Specialized high schools and students of color: Revisited

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

Cathy and James Harris (whose names we have changed at their request) are a New York City couple with two Black sons. Their boys are both extremely bright young men who have defied the odds and are among the increasingly rare number of Black young men who have attended one of the seven specialized high schools in New York City.

Their eldest son, now 18, graduated last year and is attending one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. Their 16-year-old son is a junior at one of the seven schools and has a 97 average.

The Harris family knows what it takes to get in and succeed at these elite schools

But despite the fact that they have two very bright sons, the struggle to ensure that they succeed has never been easy or without struggle. Theirs is a story of determination and overcoming obstacles put in their family's way by the Department of Education and the system as a whole.

When their eldest son was getting ready for high school, like many parents of Black and Brown children, they weren't told by school administrators, PTA members or teachers about either the specialized schools or the testing process their kids would have to take in order to get into the schools. They also weren't told about the proliferation of courses available to help then prepare for the rigorous examinations.

"We just weren't told about it," said Cathy when she spoke with the AmNews. "It was a bit easier for us to know what was going on because this is our second child in a specialized high school, so we knew what to do this time.

"But with our eldest? We had the toughest time trying to find out the programs that told you about getting ready," said Cathy. "Nothing was offered."

As the AmNews reported last week, statistics from InsideSchools.org report the Bronx High School of Science's current ethnicity breakdown to be 61 percent Asian, 25 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Black; Stuyvesant High School's breakdown at 69 percent Asian, 26 percent white, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Black; and Brooklyn Technical High School's breakdown at 59 percent Asian, 21 percent white, 12 percent Black and 8 percent Hispanic.

The other specialized high schools in the city are the High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Staten Island Technical High School, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, the Brooklyn Latin School and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where you must audition.

Some would argue that these schools are the model of meritocracy--that only the best and brightest are able to get in--but what has become increasingly clear from reporting is that there are institutionalized issues that are leaving Black and Brown students, especially boys, woefully underrepresented in some of the city's best schools. Cathy and James provided some insight into the process.