our democracy challenging the status quo is at the core of our political system. Change is inevitable, incremental and is constantly seeking pathways.

Integration plans were designed by the local school boards, the Community Education Councils; the best decisions are made by those closest to children and classrooms.

I believe the recommendation to wipe away all G & T programs is the wrong pathway. The aeries of power rarely bring about embedded change. The decision by the John King, the former commissioner of education rammed through the adoption of Common Core State Standards and Common Core state testing and, an unintended consequence, created the opt-out movement. Virtually no one is a fan of the tests; they are required by federal law and have not raised student achievement.

I believe that G & T programs should be a decision made at the local level. School districts should have the authority to keep or abandon the programs as well as the ability to set admissions standards. Yes, awkward, the programs would vary across the city, and, most importantly, districts would have ownership.

Only through dialogue, through continuing dialogue, through challenging and uncomfortable debate can we identify pathways to eradicating the burdens of centuries of oppresson.

Kirkland keeps stirring the pot, encouraging us to think about questions of race and inequity.

When students do not come packaged the “right” way, too often our systems decide we cannot teach them. Instead of adapting to them, our systems label them, suggesting that something is wrong with vulnerable students. They label them as lazy, unfocused, misguided. In a sense, they blame their families, their genders, their socioeconomic circumstances, or anything else about vulnerable youth that deviates from the ideal. Our systems fail to see them, and thus our systems fail them.

There is clear evidence that this inability to see some students drives educational outcome disparities. The problem is not necessarily the unseen but our assumptions about what we see. Seeing is not neutral.

The Power of Culture: The the Specialized High Schools Admittance Test (SHSAT) Roots are Embedded Deeply in the Past

We visit our favorite Dim Sum restaurant every few weeks and the maitre’d knows we’re teachers. She asked us, “My kids go to Chinese language classes after school every day and all day tutoring for the specialized high schools on Saturday, do you know of a tutoring class after church on Sunday?” You might say: a classic Tiger Mom, yes; however, far more typical among Chinese parents.

An examination system has been at the core of Chinese culture for more than a millennium.

 In China, a system of competitive examinations for recruiting officials that linked state and society and dominated education from the Song dynasty (960–1279) onward, though its roots date to the imperial university established in the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). Candidates faced fierce competition in a series of exams dealing primarily with Confucian texts and conducted on the prefectural, provincial, and national levels. Despite a persistent tendency to emphasize rote learning over original thinking and form over substance, the exams managed to produce an elite grounded in a common body of teachings


 The civil service examination system, a method of recruiting civil officials based on merit rather than family or political connections, played an especially central role in Chinese social and intellectual life from 650 to 1905. Passing the rigorous exams, which were based on classical literature and philosophy, conferred a highly sought-after status, and a rich literati culture in imperial China ensued.

Today the exam system is still at the heart and core of Chinese culture, it is the pathway to a prosperous life.

The Chinese examination, the gaokao is widely considered to be the most important exam which can make or break a young person’s future. It is intended to help level the playing field between the country’s rich and poor … [it is] the academic qualifying test for almost all high school gradates hoping to receive an undergraduate education.

 … their scores in large part determine their future – whether they can go to university, which institutions they will be admitted and consequently what careers await them.

Candidates must perform well in the gaokao to gain admission to the better universities, where graduation guarantees a bright future with status, wealth and even power.

For most Chinese, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, a high score in the gaokao is their only means to significantly alter their fate.

 When electeds or elites or progressives or civil rights advocates tell Chinese families that an examination system, a thousand years old, will no longer be a path to a prosperous life, you can anticipate opposition, vigorous opposition.

In fact, our nation has a long history of antipathy towards Chinese. From the beginnings of Chinese immigration in the mid-nineteenth barriers were erected to immigration, for example the Chinese Exclusion Acts, it wasn’t until the 1940’s that these barriers were lifted; we needed China as an ally. The Chinese laborers who built the transcontinental railroad were virtual slaves, and thousands died and lie in nameless graves.

Chinese are now the largest immigrant group coming to New York City each year. Of the 3.1 million foreign born New Yorkers 10% are Chinese (only Dominicans are a larger group).There are nine “Chinatowns” scattered throughout the city and for the last few years Chinese new immigrants led the list of new arrivals.

The SHSAT fight has mobilized the Chinese community; they have become a political force.

The examination system is embedded in the Chinese psyche, the national culture, and a plan to deprive Chinese students of perceived pathways to prosperity is viewed as Sinophobia.

Chinese aren’t the only supporters of the examination.

Back in my union representative days I worked with a high school with mostly Caribbean students and many Caribbean teachers. The school rep called, a crisis, she was concerned about her state certification. I checked the website, no problems she had passed all the required exams.

