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DOE Alters Admission System ‘to Increase Diversity,’ Top-Performing Students go to Bottom-Rung Schools

The Department of Education assigned high-achieving students of Manhattan to struggling schools — a major change to a merit-based system, with a lottery that is expected to increase diversity at New York City’s most selective public high schools.

The time-honored controversy of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) causing underrepresentation has recently erupted again during the past few months. This was prompted by the steady decline of admissions of Black and Latino students to the city’s top high schools like Stuyvesant, where only eight Black students were admitted this past year.

Along with former Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, Mayor de Blasio has long vowed to desegregate the specialized high schools through efforts like the Discovery Program. This was seen as a ticket for low-income and immigrant students who scored below the SHSAT’ cut-off’ to gain admission to specialized high schools.

However, de Blasio’s diversity efforts, which point the blame for racially unrepresentative schools to the SHSAT, seem to be falling short of improving educational outcomes and is instead opening more doors for other kinds of discrimination.

The DOE recently scrapped all selective ‘screens’ for middle schools for the school year 2021-2022 and eliminated the district preference for high schools altogether.

This prompted several parents from Manhattan’s District 2 and District 30 in Queens to express their frustration — many of whom are concerned about their academically advanced children not landing an entry to the elite public high schools of NYC.

“My kid did everything she was supposed to do. She worked really hard. We’re dumbfounded,” said Herbert Bauernebel, a parent from District 2 whose child was not offered admission to any of the ten campuses she applied to, despite a 97 percent average.

Bauernebel further revealed that about 20 families at IS 276 in Battery Park City are in the same predicament. Despite the students’ high average, they were assigned to troubled Murry Bergtraum High School, which ranked a low 363 out of 509 public high schools in NYC based on its performance on state-required tests, enrollment rate, and graduation rate.

Most students who seek admission to specialized public high schools are from economically deprived families who wish to provide their children with quality education. And for a parent like Bauernebel, sending his child to a private school is out of the question.

“I don’t have money for a private school,” he said. “If we can’t offer a decent public school education to middle-class people in New York City, then what is the path forward?” he added.

While mayor de Blasio’s focus on implementing major school integration measures continues to prompt sharp criticism, the recommendations to combat fundamental educational disparities that cause segregation, along with the parents’ frustrations, are left unaddressed.

Some of the most sweeping alterations to the admissions system of NYC public high schools were driven by the coronavirus pandemic, and although affected districts could reinstitute old systems after the pandemic abates, de Blasio is confident that the changes forged in response to the crisis are now set to outlast the pandemic.

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