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Guest Editorial:
Analysis of High School Minority Enrollments
By Dean Alfred S. Posamentier,
Dr. Joyce R. Coppin
& Dr. Edmund W. Gordon

A recent report in The New York Times, which the deputy chancellor found “extraordinarily surprising,” indicated a precipitous drop in the percent of black and Hispanic students enrolled in New York City’s six specialized high schools —those requiring a written test for admission. For example, the City’s public schools currently have 34.7 percent black students and at Stuyvesant High School there are only 2.2 percent black students, down from 4.4 percent ten years ago.  At Bronx Science over this period the percent of black students dropped from 11.8 percent to 4.8 percent, while at Brooklyn Tech the percent of black students dropped 22.4 percent to 14.9 percent. All the while the Asian population increased dramatically. Moreover, this comes after the chancellor expanded the Specialized High School Institute—a program to increase minority enrollment in these schools—from one location with 419 students to 17 locations serving 3,781 students. 

The immediate reaction from most was that the admission process or the test must be flawed.  While this is always a possibility, it is not something that will change in the near future. We believe that the concept of an institute could be a positive form of intervention to augment appropriate support from home and community, but it must be more than an attempt to provide students with the skills necessary for this admissions test—usually limited to reading and mathematics.  It must foster high expectations and accountability for every youngster, socialization to the demands of high academic performance, support for personal development, and promote cultural fairness and equity. Most important, such a support program must be started very early in a youngster’s education, and offered on a regular basis —say, after school or on weekends—reaching out to all students with the cooperation of all school principals, conducted in a way that is convenient to all students, sensitive to the need for peer support and properly aligned with the curriculum. This is clearly not the case now, where it is conducted in a concentrated fashion in the summer and then infrequently during the school year.

The schools ought to reach out to parents to provide them with the tools they need to be appropriately supportive in the home. They need to focus on the psychological role parents and other adults could play, such as holding high expectations—even for a subject like mathematics that most people take pride in admitting having been bad in during their school days and thereby excusing or accepting mediocre performance from their children. Regular meetings should be held for parents and interested adults to show them ways that they can help their children maintain good academic habits, and to familiarize them with the demands of serious academic work and the material that the children are being taught in school. In short, the home support and environment—stressing the singular importance of education—is one of the key factors affecting the dismal under-representation of black students at the City’s specialized high schools.

We cannot leave teachers out of this issue. They, quite obviously, play a critical role beyond their teaching skills.  Several years ago the Teaneck school district wanted to know why the honor classes in the high school were largely white and the remedial classes were largely minority. A thorough investigation concluded that the one contributing factor was teacher expectation—regardless if the teacher was minority or not. If Johnny was black and didn’t do well on a test, the teacher would generally console him and tell him “it’s all right; you’ll do better next time.” Whereas, if Johnny was white and performed poorly on a test, the teacher would simply tell him that this was completely unacceptable and would not be tolerated next time. This difference of expectation had a dramatic effect on student performance. Teachers must take a mentoring approach to assure that students stay on track.

Naturally there are many other factors that contribute to this enrollment dilemma. There may be parents who choose not to send their children to a school with such a low black enrollment.  The Department of Education must make every effort to stress and infuse through all schools the importance of a good education, with a culture of high academic aspirations and effort. 

Not withstanding the problems that have plagued many schools, such as the teacher shortage in critical areas that has left the system with a relatively inexperienced teacher force, we believe that one of the root problems—one that is often not properly addressed—is the need to support families so that they can properly reinforce academically positive environments and high expectations for their children. The Department of Education must stop being shocked by statistics and perform an in-depth analysis to determine why its program to prepare racial and language minorities has not been successful.  Only after these findings are implemented—with proper support is given to the instructional staff —and when both the schools and the home address this problem simultaneously, will we have a chance to reverse this unfortunate trend. 

Alfred S. Posamentier, Dean, The School of Education, The City College of New York, CUNY; Joyce R. Coppin, Distinguished Lecturer, The City College of New York, CUNY; Edmund W. Gordon, Richard March Hoe Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.



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