Yes, she passed all the required exams, she was dissatisfied with her scores; they were too low, it was embarrassing  and she wanted to take the exams again: she was Jamaican.

The Caribbean population in New York City has been quite successful economically. Many professionals and have moved through the civil service system, teachers, transit authority, nurses, medical technicians, others are small business owners; and, they have been both active and successful in politics. From the City Council to the Albany legislature there are many with Caribbean roots.

And, there are excellent high achieving high schools with students with Caribbean backgrounds.

Medgar Evers High School and  Bedford Prep High School are high achieving screened schools with many students with Caribbean heritage.

At an Assembly hearing on Friday over the SHSAT Jumaane Williams, the newly elected Public Advocate, a specialized high school graduate (Brooklyn Tech), with Jamaican roots clashed with Assemblymember Charles Barron, an Afro-American with Black Panther roots  – it was hot and heavy.

While Williams and Barron agree on a wide range of progressive issues they disagree, rather vehemently on the SHSAT question. Barron argues the test is racist, Williams defends the test and advocates for more gifted schools.

David Kirkland, the Director of the Metro Center for Equity and the Transformation of Schools at NYU and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams are friends and on the same side of most social justice issues, not the SHSAT

David E. Kirkland‏ @davidekirkland May 13

I supported @JumaaneWilliams from jump. He’s smart and has a righteous commitment to justice. While I support the brother, I couldn’t disagree with him more on the issue of specialized high schools but hold out hope that he (and others) will reconsider their positions on #SHSAT

I doubt Jumaane will change his mind.

The SHSAT inequities have been allowed to fester for years and blame can be attributed to mayors and chancellors; the challenge is how to work within cultures and not require that deeply held cultural beliefs be abandoned.

What Happened? Why Are the New York City Specialized High Schools (and Schools in General) So Segregated? Some History and Suggestions

It was February, 1964, my first high school teaching job at Wingate High School; I was hired as a substitute to fill a full term assignment and showed up nervous, only to see police barricades and a crowd waving signs, it was the first day of the Galamison integration boycott.  The sixties: anti-war demonstrations, a new militant teacher union, civil rights marches into the South, and, a school integration movement in New York City. Reverend Milton Galamison, the pastor at the Siloam Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant and allies led an attempt to integrate NYC schools. Clarence Taylor, “Knocking at Our Door: Milton Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools” (1997, 2001) recounts in detail the political struggles and infighting of the 60’s  that has reemerged more than a half century later and David Rogers, “110 Livingston Street: A Study of Politics and Integration in NYC Schools,” (1968) unearthed the conflicts within and outside of the Board of Education.

I have described the former Board of Education as a lump of silly putty, easy to impact and difficult to change permanently; characteristic of large bureaucracies.

A close friend and mentor, Chet Fulmer, in a reverse busing plan sent his children to an all-black school near the Brooklyn Navy Yard while across the city in Queens a community organization, Parents and Taxpayers (PAT) fought against busing black children into white schools.

I really liked Wingate, a great staff, it was an exciting place, and on the last day of school I received my appointment, not to Wingate, to James Madison High School; the school at which Chet was the union leader.

The Board’s ambitious elementary school busing plan faded away under unrelenting pressures; the Board did implement a high school plan, an all-black neighborhood was zoned into Madison; while the kids were welcomed by the staff the neighborhood surrounding Madison was not happy. Madison was probably chosen because Chet was the union leader and a staunch advocate and defender of integrated schools.

Almost a decade later, in December, 1973 a race-based riot erupted in and around Madison, Fran Schumer wrote a perceptive article (“Prisoners of Class”) a few weeks later in The Harvard Crimson and I blogged about the complexities of school integration a few months ago.

A half century later school integration is once again at the top of the political agenda.

Only seven Afro-American students received offers at Stuyvesant out of the 895 student offers, meaning, passed the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admittance Test).

The school integration efforts of the 60’s were not a failure. The City Colleges moved to open admissions, yes, highly controversial, a few school districts implemented integration plans.

Susan Edelman, in the NY Post, unearths surprising numbers, the currently segregated specialized high schools were not as segregated before mayoral control.

In 1984 [Brooklyn Tech] had 4,531 students — including 2,239 black and 814 white. Black and Hispanic kids made up 63.5 percent of the student body.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, black and Hispanic kids made up close to half or more of the Brooklyn Tech student body. Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, the other original specialized schools, had many more black and brown kids than today, though not a majority.

Twenty-five years later New York schools are described as “extreme segregation.”

How did New York City move from continuing incremental steps towards integrated schools to the damning report of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future,”

New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools. Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation.

 The Civil Rights Project breaks out the numbers in detail – see charts/graphs here.

What happened?

