Mayor de Blasio has had four-and-a-half years to improve our segregated public-school system — to fix its systemic failures from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Yet our schools continue to be deeply divided based on race, income and achievement. Instead of addressing this, however, the mayor and chancellor decided to look for a convenient culprit. They have chosen to scapegoat the Specialized High School Admissions Test for New York’s eight specialized high schools, as if to insinuate that it alone is the problem and reason for the widespread segregation in the city’s public schools.
Asian-American students take the SHSAT in large numbers, and many of them get admitted to the specialized high schools. They, too, hail from immigrant and low-income families. Despite public perception, nearly one out of every four Asian-Americans in New York lives in poverty, and for years they have had the highest rate of poverty among all ethnic groups in the city.
They see the admissions test as their one fair shot at success — the chance to obtain, based on merit alone, a first-rate education. For them and their parents, getting a spot in one of these schools changes everything, opens up entire worlds of possibilities and future paths they might never have had. It justifies the long hours of toil and grueling effort as their families struggle to eke out an existence in a city with historic levels of income inequality.
The mayor’s sudden announcement and hasty rollout of his plan came during the last few weeks of this year’s legislative session, when other major agenda items had passed and potentially thorny political complications were out of the way. It was executed without any dialogue with or inclusion from our communities or other key stakeholders — even though my local colleagues and I brought up this very topic when we recently met with new Chancellor Richard Carranza.
The plan would wrongly pit Asian-American families against black and Latino communities to the detriment of all. Through their words and actions, the mayor and chancellor have made “Asians” Public Enemy No. 1 — as if we are somehow the ones guilty of segregation. In fact, we are the fastest growing group in New York City — and we are also immigrants, people of color and minorities.
We didn’t create this test or this admission process, and Asian-American kids weren’t handed these seats at these schools. They earned them through hard work and sacrifice. But for officials like de Blasio and Carranza, Asian-Americans are seen as either foreigners or a privileged class that somehow “owns the admissions test” to these top high schools.
If the goal is to truly achieve racial equity through education, the mayor should propose eliminating all specialized schools, decentralizing our school systems, providing equitable funding to all neighborhoods and building top-notch high schools in every neighborhood.
Of course, this is much harder and requires the full cooperation of state lawmakers like Gov. Cuomo, who is clearly not very fond of the mayor’s tactics and politics.
When Cuomo called on our schools to be more transparent and accountable in how they spend their funds so that we can better understand the origin of inequities in our public schools, de Blasio scoffed at the very notion and found it insulting. But how can we start fixing our segregated and broken system when we don’t even know how it got that way in the first place?
Suddenly moving the goalposts for these eight schools is not even close to an adequate solution for the plight of our city’s 1.1 million students. Instead of addressing systemic inequities from the bottom up, the mayor and chancellor have chosen symbolism over substance. They have decided to start unnecessary racial conflict to distract the public from the city’s failures to improve things by vilifying an entire group of minorities for their hard work and success.
Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat, represents New York’s 40th District.