The Fine Line Between ‘Discerning’ and ‘Discriminating’
Equity Remains Elusive at the Crown Jewel of City’s Public High Schools
Stuyvesant High School is one of the handful of elite secondary schools in the New York City public education system, at which admission is governed by competitive examination.
New data from this year’s specialized high school admissions cycle is sparking continued debate over racial diversity at Stuyvesant High School, the top public specialized high school in New York City. Long-considered a top-ten school in the nation, Stuyvesant has become the center of an ongoing debate about the fairness of its admissions.
The path to Stuyvesant (located in Battery Park City) is simple, but not easy. Take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as an eighth grader, and a sufficiently high score high means you are offered a spot. It’s a way to get talented middle schoolers from diverse backgrounds (regardless of prior academic performance) to compete on a single, high-stakes, standardized test and then blindly select the top scores. This should, in theory, be a system that breeds equality. The numbers, year-in and year-out, however, paint a strikingly different image.
As the school with the highest cutoff score every year, Stuyvesant is widely regarded as an elite within an elite (the broader cohort of eight specialized high schools where admissions are governed by the SHSAT). In the most recent data from the fall 2022 admissions cycle, of the 749 total offers for seats at Stuyvesant High School, 493 were offered to Asian students, and 152 to white students. Hispanic students received 20 offers and Black students received eight offers, for a combined total of less than four percent of the accepted students. These metrics are part of a stubbornly persistent pattern. For the previous eight years, the numbers of African-American student admitted to Stuyvesant were eight, ten, seven, ten, 13, nine, ten, and seven.
In a freshman class of nearly 800, those numbers are strikingly low, and out of alignment with the demographics of the school system (and the City’s population) as a whole. Many observers ascribe the disparity to inequities in test prep. Tricia Joyce, chair of the Youth & Education Committee of Community Board 1, says, “all students don’t have the same opportunities in terms of the test prep. Some families have the resources, or exposure, to begin that prep years in advance.” Among Stuyvesant’s student body, the number who did not undergo some form of test preparation is vanishingly slim.
It is not the case that the families with the most money are sending their kids to Stuyvesant. In fact, 45 percent of Stuyvesant students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (a widely accepted gauge of financial need). And white students, whose families historically have higher incomes, are themselves a minority at Stuyvesant. In this context, wealth appears to be less determinative than access to resources.
“It’s a highly ‘prep-able’ test,” observes Ms. Joyce. The opportunity to take a single practice test can make a significant difference in a student’s score. The slim margin of roughly 40 points—which can hinge on the answers to five or fewer multiple-choice questions—separates the cutoff for the top specialized schools, particularly Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.
Seung C. Yu, Principal of Stuyvesant High School, acknowledges that work needs to be done. “Improvement [with] respect to equity starts with access to the necessary educational opportunities and resources,” he notes. “We need to extend our outreach to more communities about what Stuyvesant can offer to students.” He adds that high-quality test prep access for all can reduce disparities, rather than abolishing the test completely.
At Stuyvesant, Mr. Yu commended students for leading the way in fighting for equity. He believes that once awareness of what Stuyvesant offers is raised within more communities, outcomes will improve. Equity, he says, is “a constant work in progress, but one we’re committed to.”
In the meantime, incremental reforms will fall to the administration of Mayor Eric Adams, whose predecessor, Bill de Blasio, tried (and failed) to scrap the SHSAT entirely. (Under the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act, the specialize high schools are overseen by the Governor, meaning the City Hall has very little authority to make changes.) Among the initiatives now under consideration by the City’s Department of Education is the creation of five new specialized high schools, with different admissions strategies. But, as mandated by State law, any wholesale revision to the City’s existing specialized high schools (or their admissions policies) will mostly fall within the purview of Albany, rather than City Hall.
(Editor’s note: The author, who grew up in Battery Park City, is a recent Stuyvesant High School alumnus, and is now a student at Haverford College.)
