New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Public Advocate Willliams Join Council Members Cornegy, Kallos and Brannan in Announcing Comprehensive Legislation to Dramatically Improve Equity at New York City’s Specialized High Schools

Black and Hispanic enrollment in the specialized schools has plummeted over the last 40 years.

New York, NY – Today, a coalition of city elected officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Members Robert Cornegy, Ben Kallos and Justin Brannan unveiled bold new legislation aimed at increasing racial equity at NYC’s Specialized High Schools. The legislation would require DOE to finally provide every middle school student with free test preparation. The legislation would also end DOE’s practice of making students register for the SHSAT through a confusing multistep process—and instead automatically register every 8th grader for the SHSAT and asking each of them to take the test.  The legislation would immediately make thousands more Black and Latinx students eligible for admission to a specialized high school.

Currently, fewer than 10% of NYC’ public middle schools provide access to free test prep. The legislation introduced today would ensure test prep is systemwide. In 2019, only 35% of 8th grade public school students sat for the SHSAT. By making the SHSAT the default option for all 8th grade students, today’s legislation would immediately and dramatically increase the number of Black and Latinx students eligible for SHS enrollment every March.

While Black and Latinx students make up nearly 70% of NYC public school students, they recently only accounted for 10% of admitted students in the City’s five specialized high schools. The sponsors of today’s legislation are committed to reversing that trend.  The legislation proposed today would directly address this issue by requiring every student—regardless of their income, background, or demographic—be provided the opportunity to succeed.

The Education Equity Campaign led by Ronald Lauder and Richard Parsons has long called for these proposals and provided over $350,000 in free test prep funding in 2019 to prepare hundreds of students of color for the SHSAT.

Public Advocate Williams graduated from the Brooklyn Technical High School starting in 1992 when demographics included 13% Hispanic, 16% White, 32% Asian, and 38% Black, whose Black student population has been in free fall by a factor of five to only 7% as of 2016. Council Member Kallos graduated the Bronx High School of Science starting 1994 when demographics included 10% Hispanic, 12% Black, 38% White, and 40% Asian, whose Hispanic and Black student populations have more than halved to only 9% as of 2017.

“I'm a public school baby, pre-school to Masters, and my time at Brooklyn Tech shaped who I am today," said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. "I was fortunate because through the test, I was able to show my potential beyond a traditional classroom setting. But not everyone has that opportunity – and as the cost of test prep rises, so does the cost of that prep not being affordable, as New York City schools are deeply segregated. For more students to have the opportunity I did at a specialized high school, the city should explore ways to make test prep accessible to all students, in multiple languages, in all communities, as we work to desegregate the entire system. I am glad to join Council Member Kallos in advancing this critical legislation."

“The state of diversity in New York City public schools is completely unacceptable,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy. “We must focus on improving and expanding opportunities to prepare students of all backgrounds for greater success, both inside and outside of the classroom. This includes a greater investment in SHSAT test preparation and enrichment programs, as well as making it so that all students are available to sit for the SHSAT exam. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation, which will help promote equal access to opportunity and to reduce segregation in our city’s schools.”

Former Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus Co-Chair Robert Cornegy is the graduate of a gift and talented public school program, has secured a new G&T in his district, and led rallies for gifted and talented programs in every school district.

“What sets apart the specialized high schools is the world-class level of education provided, which every child deserves,” said Council Member Ben Kallos a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science in 1998 with a starting class that was 22% Black and Hispanic, a number that has since halved to only 9%. “The buildings are old and use the same outdated textbooks.  But there is something special about high schools that have produced a combined fourteen Nobel Laureates, eight of which graduated from my alma mater Bronx Science.  We want to afford every child in New York City an opportunity to experience such a learning environment.”  

“While we need to expand the number of specialized high schools, we also need to ensure equal access to those that already exist,” said Council Member Justin Brannan, a co-prime sponsor of the legislation. “Due to the unequal distribution of resources and underinvestment in certain schools, particularly those with majority minority populations, improving diversity at our elite high schools is still a significant challenge. All students must have access to test prep and educational enrichment like gifted-and-talented programs.”

“As one of the few Latinx members of the City Council, I am excited to support legislation that expands access to test prep and the SHSAT so that more black and brown students have a chance to attend the city’s most prestigious schools” said Council Member Carlina Rivera

“I am proud to support initiatives that will increase the equity surrounding the Specialized high school admissions process,” said Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. “This is an excellent step towards a multi-pronged effort to support all students in academic excellence.”

“Segregation in the New York City school system cannot be addressed with cosmetic changes. Expanding access to test prep and making it standard for every eighth grader to take the test will go a long way towards increasing equity in our school system. At the same time, we must push for other reforms, which is why I have sponsored legislation to create more specialized high schools and open more gifted and talented programs to ensure all students receive the world-class education they deserve,” said Senator Leroy Comrie.

“As an alumna of Brooklyn Technical High School, I understand firsthand the importance of a strong and rigorous education like what is offered in NYC Specialized high schools,” said Assembly Member Latrice Walker. “I believe that free access to comprehensive SHSAT test prep is a vital step in providing more access for Black and Brown students, but ensuring NYC has a more equitable educational system has to start much earlier than prepping for a test and requires us to strengthen our middle school level. I applaud my colleagues in city government for introducing this legislation.”

“As a father, a lifelong civil rights activist, and a graduate of Brooklyn Tech, I know the value of a specialized high school education” said Kirsten John Foy, of Arc of Justice and a leader of the Education Equity Campaign. “From the beginning, we’ve said the systemic issues and core inequities facing our city’s public education system cannot be fixed overnight simply by ending a test. We founded the Education Equity Campaign to help make specialized high schools a reality for more New York students. This legislation will finally give every student equal access to the high-quality test prep that they deserve.”

“Brooklyn Tech changed my life as it did and does for thousands of the children of our city’s working class, low wage and immigrant families,” said Larry Cary, Class of 1970, President of the Brooklyn Technical High School Alumni Foundation []. “The Tech Alumni Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that Tech’s students are well prepared to succeed in college and their 21st Century careers.  For twenty years most of Tech’s students, in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990s, were black and Latino.  We fully support this legislation which is intended to promote diversity at our school by widening the opportunity for talented students from all communities throughout NYC to have access to this great education.”

“After many years of running an educational non-profit that provides test prep to underserved students and as a specialized high school graduate myself, I know the difference that access to test prep can make. With quality preparation, our child can compete in the classroom and on exam day,” said Tai Abrams, Founder and CEO of AdmissionSquad. “This legislation is a tangible step forward to ensuring that all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have the opportunity to succeed in our school system.”

“In over a decade fighting to help students obtain a quality education, I can say with confidence that access to test prep and educational enrichment makes an enormous difference in students' achievement,” said Allison Shillingford, Founder and Executive Director of Navigate the Maze to Achievement. “In order to close the educational gap between the most and least privileged students in our school system, we must guarantee that every single student has access to the educational resources they need to be successful.”

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