Megan Finnegan | 4/25/2012, 5:41 p.m.
While the language of the law leaves race out of the equation, then-Assembly Member G. Oliver Koppell was quoted in a New York Times article from May 20, 1971, referring to the Discovery Program as a "protection for minority-group students."
To be eligible for the program when it's offered, a student must score below, but close to, the lowest qualifying score for that school on the Specialized High School Admissions Test. They must also be "certified as disadvantaged," which can be determined by household income, whether a family receives government aid, if a child is in foster care, or for recent immigrants where English is not the primary language spoken at home. Finally, a student has to be recommended by his middle school. None of the factors include consideration of a student's race.
No one at DOE will say why the Discovery Program was axed at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, beyond the explanation that there wasn't space for it--which principals and DOE could create if inclined. A former principal at one of the specialized high schools, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Discovery Program was too problematic and that the students who came through it were not adequately prepared.
Jason Griffiths, the principal of Brooklyn Latin, has a different take on the Discovery Program; he says it's a wonderful asset.
"It's been a huge success for our school," said Griffiths. He said that he gets a list of students from DOE who qualify for the program, and they are invited to participate in a five- to six-week summer program, with courses in English, math and Latin. Over 90 percent of the students receive offers to attend Brooklyn Latin in the fall, according to Griffiths, and these students are often more motivated and prepared than those admitted through the regular process.
Griffiths said Discovery students fare similarly to those admitted through the test alone--some excel, some are average and some don't do as well, just as with the non-Discovery students.
"Basically we have a conversation with the Department of Education around how many spots we'd like to add to our class," Griffiths said. "It really depends on what enrollment coming off of the test looks like.
"We've had a great experience from the Discovery Program," said Griffiths. "We've probably been able to offer close to 75 students the opportunity to come to our school who wouldn't have had the opportunity. I think that's important, especially for students who may have some hurdles in terms of being new to the country and not being able to speak the language, or financial hurdles."
Brooklyn Latin is the most diverse, though also the smallest (at about 330 students) and newest, of the eight specialized high schools. Griffiths could not say why he thought other schools would not choose to utilize this program, but did point out that there are huge differences among specialized schools, so what works for one may not work for another.
One former education official said that the Discovery Program was clearly understood as an affirmative action measure intended to help disadvantaged black and Latino students to get into the predominantly white and Asian schools of Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.