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The History of New York City's Special High Schools


stuy hs

Stuyvesant High School


As students prepare to take the entrance exam for the city's elite, 'specialized' high schools, debate swirls about these top schools, their admissions processes, and the diversity - or lack thereof - of their student bodies. Gotham Gazette offers context:

Although black and Latino students make up roughly 70% of the New York City public school system, they made up just 12% of the offers to attend one of the city's eight, test admissions based, specialized high schools this fall. Since the 1990s, consecutive mayoral administrations have grappled with how to reverse the steady decline of black and Latino students in the city's top schools (which has come as Asian students make up an increasing percentage of enrollment); and now, again, focus on the issue is building under a new administration that favors changing the system.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and the city's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), have all voiced their support for overhauling the admissions policy to the city's specialized high schools. The current administration would like to exercise as much power granted to it under state law (which codified the test-only policy in 1972) and has convened a group of experts to propose changes that could make the process more inclusive - moving from test-only to multiple measures.

Although the City has no control over the test only mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools, it does have the authority to designate and un-designate specialized status for the five newer high schools that were established during Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor.

Last spring, state legislators introduced a bill that would broaden the criteria for admission beyond the single exam that now determines acceptance to eight city schools (the city's ninth specialized high school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts, offers admission based on an audition and/or portfolio assessment).

And, as of fall 2012 the U.S. Department of Education is investigating a federal civil rights complaint against New York City's specialized high schools, filed by the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, which claims that the current admissions policy has a discriminatory impact on black and Latino students.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, proponents of the current admissions process have begun to organize in its defense. For example, alumni associations across the high schools under scrutiny have coalesced and issued statements supporting the test-only policy.

It's against this backdrop that current New York City eighth graders vying for a seat in the specialized high schools' 2015 cohorts will take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) on October 25th and 26th.

Last year, 28,000 students took the SHSAT for admission in the 2014-2015 academic year. A similar turnout is expected this testing cycle.

In order to contextualize the ongoing debate around New York City's selective enrollment public high schools, Gotham Gazette has compiled a timeline of relevant events including school foundings, court cases in New York City's educational trajectory, the introduction of state bills and relevant federal policy milestones.

Spec HS chart 2

Timeline
(from most recent)

2014 - SHSAT Testing
This year, the SHSAT will be administered (perhaps for the last time in its present form) to current 8th grade students on October 25 and 26. Current 9th grade students, students with special needs and those making up the exam can take it on designated days in November. Scores will be released to students and schools in March 2015.

2014 - New York City Council Introduces Package of Legislation to Promote Diversity in City Schools
On Wednesday, October 22nd, New York City Council members introduced one bill and two resolutions intended to build momentum around tackling diversity issues in New York City schools. According to recent reports, such as one released by the UCLA Civil Rights Project in March, local schools are among the most segregated in the country. The report states that in 2010, for example, of 32 school districts in New York City, 19 had ten percent or less white students.

Only one of the two resolutions is aimed directly at the specialized high schools, but all three deal with the notion of increasing diversity in the city's schools.

2014 - NYC Department of Education Seeks New Vendor to Facilitate the Standardized Testing Program for Entry to its Specialized High Schools
On September 29, the NYC DOE announced a Request for Proposals (RFP) from vendors to facilitate its specialized high schools standardized testing program. Its current contract with testing provider Pearson is scheduled to end this year. The city foresees administering the exam in partnership with the new provider for eighth graders in fall 2016. 

Aside from a mere changing of the guard, which is routine in procurement, the new contract is an opportunity for the City to make changes to the exam. In its RFP, the city lists the possibility of adding an essay to the multiple choice exam. It also seeks to align the test's content with the Common Core and has requested the next company to translate the exam into a range of languages such as Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu, for the first time. Proposals from bidders for the contract are due to the DOE by 1:00 pm on October 23rd.

2014 - A Coalition of Specialized High School Alumni Organizations Issues a Statement Backing the SHSAT-Only Admissions Policy
In late August, a newly formed Coalition of Specialized High School Alumni Organizations, which includes representation from all eight schools, released a statement in support of maintaining the test based admission policy. In the statement, the coalition asserts that the SHSAT is the only objective means of gaining entry into the city's specialized high schools, devoid of favoritism, bias and politics. Simultaneously, they call on the city to better promote the exam in underrepresented communities, expand the scope and quality of SHSAT preparation options and reinvest in the Discovery Program.

