Yesterday the NAACP, among other civil liberties groups, filed a federal complaint against the city, charging that the admissions tests to NY’s elite specialized high schools is racially biased against Latino and black students. The New York Times reports that “[a]lthough 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic, a far smaller percentage have scored high enough to receive offers from one of the schools.” At Stuyvesant, which is widely considered the city’s top academic high school, “19 blacks were offered seats in a freshman class of 967.”
When questioned about the federal complaint, Mayor Bloomberg told reporters, “Life isn’t always fair.” He didn’t say that kids needed to just “suck it up” or that “there’s no crying in baseball” but we all know that’s what was going through his head. I mean, HE worked hard to become a billionaire, so why can’t everyone?
The federal complaint addresses the fact that admissions to the elite high schools are based solely on an SAT-style test given to eighth-graders. This test-only system is in stark contrast to other specialized public high schools around the country, which have things like interviews and teacher recommendations included in the application process. Although the NYC test system is supposed to encourage parity because it is blind to everything except the test scores, critics have long charged that it must be inherently flawed because, as the NAACP complain states, blacks and Latinos are denied admission “at rates far higher than other racial groups.”
The Daily News reports that although blacks and Latinos make up 70% of the public school system, “nearly 31% of white students and 35% of Asian students who take the exam get into one of the top schools. That’s compared to 7% for Latinos and 5% for blacks.”
Bloomberg defended the admissions process as a beacon of clarity, saying, “These are the schools designed for the best and the brightest. There’s nothing subjective about this. You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded and it’s going to continue to be.”
He added that the city needed to, “focus and make sure that everybody has equal opportunity at getting an education.” And also that, “We’re not here about equal results. We’re here about equal opportunity. Look, an awful lot of kids were a lot smarter than me in school. That’s just the way it was. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Oh, Bloomberg. Seriously? It’s fine to defend the tests. In fact, I think this federal complaint is frivolous and beside the point entirely. Unless the complaint is charging that the test itself is racially-biased (which the complaint does not say at all) then it’s not the test that’s the problem. In fact, the test is just an indicator of a larger problem. Which is that these kids are not achieving equal results because they DON’T HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY.
I’m sorry to whip out all those caps, but come on! How can anyone pretend that all public schools are created equally, that all teachers and parents are equally preparing kids for these types of opportunities for academic advancement. I am also really curious as to what the economic breakdown is of those kids who get into the specialized high schools. Because this isn’t just a race issue, it is a socio-economic one that will only get worse as this city’s income disparity grows more and more extreme.
And to have our billionaire mayor flat out tell this city that “life isn’t always fair” while going on to say that kids have “equal opportunities” is mind-bogglingly obtuse.
He was right the first time. Life isn’t always fair. Because kids don’t have equal opportunities. And when they’re born with certain disadvantages, they’re almost guaranteed to get stepped on by all the people in this world who don’t understand that they’re walking on the backs of others, the people of this world who think they weren’t afforded multiple advantages because “an awful lot of kids were smarter” than they were in school, people like our billionaire mayor.
Life isn’t always fair. And it helps exactly no one to pretend otherwise. But what could help is trying to address the root causes of what makes it all so fucked up, instead of pretending we all start from the same place.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen