Mayor de Blasio’s Push for Affirmative Action in the City’s Elite High Schools

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an education announcement regarding specialized high school at J.H.S. 292 in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday, June 03, 2018.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an education announcement regarding specialized high school at J.H.S. 292 in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday, June 03, 2018. CREDIT: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

On June 3, 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, held a news conference to announce their plan for diversifying the City’s 8 elite high-schools. The officials avoided saying anything that hinted at the establishment of racial quotas or an affirmation action program. The Mayor stressed the fact that these schools’ student populations were only 10%, Black, and Latino. In contrast, Blacks and Latinos (hereinafter referred to as “Minorities”) make up 70% of the student population in the City’s regular schools. The two officials were flanked almost exclusively by ardent Minority supporters of the “diversification initiative.”

I watch the news conference live as it was taking place. When it was over, I concluded that some of it had been staged for a greater political purpose. After years in office, the Mayor was finally delivering on a promise to his Minority supporters, knowing that his decision would cost him political capital that he can ill afford to squander. Having won reelection, which was not difficult, the Mayor believed it was time to put into practice his beliefs about social justice. Regardless of how the Mayor tried to characterize his plan, its implementation would mean that many students who worked hard to gain admission to an elite school would be denied entrance in favor of academically less deserving Minority students. Does anyone dispute this fact?

The Mayor offered a two-pronged plan of action to increase Minority enrollment at the elite high-schools, which are led by Stuyvesant High School :

Diversity Program
In June 2016 then Chancellor Carmen Farina established six new initiatives to provide more outreach, tutoring, and opportunities for underrepresented students to enroll in the City’s elite high schools. The Mayor wants to expand this program and set aside 20% of the seats at these schools to students from high poverty schools.

Stuyvestant High

Photo Courtesy of the

Eliminating the SHSAT Entrance Examination
Admission to the elite schools is based upon achieving a satisfactory score on the Specialized High Schools Admission Test. The Mayor wants to eliminate this test as a requirement for entrance. The Mayor does not have the legal power to eliminate that test. The NYS Legislature must enact a law eliminating the SHSAT. Albany lawmakers over the years have failed to even debate eliminating the examination.  Consequently, it is unlikely that Mayor de Blasio’s request will be granted by Albany lawmakers.

Regardless of its legislative prospects, the diversity was plan was immediately denounced by many groups. The Asian community led the way in speaking out against the Mayor’s proposed plan. Asian students are majorities at all of the elite schools. No one doubts that this is due to their families’ and communities’ pushing them to excel academically. The Asians fully understand that the setting aside of seats for Black and Latino students at the elite schools will necessarily remove from consideration many very qualified Asian students. I do not believe that Mayor da Blasio is prepared to lose the support of Asians and other minorities just to appease families of poorly achieving Minorities.

As a society, it is likely that we have reached the limits on the utility of diversity as its definition becomes unmanageable and more political. The pushback that the Mayor is experiencing from the Asian community is a result of this reality. It is understandable why Asian leaders believe that their children are under attack. The recent complaint of Asians beginning to dominant Harvard diversity has added to the distrust of the Asian community. As individuals, families and a community, Asians invest more effort into achieving academic excellence than all other groups. They have earned their seats at the City’s elite high schools. The Mayor’s announced diversity plan cannot be implemented fairly in terms of protecting Asians’ accomplishments.

Each day, month, and year, in New York City and across this nation students of all ages take standardize and non-standardize tests. It is the essence of being a student. These exams establish the student’s individual academic proficiency and form a basis of comparison with other students. The education authorities use the metrics generated from these exams to allocate funding, establish remedial programs, and determine placement in higher level programs. No one disputes the value of examinations. The political discussion starts when the results are in and Minorities have done poorly in relation to all other students.

Why does the City grant so many exceptions to Black and Latino students to opt out of taking standardized (mandatory) tests? Other students are held accountable for the results they archive and are judged accordingly. Are Progressives trying to implement a system of education that is unequal and in the favor of Blacks and Latinos? Many New Yorkers believe that this is exactly what Mayor da Blasio is trying to do.

I do not believe Mayor de Blasio’s initiative will address the core reasons why Minorities fail to progress. The educational achievement gap between minority students and their co-students has existed for decades. The gap between the groups becomes discernible in the early years and continue to grow as the student progresses through the educational system. Programs like the one the Mayor is now proposing and other affirmation actions and quotas initiatives have not begun to close the gap. At the major universities, minority enrollment is lower than it was 35 years ago. A discussion has begun as to whether affirmative action should still to be used as a remedy for improving Minorities’ participation in superior educational opportunities.

The Mayor and his Progressive followers have acted now because their past initiatives have not produced the desired results. They have now concluded that the only way to increase minority enrollment at the elite schools is to change the admission criteria so that academic excellence is not a key factor for admission. And what becomes the of the elite school’s “status of being elite?”

Not everyone believes that affirmative action programs and racial quotas can reduce the achievement gap. Knowledgeable people question the assumption that the gap exists because of an education system that is separate but unequal. First, it must be understood that in NYC students generally attend a school in their neighborhood. If you live in a predominantly Black or Latino community it stands to reason that the school you attend will reflect the community’s composition. Second, neither Mayor da Blasio nor his Progressive supporters have suggested integrating the City’s schools by “busing children” out of their home districts to achieve racial balance in the schools.

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