Color-Blindness Is 20/20 Vision

Jan 12, 2021 by

Abolition of the infamous or celebrated  (depending on whose ox is perceived to be gored) Specialized High Schools Admission Test (SSHAT), sought by the mayor and schools chancellor, with abundant support from educators and researchers, will ultimately require legislative action in Albany. 

Its replacement is favored on multiple grounds. 

As the sole criterion for acceptance to some of our traditionally finest public schools, it is unreliable and discriminatory. The selection criteria for these “elite” bastions has resulted in an extremely lop-sided, unjustified and misleading racial imbalance among comparably deserving students.

The overwhelming percentage of Asian and White students on their rosters is a tribute to their diligence, but does not cast reasonable doubt on the worthiness of others.

Success in many cases has been economically enabled and afforded by means not universally available.
All students can thrive in a competitive atmosphere, provided the playing field is truly level.

The SHSAT has been discredited as the sole screening instrument and gateway to some specialized high schools. Hardly more than ten percent of the student bodies of the specialized high schools device are Black or Hispanic.

That is not a benign statistic. It is an indictment of test quality, not the merit of the test-takers. This is borne out by dispassionate educational research.

Nobody alleges that the SSHAT is a deliberate attempt to segregate these schools, but that is its effect. There may be in an at least sub-conscious invidious motivation for supporting its perpetuation. 

Whether the damage is collateral to a high-minded goal or maliciously calculated makes little difference.

Races do not vary on the premium they place on education. Nor are their disparities in their being inherently equipped to flourish.

Color-blindness in assessment is essential.

Whether or not the SHSAT should be abolished because of racial, demographic or cultural insensitivity, is a co-primary issue in the debate.  What should make the debate unnecessary in the first place is that the test, particularly as an exclusive bar, is simply and brazenly unsuitable. 

That’s why the proposal to pursue wider student representation among minority groups by offering tutoring and test-preparation services, even if government-funded, is not a cure. There’s no point in arguing the matter, except as an exercise in classical rhetoric.

An observation worth noting, though tangential to the immediate focus, is that specialized academic high schools are somewhat overrated as fountainheads of leadership.  Many of our greatest men and women have historically been products of community high schools.   The City should intensify its support of these neighborhood institutions.

Upright goals are not quotas. Goals are inclusive; quotas are exclusive.  Given equal opportunity and even-handed tools of appraisal, common ground can be achieved without schisms.

Integrity of outcomes can be advanced to the point of being assured, but not while clinging inflexibly to past conventions which even if they generated some admirable results, have been largely discredited.

The SHSAT, and exams of similar application, will eventually be replaced.  At the same time, alternate means must be put immediately into effect that will uphold the highest standards of skills, knowledge and potentiality for all.

Ron Isaac

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