Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has introduced a planto change the way students will be chosen for eight of the city’s elite specialized high schools. Under his proposal, 20 percent of seats at the schools would be reserved for students from under-resourced middle schools who score just below the cutoff score on a standardized test, which is now the sole criterion for entry.
Eventually, his goal is to eliminate the exam, called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Instead, top students from all of the approximately 600 middle schools in the city would be admitted to the elite high schools. This would make the student bodies of these schools — among them storied institutions such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science — more closely resemble the city’s wider public school population in terms of race and class.
This is not just a good thing. It’s the right thing.
Unfortunately, some Asian-American parents in New York are protesting this proposal, arguing that it is anti-Asian because it would decrease the number of Asian children in elite schools. They are on the wrong side of this educational fight.
The mayor’s plan isn’t anti-Asian, it’s anti-racist. It would give working-class parents — including Asian-Americans — who can’t afford and shouldn’t have to find ways to afford expensive test prep programs a fairer chance that their child will be admitted into what’s known as a specialized high school. True, taking a test prep course doesn’t guarantee admission to such a school, but it does offer clear benefits and is widely understood to be essential to test-takers.
Nor is the plan a form of affirmative action. Affirmative-action admission policies — like those in place at some universities — require that race be one part of a host of measures considered. Mr. de Blasio’s plan doesn’t stipulate any racial criterion for admission, much less racial quotas (which the Supreme Court outlawed in 1978). The plan will simply give kids from a wider variety of backgrounds access to a public resource: an excellent public high school education. This is a public resource, something all New York City families contribute to with their taxes. Only about 5 percent of all New York City high school students are enrolled in a specialized high school and last year half of these kids came from just 21 middle schools.
That means that only five percent of kids are getting access to a valuable public resource. Frankly,