Status Quo at Elite New York Schools: Few Blacks and Hispanics

This New York Times Article reports that of the 28,000 students citywide (in New York City) who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, 5,701 (just over 20% success rate) of them were offered seats. Although 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic, blacks were offered 5 percent of the overall seats and Hispanics 7 percent — the same as a year ago. Asians were offered 53 percent of the seats, compared with 50 percent a year ago; whites were offered 26 percent of seats, compared with 24 percent a year ago. Entry to these “elite” schools are determined by a standardized test.

There has always been a tension between equal opportunity and access as well as the scarcity mentality. If the school that I am running is a good school and hence application to my school is oversubscribed then there must be a way to allocate spaces. One of the easiest and foremost solution that comes to mind is a lottery system, similar to the balloting that we have in Singapore for our primary schools. 

However, the school system in the US is an entirely different system. Unlike Singapore schools with a rather centralized system for resource allocation (in terms of a national curriculum, funding and staffing), US schools tend to be resourced at a district and in some cases, at a private level. In summary – a wealthier district would mean that the schools in that district would be better resourced. 

In response to the results, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for increasing diversity at the schools saying “These schools are the jewels in the crown for our public school system,” .He added: “This is a city blessed with such diversity. Our schools, especially our particularly exceptional schools, need to reflect that diversity.” Diversity is good, Diversity would mean that the student experience is enhanced through interactions with people that have difference experiences from you.

However, another side of the debate is the “peer effect“, generally “Students who are exposed to unusually low achieving cohorts tend to score lower themselves.” OR  students are “good” peers if they produce positive learning spillovers, so that students exposed to them gain more for each dollar spent on their education, or “bad” peers if they have the reverse effect.

Elite schools like the ones in the article can argue that they are good because they create the necessary conditions for their students to achieve great results, any loss in gains associated with a more diverse school environment would be negligible. How fair is this argument?

Coming back to Singapore, where the reality is that some schools are known to be “better” then others, how successful would MOE’s push for “all schools a good schools” be, considering the prevailing attitudes of both parents and students?