Ron Isaac’s Commentary: Specialized High Schools: Exclusive but Not Exclusively

May 5, 2021 by

It’s all the rage in education circles and beyond.  Should the competitive admission test entrance requirements for the so-called elite specialized high schools, such as Stuyvesant, be abandoned? 

Shocking statistics show that Blacks and Hispanic children are alarmingly under-represented. Multiple reasons and remedies are suggested.

Is the test a scientific and culturally-neutral measure?  Should the test be retained as the sole criterion for acceptance, or should additional benchmarks be added to make the formula more balanced and inclusive?   

Should the test be abandoned as discredited all together?.

A school can still be “exclusive” without sticking with one standard exclusively.

Those prestigious schools are all they’re cracked up to be and more.  But the same can be said about many of our other public schools whose legacies are comparable and have produced illustrious alumni, but don’t get the same attention.

They don’t have the same aura, but they have no less a halo.

These exceptional “ordinary” schools proliferate in every borough and neighborhood. Graduates include many of the greatest men and women whose genius has improved the world in every field of human endeavor. Some of them were Nobel Prize winners.

The graduates whose contributions to medicine, chemistry, economics and numerous other names are not household names, but their impact has enriched civilization nonetheless.

Among those in the “public eye” from a few schools in Brooklyn alone, here are just a few.  Many more must be left out because of space limitations, but they certainly have “made the cut” among monumental achievers:

James Madison High School gave us Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Carole King, “Judge Judy” Scheindlin, Chris Rock and Martin Landau.   Erasmus Hall HS: Barbara Streisand, Mae West, Barbara Stanwyck Neil Diamond, and Mickey Spillane.  Lafayette HS came Larry King, Lawrence Taylor, Sandy Koufax and Fred Wilpon.   Midwood HS: Woody Allen, Marvin Hamlisch and Emmanuel Lewis.

One can go on and one not quite to infinity but not too far from it, and the stars, shining or obscure, keep on coming! 

Every school  in every community is a potential Stuyvesant while maintaining its own identity.  The elements of precocity are always present; they just need to come together.

Still, there must be adequate funding and other resources as well as students and parents who are willing and circumstantially able, to be disciplined and driven.

The prospects for high achievement are not out-or-reach and there is no innate disparity of talent separating zoned from “elite” schools.

Prestige sometimes takes on a life and pedigree all its own, particularly when attached to academic institutions. Schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech are “royalty”, but the New York City public high schools are all part of an aristocracy, although the titles of some have lapsed because of neglect.

There are many crowns and many kingdoms.

All the above is true.  But that doesn’t mean that student whose efforts to attend the exam-driven specialized high schools have been thwarted should accept the consolation that, in the ocean of schools, ” there are a lot of fish in the sea.”

The current ludicrously lop-sided percentage of admission to these schools is not only not feasible, it is an affront.  Correcting the injustice should not be an elusive task, but fairness lends itself and is suitable to reality without sacrifice of authentic standard.

There is no conflict between egalitarianism and brilliance.

Ron Isaac

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