By Reema Amin
June 13, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio is convening a meeting with numerous Asian-American organizations at Gracie Mansion Thursday to discuss issues including his controversial proposal to change specialized high school admissions.
The closed-door meeting will be “education-heavy,” according to a City Hall official, but will touch on other issues. Still, the discussion comes just days before lawmakers in Albany are supposed to wrap up their session — without, so far, acting on the mayor’s legislation to diversify the elite schools by scrapping the single test used for admission.
Some members of the Asian community have fiercely opposed the plan, arguing that eliminating the Specialized High School Admission Test will reduce the number of Asian students — many of whom come from low-income families. Some agree that the city should take measures to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at these schools, but don’t support scrapping the exam. Some parents and politicians have also blasted de Blasio’s rollout of the proposal, saying the mayor should have done a better job engaging with them beforehand.
“Mayor de Blasio routinely meets with advocates for various communities throughout New York City, including tomorrow’s meeting with Asian American community leaders that will discuss a range of issues, including specialized high schools,” wrote William Baskin Gerwitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement.
Groups invited include Keep SHSAT, Chinese American Planning Council, Chinese American Justice Alliance, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, and Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York.
But Wai Wah Chin, president of Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York, said she’s not aware of an invitation from the city for this meeting. It’s possible, she said, that a member of her group is attending and is being listed as a representative from her group but is attending in another capacity.
“We’ve been dealing with this now for a year plus, and for him to put together a meeting, this is not a way to do it,” Chin said, whose group is among several suing the city to stop the expansion of a program that aims to further integrate the specialized high schools. “It’s actually quite disrespectful if you think about it.”
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Vanessa Leung, who helps run the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and is one of the mayor’s appointees to the Panel for Educational Policy, said she has been invited but did not receive many specific details about the scope of the meeting. In her understanding, it is supposed to be a small mix of parents, organizations, and community leaders who have varying views on specialized high schools and the mayor’s education agenda and “then kind of have a space for, really, more dialogue around concerns.”
Leung’s group supports getting rid of the exam, as does invitee Jason Wu, who is an attorney with the Legal Aid Society but is attending on his own and is not representing any group. Wu said he’s not attending to be a cheerleader for the mayor or his plan.
“I mean, I’m keeping an open mind, and I’d like for us to find a path forward to kind of advance educational equity, including for the Asian-American community,” Wu said. “I think we’re really stuck on this SHSAT issue and hope we can find some common ground.”
The legislative bill that supports de Blasio’s plan has not moved out of the Assembly’s education committee this session. Concerns about the proposal from lawmakers and their constituents, many of them Asian-American families, have run the gamut, including whether the lack of diversity could be addressed with more gifted and talented programs or improving elementary and middle schools overall.
Research has shown that scrapping the exam and admitting the top echelon of students based on multiple measures of performance would immediately diversify the schools. Proponents also argue that many of the students who pass the test were able to afford pricey test prep.
Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said the proposal is supposed to be conferenced, which means the entire Democratic majority of the Assembly will get behind closed doors and debate it. Bills are typically conferenced when they’re controversial, he said.
Leung said that while she supports the mayor’s plan, she doesn’t support having it come together at any cost, such as expanding gifted and talented programs in every school district in exchange for scrapping the admissions test — a compromise de Blasio reportedly floated recently in Albany.
At an unrelated press conference this week, Carranza was asked whether there was such a deal on the table. “You’re not going to get me to talk more about it — we’re having lots of conversations around lots of different issues,” said Carranza, who also was in Albany Wednesday meeting with lawmakers about the city’s SHSAT proposal, according to education department spokesman Will Mantell.
Chin, who fears this meeting is just a “photo-op” for the mayor, said there is talk of a protest outside of Gracie Mansion tomorrow afternoon by parents who oppose the plan and were not invited. Chalkbeat reached out to multiple people who oppose the mayor’s plan to see if they’ve been invited but did not immediately receive a response.
Asian-American students dominate admissions to the schools, viewed by many as the crown jewels of the city schools. This year, about 51% of offers to specialized schools went to Asian students, 29% went to white students, and under 11% of offers went to black and Hispanic students combined.