Academic Achievement Versus Diversity

Years ago, elite schools restricted the admission of Jews. Today is the turn of Asians.

The mission of the eight specialized public high schools in NYC is to educate the highest achieving students. Their academic achievement is measured solely by their score on an admission test which does not identify their race or ethnicity. The specialized high schools have seats for 5,000 students. Mayor de Blasio wants to improve their diversity because black and Latino students are underrepresented while Asian students are overrepresented. He has proposed that a certain number of seats be reserved for black and Latino students who narrowly missed the cutoff score. However, his proposal means that admission must be denied to an equal number of students who exceeded the cutoff score but are not black or Latino.

The objective of public education should be first to provide adequate math and science instruction in all schools, and second to provide more intensive instruction in specialized schools. Academically gifted black and Latino students will excel regardless of what school they attend. If they attend a neighborhood school instead of a specialized school, they will graduate near the top of their class and may gain admission to a fine college. Many colleges offer remedial summer courses in math and science to incoming freshmen who attended high schools that did not offer adequate instruction in these disciplines. Such remedial instruction will prepare them to enroll in first year college math and science classes along with their counterparts who graduated from the specialized schools. The mayor should not sacrifice academic excellence to improve diversity in the specialized schools by lowering admission standards for black and Latino students.

About the Author
Ted Sheskin is an emeritus professor of industrial engineering and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, and Jewish Voice.
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