The racially biased admission policy of the Specialized High School Institute (SHSI), a free test-prep program for minorities underrepresented in Specialized High Schools, may be violating federal law, according to a recent Supreme Court case ruling.
The June 28 ruling limits the use of race as a factor in public school admissions by rejecting the use of school diversity plans that take into account students’ race. Currently, the ruling affects the two school districts of Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington.
SHSI is a DOE-run service to prepare students for the Specialized High School Exam. The year-long course, held at Stuyvesant and several other schools, provides free tutoring for 4,000 sixth graders with the goal of increasing the number of minority students at Specialized High Schools.
Stuyvesant and the other specialized high schools, however, are not affiliated with the program. Principal Stanley Teitel said, ” I’m simply told that the program is here, make space.”
To qualify for the SHSI, Asian and white students have to be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and thus must have an annual family income below $37,000. Black and Latino students do not have these restrictions.
“Race is not the only criteria for being admitted,” Teitel said. “Other criteria have to do with financial background and the language that’s spoken at home.”
Teitel joined the SHSI as an assistant director when it first opened in 1995. He is no longer with the program.
“We’re an exam school. Why one group of student get in and why another group of students don’t, it’s hard to answer,” said Teitel. “I’m not in favor of changing the entrance criteria to Stuyvesant High School.”
Parent Coordinator Harvey Blumm does not support the Supreme Court ruling. “The ruling is naïve. It pretends that we’re race-blind,” he said. “Nowadays, minority kids are facing a whole lot of obstacles. By doing this affirmative action, we’re taking away from them.”
Blumm said, “Every school should have a chance to have a select number of their top students guaranteed for [SHSI]. Then, there would be a reasonable amount of racial balance, because kids could be divided racially from the towns. Like, a Riverdale school could send five white kids, a Bushwick school could send five black kids and a South Bronx school could send five Latinos.” The New York Post published an article by Charles Bennett titled “Race-Bias Flap in Elite-HS Test Prep” on July 16, 2007.
Although the test-prep course was designed to avoid race-based lawsuits, the Supreme Court ruling and the Post’s article have put pressure on the Institute.
Department of Education (DOE) spokesman Andrew Jacob said in light of the ruling, the DOE will review the SHSI admission policy. “We haven’t decided yet on how to change our admission policy,” he said.
The DOE expanded the number of Specialized High Schools in 2002 to include the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, and the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College. Staten Island Technical High School became a Specialized High School In 2005.
Jacob said the eight schools that currently base admission on the Specialized High School Exam do so to give “underrepresented students more opportunities to qualify for Specialized High Schools.”
Schools have become less diverse since the program began. At Stuyvesant, the percentage of black students was 4.4 percent in 1995. In 2005, it was 2.6 percent. At the three original Specialized High Schools, Asian enrollment has increased over the last decade to well over the majority.
Teitel said admission to Stuyvesant is “gender, race and ethnically blind.”