New York City’s World-Class STEM High Schools: From ‘Too Jewish’ To ‘Too Asian’
In the summer of 1965, before my brother started his senior year in high school, my parents and he were driving home to the Bronx from the Chicago reunion of my father’s World War II division, and they visited the admissions office at Ohio State University. My father opened the interview with an assistant admissions officer with “my son goes to Stuyvesant.” When the hapless educrat responded, “Stuyvesant, New York,” he blasted him for not being familiar with one of America’s leading academic high schools, and he abruptly ended the meeting by unleashing another verbal jab that the smartest Jewish students from Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights and Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill were applying to and being accepted at Ivy League universities and not this institution.
Fifty-three years later, many Americans in the nation’s largest city and around the country are having a heated yet salubrious debate about the admissions policies at a group of elite colleges and high schools, including Stuyvesant — located a few blocks from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. Moreover, many academically-exceptional Asian-American students, who were rejected in recent years by top-tier universities, have initiated a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Harvard University, contending that an illegal racial quota has kept their acceptance rate between18 percent and 22 percent during the last decade.
Concurrently, the long-standing policy of using the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole gateway into New York City’s nationally-renowned STEM “Big Three,” Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science (my alma mater, ’67) and Brooklyn Tech (the alma mater of my brother’s son,’99), and other specialized high schools, was unsuccessfully torpedoed by Bill de Blasio, New York City’s far-left mayor.
During the first week of June, Mayor de Blasio failed to stampede through the New York state legislature a destructive bill to abolish the use of the SHSAT, which has been used since at least the 1940’s as the only ticket into Stuyvesant (founded in 1904), Brooklyn Tech (1922), Bronx Science (1938) and five smaller high schools that opened during the last three decades.
The many brilliant accomplishments of graduates of the city’s STEM “Big Three” include 14 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics — eight by Bronx Science alumni, four by Stuyvesant’s and two by Brooklyn Tech’s.
Last October, roughly 28,300 eighth graders from public and private schools sat the SHSAT, and three months ago 5,100 received an offer from one of the eight high schools, at least one of which is located in each of New York City’s five boroughs.
The New York City Department of Education has reported the racial or ethnic breakdowns of the 2018 successful candidates as: 52 percent Asian, 27 percent white, six percent Latino, four percent black, three percent multiracial; and eight percent unknown.
By comparison, my Bronx Science graduating class in 1967, based on a not-totally-scientific examination of names and faces in the senior yearbook, was: 65 percent Jewish; 26 percent other whites (i.e., Irish, Italian, other European Ethnics); 4 percent black; 3 percent Asian; and 2 percent Hispanic. (The yearbook also reminds that in our junior year, my classmates and I vigorously and successfully protested against a plan, which had the covert backing of Mayor John Lindsay, to close our school.)
In 1971, Lindsay (1966-73), the city’s worst mayor during the 20th century, was prevented from abolishing or ruining the STEM “Big Three” by the initiative of two New York state legislators from the Bronx who oversaw the passage of the Calandra-Hecht Act, which mandates the SHSAT as the only ticket into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, and, subsequently, the five other specialized high schools.
Mayor de Blasio’s recent “Lindsay-like” bum-rush to repeal the Calandra-Hecht Act involves replacing it with an idiotic policy to fill the seats at the eight SHSAT high schools with the Top 7 percent of eight-graders from every public middle school. The fatal flaw with this feel-good diversity proposal is that the “top” students at many middle schools read and do math at the sixth-grade level, while the majority of students who pass the SHSAT and who attend fewer than 10 percent of the city’s more than 600 middle schools, perform at the 10th-rade level in both subjects.
Fortunately, the latest campaign to abolish the SHSAT has again been thwarted by a righteous coalition that includes many Asian New Yorkers and their advocacy organizations; the New York Post; the alumni associations of Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, two graduates of Bronx Science in the state legislature (Bronx Assemblyman JeffreyDinowitz and Queens State Senator Toby Stavisky), and one graduate of Stuyvesant (Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng.)
In September 2012, when the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and several organizations that advocate for Latino New Yorkers, filed a meritless complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the SHSAT was biased against black and Hispanic students, then-New York City Mayor Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2002-13), whose undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University is in electrical engineering, unconditionally rejected the petition, saying:
“I think that Stuyvesant and these other schools are as fair as fair can be. There’s nothing subjective about this. You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is.”
Finally my late father, a decorated combat veteran of General George Patton’s mighty Third Army, would have appreciated the delicious historical irony that the first two English words learned by Chinese immigrant parents in 21st-century Brooklyn, where in 1932 he graduated from the once nationally-renowned James Madison HS (incubator of four “STEM” Nobel laureates), are, according to the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz: “Harvard” and “Stuyvesant.”
Mark Schulte is a prolific writer and a 1967 graduate of Bronx Science. Between 1985 and 2009, he taught — mostly math — in New York City public schools.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.