Diversity is key at specialized high schools

M.S. | 2/2/2012, 1:04 p.m.

Dear Assemblyman Karim Camara,

We, the Black and Latino alumni of the "Big Three"-Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School-specialized New York City high schools, are equally concerned about the declining enrollment of Black and Latino students. As benefactors of an unquestionably superior high school education, we want to ensure accessibility to the Big Three for all qualified Hispanic/Latino, Black/African-American/African and Caribbean students.

We recognize that a New York City specialized high school education remains the standard by which high schools are measured not only in New York City, but nationally and internationally. Formed in April 2011, the 800-plus alumni who are part of the Blacks and Browns of the Big Three-New York City specialized high schools group, truly recognize the opportunity that we had, and we are committed to its legacy.

Recently, we read and discussed the article "Exclusion High: Lawmaker battles test-only admissions" by Stephon Johnson of the Amsterdam News staff. It stated you "were to introduce a bill that could end the use of the specialized high school exam as the sole criteria for granting admittance into elite New York City public high schools." We understand further that you, Assemblyman Camara, represent the 43rd Assembly District, which includes parts of Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights and East Flatbush-an area that has produced many Black and Brown specialized high school graduates like ourselves.

To date, there have been countless op-ed pieces, news reports and articles written, as well as public and private conversations held, regarding the low representation of Blacks and Latinos gaining admission via the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). On Oct. 29 and 30, thousands of New York City students sat for the SHSAT, all hoping to share in the legacy.

Many times, we have heard a call to action to change the admission standards from one test to a more subjective approach. The SHSAT is not the problem. However, the lowering of standards in Black and Latino neighborhoods during the elementary and middle school years and changing the admission standards will not solve the underlying problem of inequality in the New York City school system. The SHSAT, since 1972, has provided a means of objectively measuring citywide candidates' potential to embark on a rigorous curriculum; it is only the first of many challenges to come.

New York is "the world's city." Talent should be nurtured from every neighborhood. One way to do this is to rebuild the student body of the Big Three to be fully representative of the city. "Overall, 5 percent of students admitted to the specialized high schools for 2010 were Black and 7 percent were Hispanic. In 2009, 6 percent were Black and 8 percent were Hispanic," according to the New York Times' article "Top Public High Schools Admit Fewer Blacks and Hispanics" by Sharon Otterman.

While specialized high schools are traditional, offering advanced courses in literature, math, social sciences, computer science and engineering, they are also innovative and progressive, as shown by the recent partnership for the Legal Research Center between Brooklyn Tech, Columbia University and John Jay College.