Private Sector Continues Leadership Role In Diversifying Elite Schools

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At a time in the city where big government solutions are en vogue, the private sector’s Education Equity Campaign (EEC)  today rolled out their next phase to dramatically improve the representation of black and Latino students at the city specialized academic high schools.

The announcement from among others, Philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, business leader Richard Parsons and Civil Rights activist Rev. Kirsten Foy, comes just weeks after Mayor de Blasio announced plans to scrap his controversial plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as a way to address the lack of black and Latino representation at these schools.

De Blasio’s plan was to use a quota system in place of the exam; an idea that was criticized by specialized high school alumni and many from the Asian-American community, who earned 51% of offers to specialized high schools this year. It was also seen as creating unfriendly competition between the Asian, black and brown communities.

“The education I received at the Bronx High School of Science was second to none, but not enough students from across this city have access to the same incredible education I received. Too many families cannot afford private test prep, so we invested in intensive, 100% free test prep for hundreds of students of color. We’re reached virtually every middle school student online through and an unprecedented public awareness campaign. We’ve also reached over 30,000 middle school students and their families outside schools and churches in every borough,” said Lauder.

“This campaign is not about a test. It’s about a broken system that is failing students of color across the city and this is just the beginning. We look forward to working with our elected leaders to ensure comprehensive solutions are finally enacted,” he added.

In August, EEC  launched its first phase – a million-dollar public awareness campaign focused on registering more students for the SHSAT and enrolling more black and Latino students in free test prep that Lauder and Parsons funded.

Since that time, EEC has enrolled 200 students of color in free SHSAT prep classes, reached virtually every middle school student or family member with an online message encouraging them to register for the SHSAT, and connected with 30,000 middle school students and their families through canvassing outside underserved schools and churches in all five boroughs.

Rev. Kirsten Foy addresses the Education Equity Campaign initiative. Photo by Bernadette DeVito. 

Among the chief implementations of the EEC’s next phase to achieve more diversity in the city’s public schools is to endorse Queens State Sen. Leroy Corie‘s proposed legislation, S.6510, which would:

  • Double the number of specialized high schools across the five boroughs;
  • Restore Gifted and Talented programs across the city to build a stronger pipeline into SHSs;
  • Make free test prep available to every student; 
  • Finally make the SHSAT available to all students during the school day and;
  • Create a taskforce to improve the City’s middle schools.

“While we do have a small specialized high school in Southeast Queens, the Queens HS for the Sciences at York College, it does not have the sufficient number of seats or physical space for the students who could take advantage of the opportunity to attend,” said Comrie.

“My colleagues and I have reached out to CUNY to urge them to give this school its’ own building so that the children who have historically faced systemic barriers to accessing the best education possible have a chance to compete and flourish. This is one of the many reasons, I am proud to have introduced Senate Bill 6510,  comprehensive reform legislation which would prioritize creating new specialized high schools as well as build more effective, robust pathways and support systems for all students to be prepared to take and do well on the SHSAT exam. I am also proud to be an advocate and to stand with the Education Equity Campaign in our fight to open the doors of specialized high schools to more students throughout our city,” he added.

Parsons said while everyone agrees the status quo is unacceptable, the way to improve diversity and equity at the city’s specialized high schools is to invest in the city’s kids and give them the tools they need to succeed.

“We’ve worked with lawmakers in Albany to craft legislation that would finally make that a reality. We firmly believe that talent can be found in every corner of New York, even if opportunity cannot. Ronald, Kirsten and I are going to continue to fight here and in Albany until a comprehensive plan is passed that will finally increase diversity at these great schools,” said Parsons.

City Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) said now that de Blasio has agreed that eliminating the test won’t solve our education problems, it’s time to invest in a comprehensive plan that supports students throughout their education.

“My calls to the administration to fund test prep in my community have gone unmet. I’m happy local grassroots groups received the money they needed to help students, but it shouldn’t only be on them. To tackle school segregation, we must address the systemic issues within our public schools that have prevented our children from these opportunities for decades,” said Cornegy.