What You’re Not Gonna Do [Vox]

This weekend, I’ve spent the majority of my Internet time swatting detractors of my latest piece on Vox about the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Here, an excerpt:

Essentially, these schools enshrined into law the right to ignore school performance, grades, interviews, standardized state exams, or any other qualification in favor of a test that rarely aligns with the standards they learn in school, tacitly keeping these schools out of reach for under-resourced students and schools. The specialized high schools continue to exemplify why New York City has the most segregated school system in the country.

As I sifted through the books in my collection and the articles I had laid out in my browser, I stopped and asked if it was all worth it. The last time I stated my opinion on the SHSAT, eugenists plowed through my pieces with conjecture and made-up statistics. It’s been years. The voters voted for sweeping change. The same issues persist.

Except now there’s people who decided to look up my school and point out that our schools has “no 4s” and don’t generate the type of kids that would necessarily apply for the SHSAT. Said another way, this SHSAT-passing private-public school graduate went to teach at a school in need.


None of these qualifiers undermine my argument as a “winner” of these tests but it’s worth restating the dedication it takes to do the classroom work in a neighborhood with less resources in a school that’s open to all comers. I ask for us to think about the ways we can make sure everyone has successful educational experiences and these sets of folks prefer to infer that Black and Latinx kids just don’t work hard. Dog whistles abound.

You rather fight me than fight inequity. OK.

The point that probably hurts the most to read is that poor Asians have a sizable set of students in specialized high schools, seemingly discrediting my claims about poverty. As a long-time resident of the Lower East Side, I would look to my neighbors living in the tenement buildings in Chinatown and consider us kin in this struggle for educational attainment. By some accounts (see Tested), it would seem that we have a set of students who have been oppressed by the idea that this three-hour test means everything to them and their families. They see the eight specialized high schools as a means of breaking out of poverty and entering a direct stream toward the middle to upper class.

Said another way, we need to liberate the “winners” and “losers” of these special / magnet type programs from the thousands of dollars spent on test prep, the weeks and months of stress spent on these exams, and the mindset that we must punch down on other oppressed groups in order to disrupt poverty both individually and collectively.

Liberation means not having to choose between test prep and meals to get into a school that loves you back.

This is a history that Black people in this country have fought long and hard to achieve. None of the seats our students occupy are built the same. What you’re not gonna do is use my brethren as a wedge for maintaining inequitable school conditions.