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District 4

Keith Powers

Midtown South-Flatiron-Union Square, Midtown-Times Square, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill-Kips Bay, East Midtown-Turtle Bay, United Nations, Upper East Side-Carnegie Hill

Resolutions call for a repeal of Hecht-Calandra, end of consideration of attendance and lateness in middle school and high school admissions

New York, NY, August 27, 2020 — New York City Council Member Keith Powers will today introduce two resolutions aimed at New York City’s discriminatory school admissions system:

  • Repeal of the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act and transferring control of admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools to the City. The Hecht-Calandra Act made the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test the single metric that can be used to admit students to specialized high schools. By giving control of specialized high school admissions back to New York City, there are opportunities to move beyond the test as a determining factor, which has resulted in a lack of diversity at these schools. The resolution calls upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, A.10731/S.8847.
    • Co-sponsored by Council Members Barron and Lander
  • Remove attendance measures as criteria for admissions to screened schools and programs in New York City public schools. Current admission practices consider absence and lateness in the scoring rubric for admittance. Using a student’s attendance record, including the number of absences and/or late arrivals to school, for admissions eligibility to various schools and programs is problematic as this is often out of the student’s control. The resolution calls upon the New York City Department of Education to remove attendance measures as criteria for admissions.

“This is about fairness and creating a more equal playing field for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “The diversity of this city should be reflected across all of our institutions, and that starts with our public schools. As we rebuild the greatest city in the world, we have an opportunity to change its antiquated practices that limit diversity and prevent qualified students from attending the school of their choice.”

New York City’s school system is one of the most segregated in the country. In 1971, the Hecht-Calandra Act passed the state legislature as a means to preserve the specialized high school system in New York City as it was, mandating the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) be the sole means of criterion for acceptance into the four specialized high schools that existed at the time. As a result, New York City was stripped of control of admissions decisions for its own public schools.

According to 2018-2019 data, 66% of public school students citywide are Black or Latino, however Black and Latino students comprised just 11.1% of the class accepted at the city’s eight specialized high schools for the 2020-2021 school year. In 2019, Stuyvesant High School offered admission to only seven Black students out of an accepted class of 895; in 2020, 10 Black students were accepted, out of 776. The data is clear: regardless of whether these admissions practices are discriminatory in intent, there is a disparate impact on minorities, and as such are a form of discrimination.

“I am pleased to co-prime sponsor, along with Council Member Keith Powers, the introduction of the Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, A.10731/S.8847, which would repeal the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act and transfer control of admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools to the City. It is imperative that this legislation be passed in order to quell the further entrenchment of a segregated and biased “one test” specialized high school admission process, a process whose latest result shows a further decline in the admission of Black and Latino/a students,” said Council Member Inez D. Barron. “Last year, overall, out of 4,800 admission offers to specialized schools, only 190 went to Black students. Stuyvesant High School, considered the elite of the specialized schools, accentuated this draconian situation by only offering admission to 10 Black students. These numbers further demonstrate not only a history of biased and conscious segregation, but turns a blind eye to the national educational and legislative consensus that one shot exams narrow the scope and quality of the well-rounded student that an educational system would seek to produce. This is especially evident as demonstrated by the latest college admission scandal pointing to how this singular system can be circumvented with the right means of access.”

“When only 10 Black students are admitted to Stuyvesant’s incoming class of 766 freshman, literally only 1 Black student to Staten Island Tech, and just 3% of the Black students who took the SHSAT given any offer at all — despite years of hand-writing and so-called reforms — it’s obvious that the current system of specialized high school admissions is broken past repair,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “If the governor and legislature won’t repeal Hecht-Calandra in this moment of racial reckoning, they should just stop pretending to be concerned about school segregation and inequity.”

“There is no reason that a state law, especially one which was originally motivated by efforts to appease racism and segregation in our schools, should continue to determine the admissions process of specialized high schools in New York City,” said Senator Julia Salazar. “It’s time for us to repeal Hecht-Calandra in order to allow schools and local communities to inform the specialized high schools’ admissions process, rather than insisting they rely on a single test.”

“Our city’s segregation problem has been well documented. The fact that only seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School last year is unconscionable,” said Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley. “This admissions process has to change. Although I wholeheartedly support admission reform policy, we need the state to get out of the city’s admissions process. Only the city should be determining the standard for city specialized high schools and I look forward to them developing an admissions process that will create opportunities for all students in an effort to truly integrate our school system.”

“With the repeal of Hecht-Calandra, we are bringing together a multicultural coalition of parents, students, educators and elected officials across generations who have decided the people in the city of New York should have the power to decide how we move beyond COVID with a more equitable, trauma informed and culturally responsive approach to admissions in our specialized high schools,” said Teens Take Charge Program manager Tajh Sutton. “We know the work doesn’t stop there and look forward to both the small and larger steps it will take to uproot inequity in NYC education.”

Admission criteria in screened schools also contribute to inequities. Current admission policies weigh attendance and lateness — sometimes at a higher level than academic performance — for students applying to middle and high school. No one school has the same criteria. For example, one school in School District 2 historically assigns 20 percent of the total points to attendance and punctuality, while another assigns 10 percent of points to these factors. One school starts penalizing students for five absences, while another starts at ten or more. This can lead to parents sending sick students to school, particularly during 4th and 7th grade. Meanwhile homeless students are also far more likely to miss school, according to a report from Advocates for Children, putting them at a disadvantage from students with permanent homes.

In March, Council Member Powers authored a letter to Chancellor Carranza with a series of requests related to school admission policies related to lateness and medical absences, especially in light of COVID-19. As a result, attendance will not be considered in the upcoming application and admissions cycle. In 2018, Council Member Powers proposed an adjustment to the specialized high school process to encourage diversity in schools.