Giving control of NYC's specialized schools to a political appointee

Yesterday I shared my thoughts on Bill de Blasio's plans to "fix" the selection criteria for New York City's specialized high schools. If you haven't read the post, you can find it here.

I was going to get back to CS and CS Ed related blogging today but there's more to the story.

In spite of what BdB stated, it's not enough for him to switch to another measure - the middle school state exam along with some modifiers. This is about ending the exam altogether and not replacing it with anything better. Here's a link to information on the proposed legislation for New York Assembly Bill 10427 including links to the actual text.

There's a lot of beurobabble but the end game is to basically allow the chancellor (not sure if this means city or state) to do whatever they want.

Here are some of the key points:

  • Seats would ultimately go to the top 5 to 7 percent of each middle school's class.
  • These students would have to also be classified in the top 25% city wide.
  • Top is defined by a composite score of multiple measures as determined by the chancellor which means anything goes.
  • Remaining seats will be filled by lottery of all students with a 3.7 GPA or greater.
  • It's not clear how the students would be allocated to each of the specialized schools.

So, what does this all mean?

Multiple measures could mean the state test + average. It could mean average + recommendation. It could be shoe size + favorite color. The chancellor also decides how to weight these multiple measures.

This means that the politicians can do whatever they want to paint any picture they want regardless of how their ideological and political games hurt kids.

Any teacher, in fact, any rational adult will tell you that middle schools are not interchangeable. The top students at one middle school are typically not at the same level as top students at another one. I'm sure you can cluster middle schools in terms of the students they graduate, what the students know and can do and the clusters will likely fall on economic lines. This is the problem that BdB should be addressing not how to rig the specialized school admissions stats.

Even if this is done right, you're assuming an even distribution of top gifted students across all the middle schools. If one school has higher concentration of gifted students, they're out of luck. The end result is that if you attend an SP or other gifted program for eighth grade you'll likely be locked out of the specialized schools. What if a particular middle school is attractive to all of our top math team talent? Only a couple will get in to the specialized schools under the new system since each school is allocated a fixed number of slots.

I guess this does make sense if you don't believe in gifted students or gifted education but then why not just get rid of the specialized schools to begin with rather than playing these games. This "solution" will result in parents having to decide - do I send my kids to the gifted middle school program and hurt their chances to get into a specialized high school or do I try to find the lowest performing school I can find and have my kid stand out. This is pretty messed up.

At the end of the day, though, you have to remember that any change to the process can help one group and hurt another. Stuy, for example has 46% of it's students on free or reduced lunch and is about 70% Asian. If in the new system you're increasing the percent population of an under represented group, you're likely reducing the percentage of Asian students. So, you're creating opportunities for a number of as of yet undetermined students (who might not be properly prepared for the experience) at the expense of economically disadvantaged Asian students who have proven to be prepared for the experience. Wouldn't a better solution be to fix the opportunities presented at the middle schools rather than rig the system of high school acceptance.

Going further, a response on another blog noted that BdB probably refused to do anything with the admissions criteria of the non big three because they all had numbers that he would consider more diverse. The commenter provided the Black / Latino percentages, I added the free and reduced lunch numbers:

School Percent Black / Latino Free / Reduced Lunch
Brooklyn Latin 28% 61%
HSMSE 26% 46%
HSAS 17% 25%
Queens Sci 12% 64%

All the more reason to run some tests or analysis there. Of course, if you look further you'll note that HSAS only has 25% of its students on free or reduced lunch so is it really doing better than Stuy or Sci with ~45% low income students each or Brooklyn Tech which supports 62% or are we to say that there's low income and then there's the right low income?

Certainly the education system needs work but the proposed legislation is not a solution. It's taking a flawed but objective measure and replacing it with essentially chancellor's discretion.

If the legislation passes, by the year 2022 we will have admissions to what used to be some of the nations finest high schools determined by a political appointee rather than an objective test.

It's a shame. It was very important to my wife and me to have our kids go to public schools and I was very happy to have been able to navigate the system with them from first grade through high school graduation with only a few bumps along the way. With this nonsense from the political left and the privatization push from the political right (or actually both sides) pretty soon there will be nothing left.


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