Running the Good Race
Annual Run Through Battery Tunnel Honors Memory of Fallen Hero
The annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk will bring more than 30,000 joggers through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on Sunday, September 25, guiding the multitude into Battery Park City and toward the finish line on West Street, between Warren and Murray Streets. There will also be a street fair on Vesey Street, between West Street and North End Avenue, immediately following the race. Read more…
Say It Taint So
Multiple Contaminants Identified at FiDi Development Site
Community Board 1 is urging the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the City’s Department of Environmental Protection to be maximally transparent in disclosing data about possible environmental hazards at a vacant lot in the Greenwich South area of the Financial District, which is slated for development into a residential tower. Read more…
South Street Seaport Museum, aboard the tall ship Wavertree, Pier 16
Part of Climate Week NYC, this panel conversation will explore the intersection between climate art and climate science. Artists who participated in Art at the BlueLine this past July—Matthew López-Jensen, Mary Mattingly, Edrex Fontanilla, and Sarah Nelson Wright—will be joined by science educator Kendra Krueger, and the panel will be moderated by Waterfront Alliance’s CEO, Cortney Koenig Worrall. Free.
Reading. The Unfolding, A.M. Homes’ first novel since May We Be Forgiven, is a stunning alternative history that is both terrifyingly prescient, deeply tender, and devastatingly funny. Author Jill Bialosky weaves an explosive tale of art and myth, desire and betrayal in The Deceptions.
Thursday, September 22
Meet BPCA’s Dog Waste Composting Team
Learn about Battery Park City’s dog waste compost program. The fully-tested compost is applied along the West Street/Route 9A median.
Keeping the spirit of “son cubano” alive in New York City and beyond, Los Soneros de Oriente traces their lineage back to a member of the Sexteto Habanero, the legendary Cuban band who brought this music of Spanish and African origin to prominence when they recorded for RCA in the 1920s. Free.
Lunchtime talk hosted by the Museum of American Finance. Merger arbitrage is focused on investing in announced mergers, acquisitions, takeovers and other corporate reorganizations. It is a practice that combines math, judgment and a keen understanding of various legal, regulatory and industry dynamics. Free.
Join Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York to celebrate the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. Yale Law School’s Logan Beirne, author of Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency, will speak about how George Washington’s actions during the Revolutionary War helped define many of our constitutional traditions. Reception including lecture: $25. Dinner, including reception and lecture: $130.
Jake Sherman learned classical piano by listening to his father play Bach every morning. His most recent album, Jake Sherman Gets Sexy, has a point of view that is both poignant and Weird Al-esque. $10 suggested donation.
This tour brings top-ranked equestrian jumping teams from around the world to compete on Governors Island. The exhibition village includes shops and food and beverage options, and public seating for visitors to see horses and their riders compete for the top spot. Through September 25. Free; reservations required.
Tour the historic, steel-hulled, three-masted, full-rigged vessel visiting from Denmark. The ship’s visit during UN Climate Week aims to inspire dialogue around innovative and sustainable climate solutions. The ship sails for the Azores on September 25. Free.
Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets
Greenwich Street & Chambers Street
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8am-3pm (compost program: Saturdays, 8am-1pm)
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Broadway & Whitehall St
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8am-5pm (compost program: 8am-11am)
World Trade Center Oculus Greenmarket
The Outdoor Fulton Stall Market
91 South Street, between Fulton & John Streets
Indoor market: Monday through Saturday,11:30am-5pm
CSA pick-up: Thursday, 4pm-6pm; Friday, 11:30-5pm
Outdoor market: Saturdays, 11:30am-5pm
Today in History
This animation from “The Dover Boys” (1942) was directed by Chuck Jones, who was born on this day in 1912. It is an example of a technique called “staggering.”
455 – Emperor Avitus enters Rome with a Gallic army and consolidates his power.
1776 – Part of New York City is burned after being occupied by British forces.
1780 – Benedict Arnold gives the British the plans to West Point.
1938 – The Great Hurricane of 1938 makes landfall on Long Island.
1949 – The People’s Republic of China is proclaimed.
1972 – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos begins authoritarian rule by declaring martial law.
1981 – Sandra Day O’Connor is unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate as the first female Supreme Court justice.
1866 – H. G. Wells, novelist, historian, and critic (d. 1946)
1912 – Chuck Jones, animator, producer, and screenwriter (d. 2002)
1947 – Stephen King, author and screenwriter
19 BC – Virgil, Roman poet (b. 70 BC)
1743 – Jai Singh II, Indian king (b. 1688)
2018 – Trần Đại Quang, President of Vietnam (b. 1956)