The Tale of Two School Districts

By Alicia Hyndman

 Serving in the state Assembly has been one of the most fulfilling times of my life. I am a former state Department of Education employee and the former president of Community District Education Council 29, but the experience that helps me legislate most effectively is my experience as a mother.

 My oldest just finished her second year at Morgan State, but my youngest, Nyla, is 8 years old and in the Gifted and Talented program at PS 176Q. I am preparing for Nyla to start high school in 2024. If Nyla does well on the exam, she can get into one of the city’s nine elite specialized high schools, which would challenge her academically while preparing her for college. If she isn’t successful on the exam, Nyla could go on to an amazing public school in New York City, but would be stripped of other opportunities. The schools will not look at her extracurricular activities or even her grades in light of her economic status. 

My constituents, although among the highest earning neighborhoods of color, still see the remnants of redlining and poverty that limit kids from certain neighborhoods. Even if Nyla gets 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, we have been doing an injustice to students by segregating our schools. Diversity includes race, gender, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds and experience.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, city schools remain separate and arguably unequal. 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 a thousand emails from individuals not wanting to do away with the test. Some were cordial, some downright racist. Parents have the right to advocate for their child, but let’s not demonize children, mostly at no fault of their own, who are struggling.

I commend Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza for bringing to the forefront the conversation of diversity in our schools. “The civil rights generation is exiting the American stage—not in a haze of nostalgia, but in a cloud of gloom, troubled by the persistence of racism, the apparent weaknesses of the generation following in its wake, and the seeming indifference of much of the country to black America’s fate.” With that quote, Ta-Nehisi Coates understands that it is time for a new generation to pick up the mantle of justice and reform systems that still segregate. For too long in our city, education has become a privilege and not a right. We know that, historically, students of color and 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 a bigger conversation about why a zip code or school district determines your success. We want all kids to succeed, but educational equity is needed. We must also look at other factors, such as income, neighborhood, extracurricular activities, overall GPA.

According to a policy brief published by NYU Steinhardt in 2013 on the three largest specialized high schools, 57 percent of incoming ninth graders were male, 64 percent were Asian and 22 percent were white, while just 4 percent were black and 5 percent Latino. By comparison, incoming ninth graders citywide were 51 percent male, 17 percent Asian, 13 percent white, 28 percent black and 40 percent Latino. This year, only 10 percent of students admitted were black and Latino, even though they make up more than 67 percent of the population of students.

We have the opportunity to be a beacon of hope for students of all backgrounds by giving them access some of the greatest schools in our city. 

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