Increasing the number of NYC Black and Latino students attending Specialized High schools: The new NYCDOE initiative* is a good step in the right direction, but we have a long, long way to go…

This is a good start in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. I say a good start in the right direction because this is the beginning of an acknowledgment that the solution (to the problem) is to at least make some changes in the child’s entire middle school experience. It has been misleading to tell parents and the public that professional educators can just wave a magic wand over the head of an 8th grader, and make them specialized (or any) high school test ready; this is a terribly dishonest claim.

To create real and permanent change; there must be equity in the quality of the K-8 formal and informal learning experiences of Black and Latino children. Sadly, there is no citywide plan to help the most capable (on and above grade level) Black and Latino students to be prepared to perform well at any high school. And if they move to a high school that mirrors their inadequate K-8 learning experience; their possibility to excel intellectually is further diminished.

The central problem is that the K-8 academic preparation is essentially unfair; thus the predictable “achievement gap” outcomes on the exam. Black and Latino high performers don’t have a fair chance to compete with their academic peers, who may have spent a great deal of time being exposed to a rigorous K-8 academic program. Further, many of the “entitled” students also enjoy the benefits of the parental resource, education and information gap; which is the driving force behind receiving a quality informal education experience (music-dance-art lessons, tutorials, cultural museum, library visits, etc.)

Also, attending “stable” schools, with productive and efficient learning environments; going from grade to grade, and being repeatedly exposed to certified, experienced, highly efficacious, and highly effective teachers, is of critical importance.

We don’t really know if the SHSAT is an “unfair” exam, if large numbers of students of color are unfairly eliminated early (before the 8th grade) from the competition. To make this present effort work, first (thinking about how much I spent as superintendent on a similar successful effort in CSD 29) much, much more money is needed. There is a need to expand the access to art, music, and dance and STEM activities in the child’s K-8 learning world (schools). Resources will be needed to hire additional middle school guidance counselors who can specifically focus on assisting students and their families in the best high school decision. These counselor could also help students and parents to access the rich informal educational resources of the city. More certified math and science teachers will be needed. Having students involved in activities like the Lego robotics program, chess and summer and after-school: STEM, Art, creative writing, etc. camps. More quality instructional time is needed, and a greater quality of instruction, mixed with high expectations, and highly thoughtful behaviors by principals and teachers are the keys to high student academic achievement.

I am not sure that a choice of attending a specialized high school is the best choice for every child; but better K-8 preparation will help every child who is exposed to it, no matter their high school choice. Further, schools will need to step-up, and close the parent resource-information gap. Don’t wait for the parent to provide that informal learning experience!

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And so the school system, must build a powerful pipeline of well prepared for high school Black and Latino students. But that is a political problem that will require affirmative civil actions on the part of the parents and communities, whose primary responsibility is to protect those children. The level and quality of service a community receives for their tax dollars is based on their willingness to fight for that quality.


Finally, communities of color need to take their children’s educational futures into their own hands; nothing is stopping Blacks and Latinos from: Making their children study hard and read; from forming community based after-school-weekends academic prep schools; STEM, art, museum, learning centers, reading and computer clubs; making education and learning a priority, and not sneakers, clothes, the mathematically insane pro-sports “lottery”, and other silly distractions, the priorities in our children’s lives!

*New York City Announces New Initiatives to Increase Diversity at Specialized High Schools:

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC Teacher, Principal and Superintendent.