from a proud graduate of one of those specialized high schools.
I recently read of your plan to change the admissions process away from the Specialized High School Aptitude Test to accepting the top 7% of students from every public middle school. On the face of that, it seems to level the playing field. IF you only think about it from the lens of someone who defines people by their brownness. As a facilitator of diversity and inclusion workshops, I see the color of ones skin as one facet of what makes someone unique. You tout that “The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn't just flawed — it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence”. I’m curious what those words mean to you, because we don’t seem to have the same comprehension of those terms.
Justice is defined as the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness by dictionary.com. It’s all about acting fairly, and in my first hand experience, as I sat and took the exam as a first generation immigrant, I wasn't asked about the amount of melanin in my skin. I wasn't asked how much my parents made or where in the city I lived. I sat next to other boys and girls, some who spoke other languages and others whose families lived in our community for decades. I went to school with people whose parents made more money than the GDP of some countries and alongside people who I later learned were virtually homeless.
Progress, a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage. As an facilitator (which by the way means: someone who makes progress easier), I see moving towards recognizing people for their individual gifts and uniqueness as furthering. Ideally, it is without impeding or featuring because of their major identity markers, since we don’t have control over those. I studied hard for that test, I wanted to get into those schools. I saw attending them as my progress into a life I wanted. I would argue lowering standards as an insult to the best of all of us. Much in the same way decreasing the benchmarks for strength and stamina for FDNY was bad for women as well as men and the community at large. As a feminist, I want as many *qualified* women to become firefighters, when the criteria is beneath what was deemed adequate you comprise the integrity of the position. But I digress…
Academic Excellence…well, I’m sure you can easily look up the accolades of past graduates. Just to brag a bit, though, my high school has graduated more Nobel Laureates than any other institution in the world. Or you could ask some of your talented staff, past and present; including your former Chief Technology Officer, you see, we went to school together. It seems you do recognize the academic excellence these institutions develop. The spotlight and attention needs to be on how to raise the level of attendance in under-performing schools that are not achieving enough academic excellence to admit more into these schools.
You asked, “Can anyone defend this? Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for? ” Your concern seems to be centered on blacks and Latinos, though I know I attended school with some. To me though, they were just Freddie, Darryl, Wanda and Nikki. What separated us was more about geography than our race, because while the kids from the Bronx might hang out with those of us from Queens; we hardly saw the Brooklyn crew, cause they were on the subway all the time. When you single out those two identifiers and roll them around in speeches about high poverty neighborhoods, you perpetuate the correlation between being poor and being dark skinned. Why isn’t being Asian or Native American less of a challenge in your eyes? It seems we sold that whole ‘model minority’ thing pretty well, huh?
I’m not saying there aren't low income areas that are predominantly black or Latino. I’m not saying there aren't things that keep certain races from rising above the poverty level. I’m saying that removing the testing process is NOT the answer. Are there tests that are preferentially easier for some demographics than others? Yes, and those need to be reviewed and I welcome that. Perhaps looking into what makes an area perform better than another part of the city would be more progressive for ALL the students there and not just the cream top.
To answer your question, “who can defend this?”, it’s me. I’m the one who recently wrote about my experience of going to one of those schools that helped me to be a better ecosystem builder. * It helped define me and make me feel like part of a community. The environment praised my achievements and scrutinized my performance. It was because I made the cut, those doors were open for me. Not because of what I looked like, but because of what I could do. Not my pedigree, nor my neighborhood nor my ethnicity, but my talents, knowledge and my work dictated my worthiness to enter those halls. Dissolving the process is actually more racist because you’re saying those among us, who only fall under two definers rank in importance AND require special treatment to enter these schools. You see the schools and the testing as being unjust, while you ignore the school system in the marginalized communities. I’m unclear what the ultimate goal is, because if the objective is “an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools”, then you’re addressing the wrong issue. I learned about delving deep and rooting out the issues so I can work with others to achieve goals, it’s not by pointing at a small part of the process to get a headline. But then again, I went to the Bronx High School of Science, and that makes me smarter.
*for more about my experience of attending a specialized high school:https://medium.com/@ceciliawessinger/beyond-diversity-and-inclusion-a47a154cf994