Elected officials react to 'Discovery' story

Megan Finnegan | , Stephon Johnson | , Amsterdam News Staff | , Our Town Staff | 4/25/2012, 5:50 p.m.

Story was published on May 18, 2011.

Last week, the AmNews--along with Our Town and West Side Spirit--reported on the dwindling numbers of Black and Latino students at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, two of the city's top specialized high schools. The report also uncovered that both schools have discontinued the Discovery Program, which helps kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who scored a few points below the cutoff on the entrance exam take summer courses to qualify to get into the elite schools.

As the AmNews was researching what had happened to the program, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott took to the airwaves on NY1 to state that the Discovery Program would not help increase the numbers of Black and Latino students at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant. Walcott argued that the Discovery Program is "not race-based," neglecting to mention that "low-income" and "economically disadvantaged" are often used as code words for minorities.

So the question remains: how can boosting the numbers of Blacks and Latinos, along with increasing access to the ivory tower of New York City's public high schools, become a priority for the city?

"It would have to come from the chancellor or the mayor," said former New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson. "Chancellors [Joel] Klein and Cathie Black, for a brief period of time, hadn't been focused on that. We hope that the commitment from the top comes back with Dennis Walcott being there. That's what it will take."

In addition to being comptroller, Thompson also served on the New York City Board of Education during the Rudy Giuliani years.

"To have somebody say this is important," he continued. "To make sure the word gets out. To make sure the schools are notifying the parents--that all comes from the top. If you're going to have something that works, the entire system is committed. It starts from the top."

Even some voices from the DOE's past have come back to address the lack of Black and Latinos at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant. Former New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew spoke from his office in Los Angeles about last week's report. He said the DOE is failing in its duty to serve all of New York's kids.

"I think that as much as it's about Bronx Science and Stuyvesant having an obligation, it's that the system has an obligation," he said. "This is what the system has to do if it wants to operationalize the notion that there are routes of access for all students, especially students who have been historically underrepresented in these quantitative analysis-based schools.

"It's not rocket science to try and understand this. It represents a perennial concern because there are so few people of color represented in the ranks of careers like medicine and engineering. Yes the numbers have increased a bit over time, but I just don't see how there would be any kind of pullback with the Discovery Program. There is an obligation for the system to do that."