Two elected officials want to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools.

At City Hall last week, New York State senators Jamaal T. Bailey and Toby Stavisky announced a group of bills that they believe would give more children a shot at getting into specialized public schools such as the Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School.

Bailey, who graduated from Bronx Science, said he wants more city kids to get the chances he had.

“Attending Bronx Science opened many doors that led to my success,” said Bailey. “Income status and ethnic background should not be factors of whether a student has the opportunity to attend these schools. I am proud to introduce this legislative package along with my colleague in government, Senator Stavisky, that would expand, analyze and ensure an increase in diversity within these schools.”

Bill S.7983, introduced by Bailey, would make the Discovery Program mandatory for all specialized high schools. In the past, the Discovery Program were summer courses for students who fell just a few points short of admission to a specialized high school to determine if they’d be let in. Bill S.7984, introduced by Stavisky, would require all city school districts to screen for gifted and talented students before students begin third grade. Parents would have the ability to opt out.

“The gifted and talented program provides an opportunity to identify students at an early age and tap into their potential for academic excellence,” said Stavisky, who also graduated from Bronx Science. Hopefully, more children in under-served areas will be identified and given the opportunity for enriched, enhanced academic programs. 

“Studies have shown that many students identified as gifted and talented will be minority children from economically disadvantaged communities,” continued Stavisky. “We have to expand our search to identify these children.”

Bill S. 8212, introduced by Bailey, would implement a pre-specialized high school admission exam to sixth-grade students to help them prepare for the eventual exam two grades later. That would ideally give students enough time to build up the knowledge base required to take the exam. Bailey’s other bill, S.8004, would establish an 18-person commission devoted to diversity in specialized high schools.

Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation President Larry Cary attended the news conference at City Hall and approves of Bailey and Stavisky’s bills.

“A pretest that identifies areas to be strengthened, along with a redefined Discovery Program, can help ameliorate the unacceptable demographic profiles in the schools while retaining the test as a meritocratic measure for admission to the schools,” stated Cary.

Last fall, 28,333 eighth graders took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is a 2 percent increase from last year. However, the number of Black and Latino students taking the exam fell by 2 percent. Out of the more than 28,000 eighth-grade exam takers, only 10 Black students got into the Stuyvesant class of 902, along with only 27 Latino students.

According to Bailey and Stavisky, the low numbers for Black and Latino admissions is a result of the test evolving to the point where parents spend significant money for tutoring and test prep for their children. That puts low-income New Yorkers, who tend to be Black and Latino, at a disadvantage.