Service of Leveling the Playing Field for Admission to Top Public Schools

August 22nd, 2019

Categories: Admissions, Competition, Education, High School

Speed reading lessons gave some school kids a leg up in my youth. [My parents didn’t spring to finance that trend.] I didn’t know of test prep in the day though I sure could have used those classes: My pencil-paper-multiple test-taking skills are atrocious.

Leslie Brody reported in The Wall Street Journal that Ronald Lauder and Richard Parsons spent “an additional $1.5 million on their campaign to preserve the admissions test to elite New York public high schools, this time by providing free test preparation and advertisements encouraging more students to take the exam.” The team had previously spent $860,000 for advertising and lobbying. Their initiative is called the Education Equity Campaign

Lauder graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Parsons was the CEO of Time Warner. According to Wikipedia, Lauder’s school “is ranked #49 in the National Rankings,” fifth within New York, 6th in the NY metro area and 67th among STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] high schools, reported “Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college.”

The campaign’s objective: “to help low-income students in underrepresented communities get into the eight specialized high schools.” [Wikipedia listed 9]. In addition to the Bronx High School of Science these are Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Technical, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical and Stuyvesant.

What’s the impetus for this initiative now and the philanthropist’s attempts to bolster a different avenue for the underserved population to follow for admission to some of the best high schools in the city? Mayor de Blasio wants to deep six the exam “to better integrate the public high schools.” Specifically he wants to “admit the top 7% of performers from each middle school citywide, using course grades and state test scores.

In 1970 CUNY, the City University of New York, experimented with changing the standard admissions recipe in favor of open admissions to level the playing field for the diverse city population. Some say that this ruined the stellar reputation of one of the top schools in the state if not the country at the time. CUNY accepted any high school graduate whether or not they had taken the Regents exam. I skimmed “History of Open Admissions and Remedial Education in the U.S.” and read that five and six years later the trustees twice voted to “reestablish admissions standards.” The first plan would have required CUNY applicants to demonstrate 8th grade competency in reading and math; the second would have required those community college students who did not have a minimum high school average, class rank, or General Equivalency Diploma score to obtain remediation through a ‘transitional program.’”

Skipping ahead: “In the 1990s, the university had begun to try to restore the balance between the two and a return to bachelor’s admission standards that emphasized Regents courses, high school grades and standardized testing….”

This is a tough topic and there may be no perfect solutions. Given the unevenness of student competition in public schools in any city, what do you think of de Blasio’s approach–to fill the best specialty public high schools from the top 7 percent of each public middle school in NYC? Or do you think that the Education Equity Campaign’s goal to train underserved students to take the admission tests is a fairer answer and one that would better capture the top students in the city? Is free prep for some and not everyone fair to middle class parents who may not have the means to pay for such classes for their children? What do you suggest?

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10 Responses to “Service of Leveling the Playing Field for Admission to Top Public Schools”

  1. BC Said:

    Fairness would be to train underserved students to take the admissions tests. Certainly obstacles for some children are language and cultural differences.

    Consideration might be given to developing more trade schools at an earlier age. We need plumbers, electricians, chefs, etc.

    The 7% top students will likely do well anywhere, but can advance fastervin the STEM programs with extra help at an earlier age. Not everyone is meant to go to college. BC

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree with you about the value of learning trades. I think that college students should also be required to take a course or two in plumbing or carpentry or cooking, etc.

    If the top 7 percent of a middle school in a neighborhood with privileged children whose parents read to them when they were little, took them to museums and special programs and who benefited from tutoring are mixed with the top 7 percent from a neighborhood in which most of the class is MIA and the remaining kids are held back and teachers are at wits end, the 7 percent is meaningless.

    I am projecting since I was and am such a terrible test taker but I think that all the students should be given test prep or, once given a test, those who ace it need not take the class. It doesn’t hurt the smartest and can only help the others.

    I went to a school that didn’t teach typing. Those of us who knew we would need to hand in typed papers in college–which was all but one in my class–and who wanted to learned typing at the Y on Saturday. That class was worth my time for sure!

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I always found the multiple choice standardized tests very unpleasant and stressful. However, we did not have many schools that required entrance exams. My family moved out of the city of Boston when I was in seventh grade. Had I wanted to apply for Boston’s Girl’s Latin School I would have had to take a standardized test. It seems that tests for entry along with other non-academic and social and financial political criteria determined one’s entry into a private school. I am so unfamiliar with New York’s school education policies that it is very difficult for me to express opinions about these choices, but
    Mayor de Blasio’s 7 percent rule does seem to favor those of privileged background. I don’t think that helps the general population.

  4. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre wrote on Facebook: I would set up a system for the top 5 students in each 8th grade class in the city to be automatically accepted by one of the specialized schools. It would automatically level the playing field and would reward hard work rather than a 1-time test score (which also gives an edge to kids who can afford test tutoring). Maybe any seats left over could be doled out via the test. Yes, LaGuardia would still need auditions, but for the other schools, this would work.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’d look at the choices on those tests and would determine that “none of the above” was the correct answer far too often.

    I understand why a city like NY cannot assign all children to the public high school nearest them and yet even children going in to middle school must take tests, if I understand it. Awful!

    Not sure the 7 percent rule doesn’t favor those in lousy schools because students at the top might not be able to compete with those in the top 7 percent in middle schools yet they’d be admitted in one of the specialized high schools.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Interesting suggestion especially because it bypasses the importance of one test but it’s like the de Blasio solution so the winners of the competition for the top five spots in a school with less gifted students might not be able to keep up with the top five from the better middle schools and would take away the chances of the sixth and seventh best who might get more out of the specialized instruction.

    I took a test to get into a private school when I was five and had the advantage that the institution liked children whose sisters, mothers and/or aunts had attended. My sister did all the heavy lifting. Goodness knows what would have happened to me otherwise. I was there 12 years.

  7. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre on Facebook: those are all good points Jeanne. I’d like to add that under Bloomberg, a whole bunch of schools that are not one of the 7 specialized schools but which are in their own ways ‘specialized’ opened, and many of them are great schools. They don’t have the same cachet, but they are solid schools that ramp down the competitiveness a bit. When you add those to the mix, there are a lot of seats at good schools available to NYC students. Not enough, but a lot.

  8. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: Deirdre, But how many don’t know about them or how to apply?

  9. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre on Facebook: Yes, Debbie – that’s so true. Even people at the elementary/junior high/intermediate schools don’t know enough about them to point kids their way.

  10. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie wrote on Facebook: More specialized schools as well as more opportunities to test for acceptance into one.

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