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Specialized High Schools – some comments should not matter

August 26, 2018 am31 6:15 am

At the time of the proposal of the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery*, the former senators from the southern states were not consulted.  And that was correct.

Today, as people with differing opinions discuss future admissions policies for the Specialized High Schools, those “reprentatives” of the schools who have been heretofore silent on segregation should likewise not be consulted.

The current admissions system is based on a single test, on one day. That’s the way it’s been, for a long, long time. But in 1970 or 1971, someone decided to study the admissions policy for the schools (at that time the Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School). The New York State legislature responded by passing the Hecht-Calandra Act, enshrining the existing test in law, and limiting an already limited alternate route (Discovery).

The Hecht Calandra Act was passed to stop a study, to preclude discussion.

And today we have de Blasio’s proposal to radically change the admissions process. Now, lots of people want to talk about THAT.

There are people with a direct personal interest in the school: faculty, administration, current students and parents, aspiring students and families.

For the past fifteen years, and more so in the past five-ten, the numbers of Black and Hispanic students at these schools (now eight schools: the three named in the law and five newer schools) has plummeted. In some of these schools, there are faculty and administrators who worked to reverse or slow this process of segregation. But most did nothing.

We have people who no longer have a personal stake in the school, who are advocating that the law be respected. These alumni are not stakeholders. They are advocating that we bow down to a law passed to prevent discussion. They have forfeited their right to be heard. We are correct to ignore them. (Even if in the 13th hour they are advocating systemic change – while insisting the law is unchallengeable.)

I have one guy, always silent on the issue, who now twists every conversation about specialized high schools to advocate that the mayor drop the five new schools, and respect the law by leaving the original three (including his alma mater) alone. I ignore him.  Good people should too.

Some specialized high school administrators have been silent in the face of this obvious accelerating segregation. Their right to be heard should be contingent on their not defending the “SHSAT-must-never-be-examined” Hecht-Calandra Act.

That still leaves many of us. Their are current students and parents – both for and against the changes the mayor proposed. They should be heard. There are communities where young students have been preparing for the test. There are alumni who HAVE been speaking about the horrible segregation and have been working for change. They all have a right – perhaps even an obligation – to engage in the conversation.

And there are faculty members who have been trying to address this issue. I served on a UFT task force with several of them, from all eight schools. And there are school communities, including administrators, who have been looking to modify admissions. In my school, the entire faculty and principal agreed to a bold proposal that we presented to the DoE a couple of years ago, only to have the DoE and their lawyers shoot us down. The principal and I were in the process of renewing our proposal (since we have a new chancellor) when de Blasio’s plan was announced.

But for those who ignored a law that told people that they couldn’t even talk about specialized high school admissions, for those who ignored obvious and deep segregation, and especially for those who are no longer connected to these schools – why should your opinion matter?




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