Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Specialized High Schools: A Cover For NYC’s Failing Education System?

By Templechukwu AnyasiPublished May 16, 2019

Brooklyn Technical High School is one of New York City's specialized high schools. In the past few years, issues of socio-economic diversity have been raised within the high school.
NYC’s specialized high schools act as a microcosm for the debate surrounding diversity and access to education. An analysis of the process to enter these elite public schools can help us reflect on our values and how to change our education system for the better.

     I leave the station with my ticket in hand, and find my way to the exam hall. Students are lined up to enter the school and the anxiety is obvious in their eyes. This test will change the path of our lives. The stress surrounding standardized admissions tests is an experience familiar to generations of American students.1 However, for me and 28,000 other students, the struggle to win access to eight elite institutions isn’t for the Ivy League.2 Instead, it began at 13 as we fought for the right to a good high school.

     The stress of the SAT is fresh in the minds of many college students, as well as the recent scandals involving bribes3 and debates over the ethics of affirmative action.4 However each year, for 28,000 kids the SAT takes on different forms: the SHSAT. The SHSAT, also known as the Specialized High Admissions Test, is an exam taken by NYC students to gain access to one of eight NYC public high schools. In recent years, the schools have come under attack for their strict test-only admission process. Opponents argue the disproportionately low number of black and Hispanic students are indicative of a flawed test.5 As a result, debate has ensued over the proper method of providing fair access to some of the city’s best free education.

     The hype surrounding the issue of diversity in specialized high schools is well-deserved. I can personally attest to the shock I experienced entering a school which was 16% black or Hispanic in a city where nearly 70% of all public students7 were black or Hispanic.[6] However, the contest over eight schools in a city of over 1.1 million students8 and over 400 high schools never sat right with me. Regardless of the diversity of these few schools, there would always be students unable to attend these appraised schools. This is the underlying problem with specialized high schools: they serve as a sanctum from the truth off NYC’s school. Outside this small world of high school elitism, the Engish proficiency rate of NYC’s schools is