In response to this development, Mayor de Blasio reiterated his support of broadening admissions criteria beyond one exam. De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina have stated that a group of experts are in the process of devising a proposal of additional admissions criteria, potentially, for admission to the five newer schools whose admissions policy the city can change.

2014 - Bills Seeking to Increase the Number of Specialized High Schools and Base Seat Allotment on Population of Public School Students per Borough are Introduced by State Assembly Member Catherine Nolan
In June, New York State Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, Chair of the Assembly's Education Committee since 2006, introduced two bills on the topic of specialized high schools. The first would add more schools to the ranks of those designated specialized and, thereby, subject to the state's test admissions based mandate. The second bill would require "the number of seats available in each borough for specialized high schools in the city of New York [to] be proportionate to the number of public school students in each borough."

The bills were introduced at the end of the state's 2014 legislative cycle, and did not get beyond the Assembly's education committee for a general body vote.

2014 - Bill to Amend Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process is Endorsed by Chancellor and Teachers' Union
New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) expressed their support for bills sponsored by Assembly Member Karim Camara and State Senators Simcha Felder and Adriano Espaillat, which would expand the admissions criteria beyond the SHSAT.

2014 - Bill is Introduced in New York State Legislature to Amend NYC Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process
In June 2014, Assemblymember Karim Camara and State Senators Simcha Felder and Adriano Espaillat (thereby forming a Senate Majority-Minority Partnership) filed bills in the Senate and Assembly, that would broaden the admissions policy to include "multiple measures of student merit," such as grade point average, attendance records, SHSAT and state test scores. Since the bills were introduced towards the end of the state's legislative cycle, they did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly for a general body vote.

2013 - Bill that Would Grant New York City's Board of Education Control of Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process is Re-Introduced in the New York State Legislature
State Assemblymember Karim Camara and State Senator Adriano Espaillat re-introduced bills in the Assembly and Senate that would allow New York City's Board of Education (the PEP) to "establish procedures and standards for admissions" to the city's specialized high schools. The new admissions criteria would include "multiple measures of student merit" such as grade point average and other factors that the board would deem appropriate. These bills did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly in order to receive general body votes.

2012 - The Federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights Launches Investigation into New York City's Specialized High School Admissions Process
As of November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has been investigating the federal civil rights complaint, filed by the NAACP and other groups, over the admissions policies of New York City's specialized high schools.

Although the Office of Civil Rights cannot impose changes on the admissions process, which is codified in state law, federal funding for public schools is dependent on fair and equitable processes. If the investigation concludes that the current policy has a disparate impact on any segment of the population, regardless of its intent, federal funding streams may be jeopardized.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education responded to Gotham Gazette's inquiry into the investigation:

"OCR is currently investigating whether the New York City Department of Education discriminated against black and Latino students by using a multiple choice test, as the sole criterion for determining admission to eight "elite" specialized high schools, which adversely affected admissions decisions for those students. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

For more on how OCR handles civil rights complaints, please see our Web site here."

2012 - NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Files Federal Civil Rights Complaint Against New York City Specialized High Schools
In September 2012, with the NAACP at the helm, a coalition of educational and civil rights groups filed a federal civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming that the specialized high schools single-test admissions policy has a discriminatory impact on black and Latino students, consequently, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations.

The complaint "...does not contend that federal law forbids any use of tests in the admissions process for Specialized High Schools; but it does contend that federal law prohibits admissions policies that inappropriately utilize scores on tests, like the SHSAT, that have not been properly validated as a fair predictor of student performance. In the absence of any attempt by the NYCDOE [New York City Department of Education] to validate the SHSAT and because there are equally effective, less discriminatory alternatives available, the NYCDOE should not be permitted to use the SHSAT as the sole criterion...." for admission to a Specialized High School.

2012 - Bill is Introduced in New York State Legislature that Would Grant New York City's Board of Education Control of Specialized High Schools' Admissions Process
In January 2012, Assemblymember Karima Camara and State Senator Adriano Espaillat introduced identical bills in the Assembly and Senate that would grant New York City's Board of Education (the PEP) control of the admissions process for specialized high schools, and subsequently, the ability to expand entry criteria beyond a single exam. The bills suggest additional factors for consideration such as grade point average and a personal statement. The bills did not make it past the Education Committees in the State Senate or Assembly for general body votes.

