Fix the pipeline for specialized high schools

JONATHAN ADEWUMI | 6/7/2018, 12:40 p.m.
The issue of what to do with NYC’s prestigious specialized high schools and their lack of diversity recently led to ...
Classroom/education Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

The issue of what to do with NYC’s prestigious specialized high schools and their lack of diversity recently led to Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials announcing sweeping changes that would ultimately remove the SHSAT, currently the sole criteria for admittance, as the indicator of who is admitted to these schools. Although I applaud the mayor for taking steps to address the issue of diversity in SHS, I respectfully disagree with his platform and recommendations.

As a product of a SHS (Brooklyn Tech class of 1980), I cringe when I hear that there has always been an issue of diversity in the SHS. I think of the many friends from various cultures I made during my time there and wonder where this current issue of a lack of diversity stems from. I went to a Brooklyn Tech that was approximately 30 percent African/Caribbean/Black American and 30 percent Hispanic. We came from G&T (gifted and talented) programs from all over NYC. We reflected the city, its diverse neighborhoods, its diverse cultures and traditions, and we were all amazingly bright, gifted, talented and driven. We also had one more thing in common. We passed the SHSAT. We were proud of this achievement. It was our reward for working hard through elementary and middle school. It was the reward of the teachers who provided us with accelerated instruction because we were able to handle it and actually required it so that our minds could grow and expand at the rate they were meant to. It was the reward of the schools that sustained these programs and made sure that we were also exposed to various talents, the arts, physical education and sports while reading at a 12th grade level in the sixth grade. It was the reward of our parents who sent us to summer school, not for remediation but to get further ahead, who pushed us for excellence and made sure we took care of our work before we were able to play or go on vacations. The test was not an issue then, it was just a hurdle that our public education system had prepared us to jump over, and we did. Hundreds of us did, thousands of us did. We jumped that hurdle and went from Tech and other SHS to the best colleges and universities in the country and to meaningful careers all over the world. The test was not a problem then. The test is not the problem now.

What has happened to our public school system from those days to now is the question that I ask and the question no one wants to answer. Yes, the city is demographically different, yes test prep companies are now doing business in many communities (including a limited few in African-American communities), but I want to know what happened to those students like myself, who thrived in those gifted and talented classes and went from elementary school to middle school to SHS. See, we had a pipeline to the SHS. That pipeline has been busted and no one wants to fix it. Why are there not G&T programs in every school in the city? Did we suddenly stop making G&T children? Did our reserve of academically astute children just dry up or did someone or some people decide we didn’t deserve these programs anymore? Where are the G&T programs in Harlem, in Washington Heights, in the North Bronx, in the South Bronx, in Bed-Stuy, in Crown Heights, in Flatbush, in East New York? How did we dismantle the machinery that allowed students to master the test, that provided them with the foundation required to be successful, not just for the test but for life, and then wonder why those students are not there? How do we blame the test for this development? Can we blame the SHSAT for the fact that in 2017, out of the approximately 13,000 Black eighth graders who took the NYS math test, 2.1 percent obtained a level 4 (exceeding proficiency), which roughly comes to about 270 students? Is that not the real issue? Should we do away with the state tests as well? Maybe next the Regents, the SAT, the ACT, the LSAT, the MCAT? Let’s just do away with all of it and let everything be a function of anything else. That’s what the logical conclusion to this road takes us.