Wednesday, October 19, 2016

State Lawmakers Demand Department of Education Release Information Regarding Efforts to Increase Diversity in Specialized High Schools

Senators Jeff Klein, Tony Avella and Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz and Walter Mosley have called on the DOE to increase diversity in New York City’s specialized high schools.

Specialized high schools in the NYC DOE offer extensive programs for academically gifted students.  Attendance at these specialized schools is determined by an admissions test, the SHSAT, that often requires preparation in order to attain the scores needed for acceptance or time allocated to attend the limited test dates offered.

Often, additional resources are needed to excel in this admission test such as afterschool test prep, practice testing, and special tutoring. A lack of these resources in underrepresented communities as well as the limited availability of tests dates may contribute to the huge disparity in the racial demographics of these specialized high schools. This year, only 11 percent of students enrolled at these specialized high schools were African-American or Latino, despite these groups representing 68 percent of students enrolled in schools citywide. In addition, there were much fewer African American and Latino students who took the SHSAT at all, indicating that a lack of availability of the special admissions test might also be a source of the problem.

To combat this growing racial disparity in the city’s most prestigious schools, state lawmakers have taken action. Senators Jeff Klein, Tony Avella and Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz and Walter Mosley have secured  $1.75 million for the 2017 fiscal year to implement a number of proactive, targeted initiatives to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities in the specialized high schools. In addition $250,000 was specifically given to the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation to expand their proven Middle School STEM Pipeline program. New York City has pledged a further $ 15 million to develop additional programs to address this problem over the next four years.

The DOE has posted general overview of potential programs and initiatives to expand diversity and address this problem on their website, yet a detailed, comprehensive update on the DOE’s programmatic efforts-to-date has not materialized.

“While I strongly support continuing the use of an objective test free from political and outside influence in determining the admissions to our specialized high schools, I recognize that the severe underrepresentation of African American and Latino students is a very serious problem. The state funding we worked so hard to secure this past March to help address this terrible inequity will address this problem. But we want details now as to how this funding will be spent and we want to make sure that there is no further delay on tackling this issue,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz.

"I'm proud that the Independent Democratic Conference led the way in the legislature to fight for funding that will increase diversity in our specialized high schools through active outreach and free test preparation in underrepresented areas. By providing these crucial resources, we ensure that our students, no matter what block or borough they reside in, all have an equal opportunity to grow and achieve a first-rate education. We urge the Department of Education to put to use every penny state legislators worked so hard to secure to see black and Latino children in our state gain entrance into our elite high schools, and we demand the administration lay out a clear plan for the Assembly's funds which have not been spent," said Senator Klein.

"African Americans and Latino's are severely underrepresented in New York City's specialized High Schools. Last March my colleagues and I were able to secure $2 million for programs meant to help raise those numbers throughout the five boroughs. Today, many parents and advocates are left unsure of where the city's Department of Education (DOE) is in the process of installing these potential diversity programs. Since then a substantial amount of time has passed, and we are asking the DOE to update the public on the spending plan for these funds, so that we can be assured there is not further delay in addressing this very serious and urgent matter," said Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley.

"Making the grade to gain entrance into one of New York City's specialized high schools should be attainable for every student, which is why, in an effort to increase diversity in these esteemed schools, the Independent Democratic Conference fought to bring $2 million in funding to things like free test prep and outreach coordinators to help students in underrepresented areas achieve. The Assembly also fought to allocate funding to increase diversity in our prestigious high schools, but the Department of Education has failed to spend money intended to help our children succeed. We now want answers on how and when these funds will be spent to ensure that every student has a fair chance at an excellent education," said Senator Avella.

Part of the intent of funding these new proactive programs to foster diversity and improve outreach was to create a partnership with the DOE. In the spirit of that partnership and in an effort to communicate a plan with the parents, advocates, and alumni inquiring about the status of these schools, Assemblyman Dinowitz, Assemblyman Mosley Senator Klein and Senator Avella formally request that the details of the DOE’s plan of action and efforts to date regarding this serious matter be made available forthwith.

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