2011- New York City Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) Downsizes Due to Budget Constraints
The SHSI or "DREAM", created in 1995 and expanded under Chancellor Joel Klein's leadership in 2008, was slated for downsizing in 2011. According to reporting by Insideschools, the preparatory program would shrink by half beginning in 2012, forcing students to begin the program in the spring of 7th grade rather than the summer of 6th.

2009 - New York State Legislature Renews Mayoral Control of City Schools for Six More Years
In August 2009, the State Legislature voted to renew mayoral control of New York City Schools for six more years.

2009 - Race to the Top Educational Grants Program Established
The Obama Administration passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), with stipulations to stimulate the economy, support job creation, and invest in education. According to the Department of Education's executive summary, the ARRA includes $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, "a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform," such as building data systems to measure results and lifting caps on charter schools.

(Since its launch, New York City applied and failed to attain district level Race to the Top grants in 2012 and 2013. However, New York State applied for and received funds.)

2007 - Federal Lawsuit Claims New York City's Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) is Discriminatory
Asian-American parents in Brooklyn filed a lawsuit against the NYC DOE, claiming the city's SHSI admissions policy discriminated against white and Asian students by mandating them to meet income guidelines that did not apply to black and Latino applicants. That June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, that the consideration of race in K-12 school assignments was largely unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision and the local suit against SHSI, the NYC DOE changed its preparatory program's admission policy to be race neutral.

Eligibility for SHSI currently breaks down as follows:

"To be eligible to apply for DREAM 2016, a public school student must meet ALL the following criteria:

  • be a current NYC resident,
  • be a current 6th grade student,
  • be economically disadvantaged as defined by Title I Free Lunch status,
  • have a minimum scale score of 312 on the 2012 grade 5 NYS ELA exam,
  • have a minimum scale score of 306 on the 2012 grade 5 NYS math exam, and
  • have had a minimum attendance rate of 90% during grade 5."

2006 - Brooklyn Latin School is Founded as a Specialized High School
Brooklyn Latin School was founded in 2006. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York State law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2005 - Staten Island Technical High School is Granted Specialized High School Status
Staten Island Technical High School, opened in 1988, was granted specialized high school status by the PEP, under New York State law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), subject to the SHSAT-only admissions policy, during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - Queens High School for the Sciences at York College is Founded as a Specialized High School
Queens High School for the Sciences at York College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York State law 2590, section g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College is Founded as a Specialized High School
High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York law 2590, section-g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - High School of American Studies at Lehman College is Founded as a Specialized High School
High School of American Studies at Lehman College was founded. The school was established and designated as specialized by the PEP, subject to the SHSAT-only admission policy under New York law 2590, section g (Calandra-Hecht provision), during Joel Klein's tenure as chancellor. As a newer specialized high school and not one of the original three, the PEP has the authority to change its admission policy.

2002 - Michael Bloomberg Becomes Mayor of New York City and New York State Legislature Votes through Mayoral Control of Schools
In 2002, Michael Bloomberg embarked on his first term as mayor of New York City. In June 2002, after months of deliberation between Mayor Bloomberg and the New York State Legislature, Governor George Pataki signed a bill granting mayoral control of New York City schools. The law did away with community school boards, gave the Mayor power to hire and fire the schools Chancellor, and the Chancellor authority over school district Superintendents. The law also ushered in changes to the city's governing Board of Education, such as its renaming by Mayor Bloomberg as the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP).

2001- No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
The Bush Administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA. Although NCLB had numerous stipulations, its new requirements for testing, accountability (public reporting of results by at-risk student subgroups), school improvement, and teacher qualifications received the most attention.

1996 - New York State Legislature Curtails Decentralization in New York City Schools
The school decentralization law passed in 1969 by the New York State Legislature was overhauled in December of 1996, thereby diminishing the power of the community board model. According to The New York Times, "the new New York City plan gives the schools chancellor enormous power to hire the people who run the city's schools, taking it from the 32 community school boards, many of which had become patronage mills for local politicians....Under the new plan, the chancellor has the power to remove a superintendent, a board member, or an entire board in districts that have performed poorly over a period of years on standardized tests and other measures of educational performance."

1995 - The Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI) is Founded in New York City
New York City's Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI), also known as "DREAM," was founded under the leadership of Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines. It is a city-run preparatory program for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). The test is a 2.5 hour math and verbal multiple choice exam. Although the preparatory program was open to applicants of any race, at its founding, the institute was explicitly geared toward increasing the number of students from underrepresented, mostly black and Latino city school districts to take the exam and get offered seats at a specialized high school.

