Socialist Ocasio-Cortez Remains Strangely Silent On New York City’s Elite STEM High Schools

Ocasio-Cortez Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Mark Schulte Freelance Writer
Font Size:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, radical leftists from New York City, have recently received an avalanche of national news coverage. In early June, Mayor de Blasio’s abominable sneak-attack against the decades-old admissions policy for NYC’s elite STEM high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, was repulsed by a principled coalition of Asian New Yorkers, the New York Post, the alumni associations of the “Big Three,” and a few courageous Democratic politicians.

At the end of June, Ocasio-Cortez, an unknown, 28-year-old acolyte of Senator Bernie Sanders, stunningly upset veteran Congressman Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary in a Bronx-Queens district. Ocasio-Cortez, a heavy favorite in November, has cleverly highlighted the Bronx portion of the New York’s 14th congressional district which has, according to “It’s Not Archie Bunker’s District Anymore,” only 35 percent of the voting-age population.

Dennis Saffran also points out in the City Journal article that the district’s racial and ethnic demographics are: 46 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white, 16 percent Asian and 11 percent black.

While Ocasio-Cortez has loudly championed a slew of far-left policies, including free public-college tuition, a $15 minimum wage and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, she has remained uncharacteristically tight-lipped about Mayor de Blasio’s pernicious attempt to replace the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT), as the only gateway into New York City’s nationally-renowned STEM high schools, with a policy of admitting the top seven percent of eighth graders from each of the city’s more than 600 middle schools.

For several reasons, Ocasio-Cortez’s unwillingness to repudiate this destructive plan represents the height of political hypocrisy. As a high school senior in 2006-07 at Yorktown Heights High School in northern Westchester, the county directly north of the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez won the second prize in microbiology at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Consequently, she should be a passionate advocate for preserving the SHSAT as the only ticket into Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, which for the last three-quarters of a century have totally dominated the venerable Science Talent Search research competition for high-school seniors.

Her silence becomes even more blatantly opportunistic when one analyzes the 2018 SHSAT results for each of the city’s 32 schools districts,which present a stark contrast between the schools in the 14th district that are located in the Bronx and those in Queens.

Of the 5,067 successful candidates on this year’s SHSAT, only 72, or 1.4 percent, come from the Bronx school districts 8 and 12, which are mostly within Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district. The entire Bronx, with six school districts, produced only 290 successful candidates, or 5.7 percent, this year. (A half-century ago when the borough had excellent K – 12 schools, 65 percent of the 870 graduates of my Bronx Science class of 1967 lived in the Bronx.)

Mayor de Blasio, in a long June 3 press release, brazenly boasted that, as a result of abhorrent racial and ethnic quotas, “four times more offers would go to Bronx residents,” whose population is 89 percent black or Latino.

As compared to the Bronx’s dysfunctional K–8 public schools, school districts 24 and 30 in Queens, which are also mostly in Ocasio-Cortez’s district, nurtured 544, or 10.8 percent, of the successful candidates on the 2018 SHSAT. (Between 2001 and 2009, I taught math at William Cullen Bryant HS, a large neighborhood high school located in the Queens portion of the 14th district.)

Moreover, Queens’ seven school districts educated 1,733, or 34.2 percent, of this year’s successful candidates, which ranks President Donald Trump’s home borough as the best-performing on the SHSAT.

Undoubtedly, the Bronx, with 17 percent of NYC’s 8,623,000 residents but just 5.7 percent of the successful SHSAT candidates, has the city’s worst K – 8 schools. Queens, with the best elementary and middle schools, has 27 percent of the city’s population, but 34.2 percent of successful SHSAT eighth graders this year.

The percentages of the city’s population and the admitted students for the three other boroughs are: Manhattan 19 and 22.0 percent; Brooklyn 31 and 32.2 percent; and Staten Island 6 and 6.0 percent

Another reason for Ocasio-Cortez’s hypocritical silence about Mayor de Blasio’s thwarted coup against the city’s world-class STEM high schools is that, if the state legislature ever abolishes the SHSAT and adopts his plan, several thousand of the highest-scoring candidates, who are mostly Asian or white, would be replaced by woefully unprepared black and Hispanic eighth graders.

The 2017 Nation’s Report Card documents that Asian and white NYC eighth graders are two to four grades ahead of their black and Hispanic classmates in math, and two grades ahead in reading. Moreover, on the math exam, 27 of Asians and 13 percent of whites scored at the advanced level, as compared to just 2 percent of Hispanics and 1 percent of blacks.

Many residents and politicians in Queens have rejected the mayor’s scientifically illiterate, deeply polarizing quota system. Consequently, Ocasio-Cortez’s has remained immorally silent about the proposed abolition of the SHSAT, as she doesn’t want to alienate a large share of the 65 percent of the 14th CD voting-age population who live in Queens, including many Asians and whites.

A decade ago, Ocasio-Cortez excelled at the ISEF, which is not as distinguished as the Science Talent Search (STS), the contest sponsored by Westinghouse Electric between 1942 and 1998, then by Intel between 1999 and 2016, and for the last two years by Westchester-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Each year for the past 77 years, the STS has selected 300 semifinalists, who are seniors at U.S. public or private high schools. Incredibly, more than 1,110 semifinalists attended Bronx Science and more than 638 went to Stuyvesant.

These mind-bogglingly yet incomplete results come from two sources: Joseph Berger’s 1994 book, “The Young Scientists: America’s Future and The Winning of the Westinghouse,” for the years between 1942 and 1990; and Wikipedia for the contests between 1999 and 2018.

A conservative extrapolation for the missing semifinalists between 1991 and 1998 adds another 150, which brings the combined Bronx Science and Stuyvesant total to 1,898. While America has more than 37,000 public and private high schools, Bronx Science and Stuyvesant have accounted for an astonishing 8 percent of the 23,100 STS semifinalists since 1942.

Undoubtedly, adopting Mayor de Blasio’s moronic policy of admitting into the eight specialized high schools the top 7 percent of students from every NYC public middle-school will quickly dethrone Bronx Science and Stuyvesant from their remarkable, multi-generational ascendancy as the nation’s leading STEM high schools.

In fact, between 1942 and 1990, nine of the Top 11 incubators of Westinghouse semifinalists were NYC public high schools. Tragically, during the second decade of the 21st century, seven of them – four in Queens and three in Brooklyn – are no longer on Wikipedia’s list of the Top 22 American STS high schools.

Ironically, the steepest decline has occurred at Midwood HS, in Mayor de Blasio’s home borough of Brooklyn, which generated 49 semifinalists between 1999 and 2008, but only one between 2009 and 2018. The mayor and his band of clueless and divisive identity politicians are perversely determined that Bronx Science and Stuyvesant share this ignominious fate.

Finally, Republican Anthony Pappas, a 72-year-old professor of economics and business at St. John’s University in Queens, will oppose Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in November. Professor Pappas, who grew-up in Queens, graduated from MIT with a degree in economics and math, and then earned a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, should relentlessly hammer Ocasio-Cortez for her inexcusable cowardice about a critical issue for New York City’s future: the continued existence of world-renowned STEM high schools.

Mark Schulte is a prolific writer and a 1967 graduate of Bronx Science, an elite public high school. 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.