Opinion: Create more ‘specialized’ high schools to level the playing field

Photo via Pexels.com.

Photo via Pexels.com.

By Marcia Moxam Comrie 

Special to the Eagle

Now that Mayor Bill de Blasio is finally off the presidential campaign trail he has time to once again focus on what matters in the job he was actually elected to do. One such issue is that of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which he previously argued was no longer acceptable in its current/original format.

For decades this high-pressure, make-or-break test has stressed out middle school children and their parents. But since last year there has been pressure to do away with the test, which disproportionately leaves talented African-American and Latinx students out of the prestigious specialized high schools.

One parent on an episode of NY1 News, who was himself a product of one of these high schools, had the gall to intimate that black and Hispanic parents don’t sacrifice enough to get their children the high-priced test prep to help them pass because education is not as important to them. His smugness startled an African-American dad — he too, a product of SHSAT — on the panel.

The implication was that Asian and white parents care more about education and are therefore more willing to shell out thousands of dollars to some self-styled specialist tutor to give their children a better shot at passing. Not all parents have the resources to afford this. And implying that black and Hispanic parents would rather buy expensive games and clothing rather than investing in their children’s education is an exhausted stereotype. 

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, supported by the mayor, took a lot of heat for his proposal to eliminate the test. He’s been roundly criticized for wanting to eliminate or “dumb down” the test. The system as it is could be considered draconian. One high stakes test should not determine if a child goes to an elite high school or a mediocre one in his or her neighborhood. It also shouldn’t just be about whether or not there should be a test or how strenuous it should be. The question ought to be, why the heck do we have schools that are better funded and staffed than others?

All our high schools — specialized or not — should have maximum resources to provide the best outcomes for all our kids. All working parents pay taxes and therefore all parents’ children should have access to the best schools possible.

Currently, there are approximately nine specialized high schools, including Bronx Science, Queens Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant.  But there are available spaces in many existing school buildings in every neighborhood, why not create more prestigious high schools in them so that all students, regardless of whether or not they “test well,” can have a chance at an outstanding secondary education? It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.

There should be no such thing as a public high school, which bars some students from entering based on the result of one test. Have more great high schools that give all children an equal opportunity to succeed. No child is better than another simply because some pass a one-shot test and others don’t. This system is demoralizing to those who fail to get in and creates elitism. Public funds should not be used to create these divides.

Kudos to the mayor and chancellor for wanting to equalize the system! They have not given up on changing the entry method for the elite high schools, but we should be looking more at creating additional opportunities rather than stirring a hornet’s nest trying to change what is sure to be a fight to the death.

All children and their parents deserve better than what we now have.

Marcia Moxam Comrie is a freelance writer from St. Albans, Queens. Her children are products of the city’s public school system.