When it comes to education, facts matter. On an issue that carries as much personal passion as the quality of our children’s school experience, we need to follow the lessons of listening and cooperation that our teachers preach in the classroom.
This is why I appreciated Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s decision to extend deliberations on the proposed reforms to the specialized high school admissions criteria. School diversity is an issue that demands and deserves a truly citywide deliberation. Any realistic long-term solution must involve the voices of every community.
Considering the important work that my administration put into our Gifted & Talented Education Task Force, it was important for me to be present at the launch of a citywide conversation with our mayor and chancellor on how we ensure every middle school student who showcases top-tier aptitude and academic achievement is able to earn a seat in a specialized high school. I’ve viewed the proposed legislation as a starting point in that conversation, and no conversation should be considered complete until every voice can be heard. Based on the considerable feedback I have received from communities across our borough thus far, I do not believe the legislation should be advanced in its current form. It is the voices of concerned parents and educators that have moved me, not financial considerations as baseless tabloid rumors suggested.
The enormous benefits of diversity are not in question, especially not from Brooklyn’s first African-American borough president. Classroom diversity translates into scholars who are academically smart and emotionally intelligent, and it is the key ingredient to generating cutting-edge solutions to complex challenges in our global society. We all agree that a diverse classroom is a better classroom, and we must work together to find a sensible way to improve diversity in the specialized high schools. When a dedicated student makes the most of the resources available to them, they should be given an opportunity to work with the best resources going forward, so that their future is not predominantly determined by economic circumstances beyond their control. Every middle school student who showcases top-tier aptitude and academic achievement should be able to earn a seat in a specialized high school. I believe we can achieve this mission and preserve the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test for the schools that currently use it.
In the months ahead, let us focus on an approach that addresses the inequities in our gifted education system, inequities that begin to emerge at the very beginning of our children’s schooling. We need to ensure the pipeline to our specialized high schools has no gaps, starting by expanding middle school gifted and talented offerings as well as instituting opt-out gifted and talented program testing in pre-K. We must provide free preparatory services for every student who wants to take the SHSAT but faces economic hardship, which I believe the city ought to fund completely and immediately. Additionally, we have to meet the demand of highly capable candidates who want a specialized high school seat by expanding seats overall. I am expanding on my existing call for new borough-based specialized high schools by recommending five such schools be created, one in each borough, with admissions considerations that include the SHSAT and academic portfolio standards such as class rank and state test scores. Evaluating the success of this new model at these new schools, as well as the models employed by other top-tier high schools in the city that screen applicants, would be valuable in informing our educational approach as a whole and our admissions process at the specialized high schools.
Ultimately, our mission is to improve access to high-quality education at more than 1,800 schools across our five boroughs, specialized or not. I look forward to further discussing these ideas, as well as other recommendations of our task force that were informed by dialogue with concerned parents and educators across our city. It is so important that we are all talking about improving the quality of education for our children, and it is even more important that we are all heard as we consider reform.