1994 - Improving America's Schools Act of 1994
The federal Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 was passed. The Clinton-era policy was a reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA. The main objective of ESEA, improving educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income Americans, remained. The reiteration of the law introduced new standards and accountability measures for states and local school districts that receive Title I money.

1972 - New York State Legislature Passes Calandra-Hecht Bill Which Designates Certain High Schools as Specialized and Mandates an Entrance Exam as the Sole Criteria for Admission
The New York State Legislature passed the Calandra-Hecht bill, with sponsorship by Bronx politicians State Senator John Calandra and State Assembly Member Burton Hecht. The law established the category of specialized high schools, explicitly categorizing Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Technical, and Fiorello H. Laguardia of Music & Arts and Performing Arts as such.

Notably, the bill established a test-only admissions mandate for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Technical High Schools. And, the bill gave NYC's Board of Education the power to designate and un-designate additional schools as specialized and subject to the Calandra-Hecht test-only provision of NY State's education law.

TEXT OF CALANDRA-HECHT BILL AMENDING SEC. 2590G,
SUBDIVISION 12 OF THE EDUCATION LAW

(a) Establish and maintain special high schools which shall at least include The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts — and such further high schools which the Board of Education may designate from time to time.
(b) Admissions to The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School and such similar further special high schools which may be established shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination, which shall be open to each and every child in the City of New York in the eighth or ninth year of study, in accordance with the rules promulgated by the N.Y.C. Board of Education, without regard to any school district wherein the child may reside. No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he has successfully achieved a score above the cut-off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination."

1969 - New York State Legislature Passes New York City School Decentralization Bill
The New York City Decentralization Law of 1969 removed the City Board of Education from mayoral control and reorganized the city's public school system into community districts. According to The New York Times, "the State Legislature created 32 elected community school boards and a seven-member central Board of Education, appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor. The board chose the chancellor. But high schools remained under the control of the central Board of Education, as did school lunches, school construction, budgeting and maintenance. The community school boards governed only elementary and middle schools."

The bill was passed on the coattails of a 1968 school decentralization experiment in the Ocean-Hill/Brownsville section of Brooklyn that led to a series of city-wide teacher strikes. The resulting labor dispute is often described as one of the most contentious in New York City history.

1965 - Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was passed during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, as part of his signature "War on Poverty" campaign. Among its provisions is the dissemination of federal funds to school districts with low-income students, also known as Title I (Title One) funding, in order to improve educational outcomes in low income communities.

1964 - U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964
Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act is a package of legislation that prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, religion or sex. The act has stipulations on voter's rights, outlawing discrimination in public facilities, public education and employment. Title VI of the act, specifically, prohibits discrimination within programs and institutions that receive federal funds.

1961 - Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is Established
The High School of Music and Art, founded by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1936, and the School of Performing Arts founded in 1948, would merge to become the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. In 1969, the New York City Board of Education named the school's new Lincoln Center Campus after former Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

1954 - Brown v. Board of Education
The Supreme court case, Brown v. Board of Education, was the culmination of cases across several states challenging state-sponsored segregation in public schools. On May 14, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its decision that separate institutions are unequal and required states that institutionalized the segregation of public facilities to implement desegregation plans.

1938 - The Bronx Science High School is Founded and Entrance Exam Becomes Admissions Requirement
The Bronx High School of Science was founded as an all boys institution by the New York City Department of Education. It would become co-ed in 1946. The school was intended to mirror Stuyvesant High School's program. At the time of Bronx Science's founding, both schools collaborated with Columbia University to develop and administer a common entrance exam.

1934 - Entrance Exam Becomes Requirement for Admission to Stuyvesant
Then-principal Simon J. Wilson established a new policy of admitting students to Stuyvesant High School by entrance exam.

1922 - Brooklyn Technical High School is Founded
Brooklyn Technical High School was founded as an all boys technical institution. It would become co-ed in 1970.

1904 - Stuyvesant High School is Founded
Stuyvesant High School was established as a "manual training school for boys." It would become co-ed in 1969.

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Note: this timeline is not meant to be completely comprehensive and is a work in progress; feel free to send us feedback any time 
***
Timeline created by Katrina Shakarian with guidance from multiple sources; a special thank you for consultation to Professor David Bloomfield
@GothamGazette
@KatShakarian

Email Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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