Breakthrough New York Executive Director Issues Statement on Mayor de Blasio’s Plan to Diversify the City’s Specialized High Schools

(New York, N.Y.) — Breakthrough New York (BTNY) Executive Director Beth Onofry issued the following the statement today about Mayor de Blasio’s plan to address the lack of diversity at New York City’s eight specialized high schools:

“Breakthrough New York applauds Mayor de Blasio’s proposal for diversifying New York City’s specialized high schools. His plan addresses a reality that our organization confronts every day: too many talented black and Latino students from low-income backgrounds don’t have access to our city’s best schools.

For nearly 20 years Breakthrough New York has helped talented middle school students from low-income families across the city get into and thrive at strong high schools—including the specialized schools—and colleges. Unfortunately, there are many more students without the added resources or support of a program like Breakthrough New York; they deserve access to the best education, too.

Reserving more spots for talented, low-income students from high-poverty middle schools is a sensible step toward making the specialized high-schools’ admissions process more equitable and ensuring that they better reflect the diversity of the city’s public-school system.

The test-only admissions policy has always been flawed. I started my career in education working in selective college admissions, where a single test score would never be the only determining factor of a student’s admission. Tests can illustrate important strengths and weaknesses, and they can help to create a standardized measure of achievement across different educational systems and experiences. But, they are also biased toward those who can pay to prepare for them—and who know to do so. Taking context into consideration when student’s SHSAT scores are on the cusp is an important first step.

While no admissions process is perfect, the Mayor is heading in the right direction with one that would consider both the results on the State’s standardized tests—which, unlike the SHSAT, every student takes—and grades on middle school course work. Not only will this help diversify the specialized schools, it will more effectively identify the best students, rather than just the best test-takers.

In addition to the latest efforts proposed by the Mayor, we must address the underlying disparity in education that starts well before high school. Momentum has been building throughout our community to make a change. Parents, educators, researchers, nonprofit leaders, policy-makers, and government officials must keep working together to tackle the problem of unequal access to high-quality education at all points along the way—from kindergarten placement and gifted and talented admissions, through high school admissions.”