Specialized high schools and students of color: Revisited

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

"I know through the grapevine, you hear that they are a limited number of seats [for preparation courses] and it's on a first come, first served basis," said James. "Which means you either have to be in the PTA or in the network to get the information right away so you can react on it. And after a while, all the seats fill up before you even realize the situation. They tell you that there are no more seats available or you will have to find a prep course on your own or do some studying outside of the classroom [for the exam] unless you're really involved in school activities.

"A lot of the time, working parents or parents who don't get to network with the teachers in the school, they're some of the last ones to know about a lot of activities that are going on, including the specialized schools exam."

Many educators and some students who have taken the test believe that the examinations really do not measure great intellectual ability, but rather your level of preparedness. Joe Hughes, who graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 2000, is in this camp.

"There are kids all over this city who spend summers and weekends taking prep courses to get ready for these exams, but the vast majority of those kids aren't Black. There are far too many Black and Latino students who don't even know about the tests, and certainly don't have the easy access to prep courses and tutoring that other students do. I doubt there's a Kaplan Test Prep Center in Brownsville or Queensbridge."

Jason Clinkscales, who was a classmate of Hughes at Bronx Science, agrees. "A few years back, I taught a Kaplan test prep class at a school in Pelham Parkway," said Clinkscales. "Little to zero to do with aptitude. Kaplan taught you how to take the test, emphasizing the test design, not exactly the test content. If I knew what I was teaching, I think all of us could have reached the top scores with ease. Yet, it's not taught at all anywhere for free."

While teaching the Kaplan test prep course, Clinkscales saw the difference in those who had prepared before attending his sessions.

"These kids were from a mixed bag of schools, so it was evident to see the confidence levels of these kids when it came to not only the course itself, but fellow students," said Clinkscales. "I made sure--outside of the course parameters--that I told these kids that I was teaching them these methods for all tests in the future, not just for entrance exams. I drilled into their heads that even if they attended schools elsewhere, they still needed these tools in order to move forward in their educational careers."

But even after Black and Brown children get into these prestigious schools and achieve, the battle does not end there. Cathy and James Harris say their high-achieving sons were given limited information about top colleges by teachers and administrators in their specialized school.