When running for mayor in 2013, Bill de Blasio said the city’s elite high schools had to “reflect the city better.” But according to data released by the city Education Department Wednesday, black and Latino students made up only 10 percent of students offered admission to the city’s eight specialized high schools for next fall, a percentage that has been essentially unchanged for years.
The schools have long been criticized for not being representative of the overall population of the city’s school system, which is 67 percent black and Latino.
In his first mayoral campaign, de Blasio pledged to overhaul the schools’ admissions process, moving to a system that took into account multiple criteria. But, since being elected, he has not made any significant effort to do that. (Changing the admissions process for the three original schools, Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, would require state legislation, which he has not pushed for.)
Instead, the city has taken more modest steps, including expanding a free after-school test-preparation program and offering the admissions test during the school day at some middle schools that historically have not sent many students to the specialized schools.
In the fall, the city revamped the exam, scrapping a section in which students had to take paragraphs with sentences that had been scrambled and reassemble them. The Education Department said the changes would make the test more equitable by better reflecting what students actually learn in school.
Despite these efforts, the percentage of students admitted to the specialized schools who are black or Hispanic is actually down slightly from before de Blasio was elected. In 2013, 12 percent of students who received offers were black or Latino.
At Stuyvesant, the most competitive of the schools, only 10 black students and 27 Latino students received offers this year; last year, the comparable numbers were 13 and 28.
Matt Gonzales, the director of the School Diversity Project at New York Appleseed, an organization that advocates for school integration, and a member of a group that is advising the city on how to integrate schools, said he was not surprised by the lack of progress, given that the mayor had not made any substantive effort to change the admissions process.
“I question the premise that we need to have specialized high schools,” Gonzales said, calling them “undemocratic.” Nonetheless, he said, if the city wanted to maintain the schools, there were ways to make them more reflective of the city’s population — such as instituting a system in which the top students at every middle school were offered admission.
More incremental steps, he said, were not likely to make a difference.
“Without a massive overhaul of how we enroll in these schools,” he said, “I don’t really see a dramatic change happening.”
Douglas Cohen, a spokesman for the Education Department, said in an email that, “We’ve seen encouraging results from several of our specialized high school diversity initiatives, and know there’s a lot more work ahead of us.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.