June 2018 President’s Message – Save the SHSAT
By Phil Orenstein
It’s the progressive left versus both Republicans and Democrats on this issue. Every parent wants to preserve higher standards in education for their children. The vast majority of teachers who work for the DOE want to keep the SHS admissions process the way it is. The majority of voters of all political parties want to keep the merit system from being undermined by a small minority of leftwing elitists who want to dictate their utopian vision of mediocrity to all of us.
They’re at it again. The progressive left, or the “new progressives” as they like to call themselves, are challenging the exceptionalism and merit system of American institutions, and they are taking the Democrats down this dangerous path with them. They want jobs for all, free college tuition, free universal healthcare, they want to coddle criminals and attack law enforcement, abolish political views they disagree with, and they want to punish success and achievement, and reward mediocrity in every institution of America.
Now they are once again taking aim at the top high schools in New York City, our Specialized High Schools, to undermine them as well, and their traditions of high scholastic achievement. These fine schools, some of the top rated high schools in the nation, including Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant and five others, have produced dozens of Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, International Science Fair winners, and a quarter of whose graduates get accepted at Ivy League colleges. Now the progressive leftists want to punish these high achievers.
Three years ago, the Queens Village Republican Club hosted a free public forum on the then raging controversy of the Specialized High School (SHS) admission process. The speakers were noted columnist, Michael Benjamin, SHS students, and education advocates David Lee and Phil Gim, seeking to preserve the competitive scholastic admission policy of the city’s SHSs.
The focus of this informative non-partisan forum was on education as the gateway to the American Dream, but the educational opportunities of talented and conscientious students, many from poor Asian families, were being robbed from them in the name of racial diversity. The pressure was on to water down the admissions requirements from the time-honored Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) to a multi-criteria admissions process, of which the test would be a minor part.
The critics of the SHSAT cried discrimination, since Asians represent over 50% of the 5000 students accepted at the city’s SHSs, but only 12% were Blacks and Hispanic. However, “dumbing down” the entrance requirements because Mayor de Blasio insisted, the “schools don’t look like New York,” amounts to discrimination against Asian American children and other high achievers. The advocates who argued for keeping the SHSAT as the only entrance criterion believe it is the only fair measure of high achievement. They support a merit system based upon reward for conscientious study and achievement, not race or class. The Hecht-Calandra bill of 1971 established the SHSAT exam as the sole objective criterion for admission, in order to prevent racial discrimination that arises from subjective and loose standards of admission, and it’s worked for the past 50 years to make these institutions the greatest in America.
On the panel was a Stuyvesant graduate who spoke about his and other Asian families who immigrated to America penniless, from Hong Kong and other regions of China, and made great sacrifices to achieve the American Dream. Many didn’t go out to eat, didn’t take vacations, so their children could take preparatory classes to get into the SHS.
Today that’s not even an issue, since the DOE provides free test prep classes for all students to prepare for the SHSAT, given by some of the city’s best teachers. Today there is equal opportunity for any child, of any gender, class, disability, or racial background to prepare for the SHSAT. No student is turned down.
Shortly after the public forum, and after years of lobbying state legislators, the SHSAT Reform Bill in the State Senate, which would have eliminated the SHSAT as the sole criterion for admission, was defeated. No further actions were taken by progressive legislators to undermine our city’s finest educational institutions. Until today.
Less than a month ago, Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther and black-nationalist agitator, sponsored a new bill in the State Assembly that would destroy the tradition of high scholastic achievement at our city’s SHSs. Bill #A10427 would amend education law to change the admissions process, which once passed, would eliminate the SHSAT and instead use “multiple measures of student merit including the grade point averages of applicants, culminated student portfolio, teacher recommendations and such other factors as the city board shall determine to be necessary.”
This bill would bring back the loose subjective evaluations which were originally eliminated to prevent bias and favoritism in the admissions process in the first place. This is an assault on our top education institutions from the progressive left. We must mobilize our forces once again and fight back. Every Republican candidate running for state office, needs to advocate against this bill. It’s the progressive left versus both Republicans and Democrats on this issue. Every parent wants to preserve higher standards in education for their children. The vast majority of teachers who work for the DOE want to keep the SHS admissions process the way it is. The majority of voters of all political parties want to keep the merit system from being undermined by a small minority of leftwing elitists who want to dictate their utopian vision of mediocrity to all of us. You will be hearing more about this issue, as we take up the gauntlet once again and fight for our God given ideals of American greatness and exceptionalism. Join us and be part of the fight!