Asian students continue to dominate program meant to integrate NYC’s specialized high schools

By Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat NY 

A program meant to improve diversity at the city’s specialized high schools is poised to slightly increase black and Hispanic enrollment, according to data released Wednesday, though the program continues to be dominated by Asian students.

The Discovery program offers admission to students from high-need families who just missed the exam cutoff and who agree to attend a summer program. In recent years, the initiative has helped more white and Asian students gain admission to eight city high schools that determine admission based on a single test.

But as part of a broader overhaul of specialized high school admissions, including a push to eliminate the exam, officials changed the eligibility criteria this year so that only needy students from high-poverty schools could qualify. They also expanded the number of seats awarded through Discovery.

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Those changes appear to have boosted black and Hispanic offers: 30 percent of the 922 offers issued through Discovery went to those students, up from 22.4 percent the previous year. (Roughly 67 percent of the city’s students are black or Hispanic.)

The changes also appear to have benefited Asian students, who saw the largest gains and already make up the majority of students at specialized schools — despite representing 16 percent of the city’s students. This year, 54 percent of Discovery offers went to Asian students, up 11 percentage points. White student offers fell about 12 percentage points to 14.6 percent.

Still, those changes are unlikely to make much of a dent integrating the specialized high schools, which captured national headlines after just seven black students were accepted to Stuyvesant, the most selective of the city’s elite high schools. For one, Discovery is projected to represent only about 13 percent of seats at specialized schools this year, meaning that even if that pool of students is more racially diverse, it won’t have a large overall effect. It’s also unclear which students will accept offers through the program.

Even under the city’s forecasts, changes to the Discovery program alone will only boost black and Hispanic enrollment to 16 percent, up from 9 percent now, a reality Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza acknowledged in a statement.

“We’re using every tool at our disposal to increase diversity at the specialized high schools, but despite the incremental progress we’re making through the Discovery program, the status quo remains the same,” he said. “We need to eliminate the test now.”

The city’s broader push to eliminate the single exam in favor of admitting top students from every middle school — a proposal that has yet to be approved by state lawmakers and has attracted strong opposition in some quarters — would have a more sizable effect.

The latest statistics may also have implications for a civil rights lawsuit that argues the latest version of the Discovery program discriminates against Asian students. That argument may be harder to make now, since Asian students’ offers through Discovery increased this year.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, declined to comment Wednesday.

“This is definitely not the impact that the Pacific Legal Foundation and the plaintiffs suing the city were saying about Asian American students,” said Vanessa Leung, who helps run the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. “I think for us, it was like, see, the sky is not falling.”

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.

Discovery Offers (Text)

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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  1. While there is no shortage of hand-wringing about the lack of black and Latino students in the specialized high schools, and plenty of ideas to put a band-aid on the symptom, there is no discussion about the problem itself Why are black and Latino kids underrepresented? Why are Asian kids, many of whom come from poverty and may have English as a second language, over-represented? What role do parents play in their kids’ academic success? What messaging do Asian kids and black/Latino kids get at home about the importance of education? How does the role of the parent compare between black/Latino homes and Asian homes, and what effect does this have on kids’ success in school?

  2. Asian students performance show that you can do well even if you are poor. We too easily blame everything on being poor. But relatively new immigrants come to this country with nothing but two suitcases of personal belongings consistently preformed well in school. Is more about parenting and personal work ethics than simply social economics issues. And please don’t get me wrong, economics do play a role but we always try to find a simple answer for everything.

  3. As a sociologist of race and ethnicity among other relevant subjects, I can say that by only focusing on the racial characteristics of the students the actual behavioral reasons for success and failure are conveniently ignored. I would guess that the highest correlation with success on the ‘test’ is preparation for it. as a BTHS (1960) alumni, I know that a single test is a terrible criteria (my grade school teacher BTW didn’t want to allow me to take it) because I was a ‘difficult’ pupil. I would happy to help in a study of those non-Asian students who score high enough to pass, which would be the most useful. I would expect that their behavioral profile would be similar. In general we need more excellent high schools, more excellent grade schools, more excellent teachers, more excellent administrators and more excellent elected officials which seem to the least likely….

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