The Tale of Two School Districts
by Alicia L. Hyndman
Jul 02, 2018 | 8365 views | 0 0 comments | 546 546 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Serving in the Assembly has been one of the most thrilling, exhausting, fun, challenging, and fulfilling times of my life. Along with my colleagues in the State Senate and the governor we make laws that hopefully have a positive impact for all New Yorkers.

But before being a member of the Assembly, I am a mom. A single mother at that, raising kids in New York City public schools.

While I am a former employee of the state Department of Education and former president of Community District Education Council 29, the experience that helps me legislate most effectively on behalf of my constituents is my experience as a mother.

My oldest just finished her second year at Morgan State, but my youngest, Nyla, is eight years old and currently in the Gifted and Talented program at PS 176Q. Like many other parents, I am already preparing for Nyla to start high school in 2024.

I know that if she does well enough on the Specialized High School exam she can get into one of the nine elite New York City Specialized High Schools. Unfortunately, if she isn't successful the schools will not look at any other factors besides her exam score.

And while Nyla can go on to another amazing public school in New York City, she would be stripped of other opportunities because of one exam. The schools will not look at her extracurricular activities, the middle school she went to, or even her grades in light of her economic status.

But even if Nyla does get into one of these elite schools, she will be going to a school whose population is not reflective of New York City. In a city that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, we have been doing an injustice to students by segregating our schools.

Diversity includes race, but on a macro level deals with gender, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds, and experience.

Today, over 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, New York schools still remain separate and arguably unequal. But we have the opportunity to reverse the effects of that injustice by expanding opportunity for a more diverse group of New Yorkers to attend Specialized High Schools.

I have received hundreds of phone calls and almost 1,000 emails from individuals against doing away with the test. Some were cordial, while others said things like “they should study harder” or “they should pay for prep like I have.”

These arguments are misplaced and divisive in a conversation about improving diversity and improving our schools. Parents have the right to advocate for their child, but let's not demonize children, who mostly through no fault of their own, are struggling.

I commend Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza for boldly bringing to the forefront the conversation of diversity in our schools.

While many of the mayor’s supporters have rightfully been upset with the slow progress in ending the “Tale of Two Cities,” today they can applaud him for proposing a new plan to desegregate and innovate our Specialized High Schools.

This isn't simply a matter of black, white, Latino or Asian, I support all students getting a quality education. But for too long our city education has become a privilege and not a right.

It is a bigger problem of systemic injustice through decades of closing schools, discriminatory housing, and economic policies that disfavor the poor; students of all races have been put at a disadvantage.

We know that, historically, students of color, low-income students, have fared worse on a standardized test. It is not because their parents care less or that they are not able to learn, but part of a bigger conversation about why a zip code or a school district determines your success.

We want all kids to succeed, but educational equity is needed. We cannot exclude students from these schools because they missed a test by a few marks. We must also look at other factors like income, extracurricular activities, and GPA.

The mayor has a two-step approach: phased out the Specialized High School Exam and take the top 7 percent of students in all public middle schools in the city and offer 20 percent of seats in each specialized school to low-income students who missed the test cutoff by a few points after they attend the Discovery Program, a summer-school session.

The second prong of the plan is projected to increase diversity in these schools by up to 45 percent, and will still only take students who have done well within middle-schools across the city.

While I agree completely with the second prong of the plan, I do believe we need to keep the Specialized High School test to be a quantitative approach to grading students.

A comprehensive plan will only make this exam one factor, but have a qualitative approach to a broader application process. This is similar to the process of colleges across the country.

These exams favor those with parents who can afford test prep, students who went to stronger middle schools, and arguably those within a certain geographical zone.

We have the opportunity to be a beacon of hope for students of all backgrounds, and say to them that they too can access some of the greatest schools in our city.

Further, we can be a shining example for the rest of country to show how educational success is not just about quantitative measurements, but also the soft skills you gain from being in diverse environments and building cultural capital.

Alicia L. Hyndman represents the 29th District of south Queens in the Assembly.

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