 Changing Demographics:

The white school population continued to decrease, the school white population is currently 14.7%. The Black population has decreased slightly, the Hispanic population has increased and the Asian population has increased exponentially.  Chinese are the largest immigrant group entering New York City each year.

On the bright side, a just-released report  from the UCLA Civil Rights Project finds that public schools in gentrifying neighborhoods are becoming less segregated.

Multiple School Options:

There are a number of high achieving predominantly Black schools and a few well-integrated screened schools. Bedford Academy, and Medgar Evers,  are high achieving Black schools, Columbia Secondary High School is a high achieving integrated school. Go to “School Performance Dashboards” and check on any school.

 The Elimination of IGC and SP Classes

Under the old Board of Education there were citywide standards for Intellectually Gifted Classes (IGC) in grades 4-6 and Special Progress (SP) classes in grades 7-9 based on English and Math scores on city-wide tests; yes, there were state tests and city tests and district tests, without the complaints we hear today. A few districts had “gifted” elementary schools (District 7 – South Bronx and District 16 – Bedford Stuyvesant), The Bloomberg administration supported the  creation of centrally controlled Gifted and Talent classes, in predominantly white and/middle class districts and ended the major route to the specialized high schools for students of color.

Explosion of Test Preparation

The SHSAT is not aligned with the state ELA and Math tests; test preparation geared to the SHSAT is vital for students, and, expensive. Before mayoral control districts provided Saturday and after school tutoring programs, washed away under mayoral control.

Politics and Mayoral Control

The downside of mayoral control is using education policies for political advantage. The creation of numerous screened schools and programs in predominantly white/middle class schools appears to be a policy to attract white/middle class voters, conversely, not creating gifted and talented programs in schools in areas that oppose Bloomberg is an example of the downside of putting mayors in charge of education policy. deBlasio, who paints himself as the “progressive mayor” raced up to Albany in the closing days of the legislative session with a bill to replace the SHSAT with a percentage of highest achievers in each middle school; a policy supported by the progressives, the de Blasio constituency.

Either through the passage of a change in the law or the de Blasio tweaks to the Discovery Program it appears that the percentages of student of color in the elite high schools will begin to change; however, changing numbers does not change school and community cultures.

By 2020, each of the specialized schools that determine admission based solely on a single exam will be required to reserve 20 percent of their seats for students in the Discovery program. (Stuyvesant High School, which is participating in the program for the first time this year, admitted 23 students through Discovery. Under the mayor’s plan, the school will have to increase that number sevenfold.)

The NYC Human Right Commission Report that followed the racial conflict at Madison exposed the underlying problem; simply adding students of color without supports is a formula for failure. Read the NY Times article after the release of the NYC Human Rights Report.

The race for Gracie Mansion is in full swing, 2021 may be down the road, the candidates are defining themselves, aiming at possible constituencies. Corey Johnson, the leader of the City Council released his plan , a disastrous plan for the city. Johnson suggests more elite screened high schools and more gifted and talent schools/programs, effectively widening the “tale of two cities.” Johnson would create two school systems, one made of up higher achieving students segregated into high achieving schools leaving the remainder of the schools with struggling lower achieving students.

Jumaane Williams, the newly elected public advocate and a graduate of Brooklyn Tech, one of the legacy SHSAT schools, recommends, in an NY Daily News op ed a more measured approach, more gifted and talent programs and more opportunities for test prep in local schools, and, a great deal of community engagement.

Cristina Veiga at Chalkbeat tweeted a number of core questions that Johnson and Williams failed to address.

I’m concerned that many of the “solutions” will exacerbate a “tale of two cities” in schools; segregating kids by academic abilities. Once upon a time the system created comprehensive high schools, schools with a wide range of kids by ability and interests. Schools with advanced classes and shops, classrooms made up of kids with a range of academic abilities; yes, teaching was more challenging, what we call heterogeneous grouping in high schools requires different skill sets.

Career and Technical Education (CTE), formerly known as vocational education does not always require separate schools; these programs can be embedded in the larger high schools or embedded in schools on multiple school campuses.

We cannot create a “solution” to the elite high school enrollment problem that negatively impacts other schools.

The Discovery Program and test prep programs over time, will increase the enrollment at the specialized high schools. The specialized high school test can be more closely aligned with the state tests and curriculum.

Too often the “cure” only exacerbates the problem. There are no easy fixes, Corey Johnson’s response is an example; magic wands only work in fairy tales. Community engagement, by community I mean parents and teachers and advocacy organizations, difficult meetings, internal disagreements, over time leading to mutually acceptable accommodations; perhaps “creating a process where tolerable compromises can be found.”

Rule # 1 of personal and organization change: participation reduces resistance, coupled with Rule # 2, change is perceived as punishment.

This education stuff is hard, complicated and never-ending, as is life.