Among the 1.1 million students attending New York City public schools, 40 percent are Hispanic, 31 percent are black, 14 percent are Caucasian and 14 percent are Asian. However, these statistics are not mirrored at Stuyvesant. Of 3,247 students, 67.36 percent are Asian, 27.43 percent are Caucasian, 3.05 percent are Hispanic and 1.97 percent are black.
The racial divide is more severe in the 2013 graduating class. Of the 841 freshmen, 70 percent are Asian, 25 percent are white, 3 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black.
“Stuyvesant clearly does not represent the general population of New York City,” Principal Stanley Teitel said. “We admit our students based on an exam, nothing else.”
According to the DOE’s “Specialized Admissions Round,” a report stating the standards of admissions to specialized high schools, students are accepted “solely on test results, the student’s ranked order of the schools, and seat availability.”
“It’s obviously quite jarring to see tremendously low numbers of black and Latino students at Stuyvesant today,” Advanced Placement Government teacher Matthew Polazzo said.
In the 2007 SHSAT, 28 percent of students from public schools who took the test were black, 23 percent Hispanic, 30 percent Asian and 19 percent white, according to The New York Times article, “Racial Imbalance Persists at Elite Public High Schools,” published on Friday, November 7.
There have long been accusations that the SHSAT, a two and a half hour exam comprised of 45 verbal questions and 50 mathematical questions, is biased against blacks and Hispanics.
In January 1971, superintendent of Community School Board Three on Manhattan’s West Side Alfredo Mathew claimed that the SHSAT was “culturally biased” and that the test worked to “screen out” black and Puerto Rican students, according to a 1999 City Journal article, “How Gotham’s Elite High Schools Escaped the Leveller’s Ax.”
Senator John Calandra and Assemblyman Burton Hecht passed the Hecht-Calandra law in May 1971, which ruled that admission to specialized high schools can only be based on students’ test scores.
However, the accusations persisted. Community activist group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and former Mayor John Lindsay said in a 1996 Executive Summary report called “Special Apartheid II,” that “developing the skills and academic competence to compete successfully for admission to Stuyvesant or Bronx Science requires course work which is not available to most black and Latino students in the public schools.”
In response to these claims, the DOE expanded The Specialized High School Institute (SHSI) program, a free SHSAT preparation course aimed at increasing the number of minority students at specialized high schools. Students are eligible for the program only if they are economically disadvantaged students, as defined by Title I-Free Lunch status, scored a Level 3 in the fifth grade English Language Arts and math examinations, and have at least a 90 percent attendance rate.
Qualified sixth-grade students receive applications to SHSI at their schools in January. Applicants are randomly accepted to the summer program and are notified in May.
The SHSI lasts for 16 months and is divided into two sections called “Seventh Grade Foundations” and “Eight Grade Intensive.”
The SHSI “includes rigorous coursework in literature, writing, mathematics and science, as well as group guidance activities,” as stated on the DOE Web site. The SHSI also focuses on teaching “study habits, time management, critical thinking and test preparation skills.”
“It was really difficult,” senior and SHSI attendee Juan Mendez said. “But if I didn’t go to SHSI, then I wouldn’t have known about Stuy.”
58 percent of the Asians, 49 percent of whites, 21 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of blacks participating in the SHSI and took the exam were offered admission to specialized high schools.
The SHSI is supposed to accept students based on financial need. However, there were accusations that the program was biased against Asian and white students.
The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Monday, November 19, 2007, arguing that that the SHSI excluded Asian and white students because of their race.
CIR represented Stanley Ng, who claimed that the school guidance counselor refused to give his daughter an application for SHSI. After contacting the DOE, Ng was informed that SHSI was only open to students of certain races.
In a private 2007 DOE memo distributed to guidance counselors and junior high school principals, minority is defined “American Indian, Alaskan Native, Black (not of Hispanic origin), Hispanic (including persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Central or South American origin), Pacific Islander, and other ethnic group underrepresented in science and engineering.”
The verdict stated that “the policy or practice of defendant of discriminating against them on the basis of their race or ethnicity violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The SHSI now accepts students solely on economic status.
Students who scored just below the SHSAT cutoff score, are recommended by their school guidance counselors, and are economically disadvantaged may qualify for the Summer Discovery Program. Qualifying students receive intensive summer work and gain admission to one of the specialized high schools.
The DOE has also created five new specialized high schools. The High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College were created in 2002. Staten Island Technical High School was named a specialized high school in 2005. The Brooklyn Latin School was created in 2006.
Hispanic and black students comprise a higher percentage of the student body at the aforementioned high schools than at Stuyvesant.
Despite the DOE’s efforts to diversify the racial makeup at specialized high schools, the number of black and Hispanic students taking the SHSAT has decreased, according to “Racial Imbalance Persists at Elite Public High Schools.”
“[The reason] may be self-selection,” English teacher Anne Thoms said. “Students know that it is very likely that they will be the only black student in the class.”
Mendez claims the decline is due to the lack of junior high schools publicizing the SHSAT. “My school didn’t tell us about what the test was going to be about,” he said.
Students also attend private academies to prepare for the SHSAT and other standardized tests including the PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests and Advanced Placement exams. Mega Academy, a predominately Asian preparatory academy, sends 65 percent of its students to Stuyvesant every year.
“It’s unfair how people with money to pay for prep schools have a better chance of getting into Stuy,” senior Hanming Zhang said.
“I’d like to see the school more evenly divided among different groups,” Social Studies teacher George Kennedy said. In a more diverse environment, “students can hear different opinions in the classroom,” he said.
Sophomore Neil Desai said that racial and ethnic awareness could be further promoted at Stuyvesant. “Some students lack an interest in other cultures,” he said.
Senior Lee Schleifer-Katz agreed. “We’ve been trying to increase awareness to some extent,” alluding to the recent Culture Festival and Student Union Video Homeroom movie promoting the festival.
“I have never seen a more integrated school. There is a total acceptance of everyone here,” guidance counselor Jay Biegelson. Despite the lack of racial diversity, “the best thing about this school is that you’re exposed to the best students in the city,” he said. “That’s what makes Stuyvesant so special.”
Racial Breakdown of Stuyvesant (2008-2009) Out of 3247 Students
Sociologist Jennifer Jennings graphed a change in demographics at Stuyvesant over nine years.