Our Time Press

On Education: Black and Latino students can compete to gain entrance to NYC Specialized High Schools

Brooklyn Technical High School

Part 1: The dangerous under-expectations of the ability of Black and Latino students
to compete with any group of students.
By Michael A. Johnson

Let me assert a strange and perhaps not well believed (or at least not presently popular) position; and that is, I believe that Black and Latino students, in NYC, and anywhere else on the planet; can effectively compete with any other students on the planet. Further, I believe that these students can perform well on the NYC Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), given the resource opportunities and the proper preparation. There is nothing inherently wrong with the brains of these children, all they need is a quality K-8 educational experience, courageous, strategically-smart, and imaginative principals, and highly-skilled teachers who are willing to efficaciously ‘leave it all’ on the classroom ‘playing field’!
Doing well on any form of assessment, is all about what happens prior to the student encountering that assessment model. And that is why professional educators know (even if the public does not); that testing a child on concepts and skills for which they have not been taught, is fundamentally unethical. Also unethical is the solitary use of standardized exams to deny admission to a quality learning experience, rather than using them for diagnostic purposes, to inform instructional practices, or to improve and expand the child’s learning opportunities. Parents of color may want to be careful of a demoralizing message sent to their children that says they can’t compete, simply because of who they are.
The SHSAT should be eliminated because it is ‘ethically challenged’. The exam proponents claim it is a fair measure of the principle of meritocracy; but in fact, that is a lie. The majority of students of color in NYC have not received the prerequisite skills training, information and knowledge that would allow them to do well (or less well) based on their own personal educational merit.
If the governing stakeholders want to change the present admissions system, then change it. But change it because it is flawed for all children (including non-affluent White students), not because of the subtle or overt reason that it is impossible for Black and Latino students to compete and win under the present rules. They in fact could compete, if only the conditions leading up to those rules were fair, which they are not, and thus one of the major flaws. A single criterion admissions process is always problematic in any educational context (K-Graduate School), and it is worthy of an informed debate among knowledgeable professional educators. But with ‘politicians’ leading the ‘admissions’ conversation, what could possibly go wrong? Well, everything!
There is always the problem in public education, of political concerns overtaking educational concerns, of utilizing symbolism instead of substance. There is this recurring bad idea in public education, that we must always sacrifice one group of students for another, We know (and have known for a long time), how to adequately educate all students to their optimum potential, we even know how to successfully educate the children of poverty, the offspring of illiterate and/or non-English speaking parents, we just choose not to do so, for political reasons. The main one being that NYC Black and Latino parents lack the political entitlement power that would demand that their children receive the education they deserve.
We also know that in the absence of a strong ‘parent-push’ informal education (out of school) component in a child’s life, the odds are that they will struggle in school (and on standardized exams); and therefore the school must step up and step in as an informal educational parent, if that child is to be successful. This would include offering students real and serious test prep, after-school, weekend and summer learning opportunities. And of course, the best test-prep being a rigorous K-8 learning experience. But that takes a systemic financial investment matched and created by political will.
Part 2: The school Integration, Diversity in Specialized Schools and Programs Debate: The wrong conversation, the wrong conversationalists leading that conversation, leads to and guarantees poor outcomes.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

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