Friday, October 05, 2012

A comment on the NAACP 'othering' Asians in the Stuyvesant extrance exam controversy

For background, see NAACP et al claim Stuyvesant entrance exam is racist.

I wrote this comment responding to a blogger who supports the NAACP in the Stuyvesant High School entrance exam (aka Specialized High Schools Admissions Test - SHSAT) controversy:

A transparent objective admissions standard accessible to all and free of favoritism of any kind has been a major win for minorities and civil rights. The NAACP isn’t contesting the neutrality of the exam. As you say, their claim is based on the result. The problem is the NAACP’s solution calls for race-based disparate treatment, which is a worse civil rights violation than disparate impact.

I’m not angling towards separation. I’m calling out the NAACP for separating Asians. I agree that we should be able to trust the NAACP to guard the interests of Asian children – not ‘other’ and sacrifice Asians in order to favor other minority groups.

You know what’s insulting? Read the NAACP complaint and see how it marginalizes Asians with the rhetorical trick of grouping together “either whites or Asian Americans”. Even your post’s metaphorical premise of a brown cocoa puff in white milk evinced the same utter disregard for Asians in this issue. Distinct from the issue at the [ed: oops] hand, the NAACP’s decision to ‘other’ Asians in their case is troubling: it is a statement by the NAACP of how and where they view Asians in their heiierarchy of minority interests.

Hypothetical. Keep the same verbiage, arguments, and proposed solution to the ‘injustice’ of a 72% Asian majority at Stuy. Now substitute a white advocacy group for the NAACP and portray white children as victims of disparate impact. How does that look to you? From an Asian standpoint, it looks the same, a stronger group using its political muscle to impose biased structural changes to set quotas and take from weaker Asians.

Look, I’m not looking to codify an Asian super-majority at Stuy. I would welcome more diversity at Stuy, but not at the cost of Stuy’s historical equal opportunity and the integrity of the institution. The proper solution is to identify early on the upper-tier black and Latino students with sufficient potential and prepare them for the fundamental academic skills tested on the SHSAT, which is what Stuy parents have been doing on their own. Stuy alums are working on that. The free NYCDOE-provided SHSI-Dream program is working on that. There are no mysteries in the Asian success story at Stuy. I have faith that black and Latino kids can achieve what Asian kids from lower-income, immigrant, often English-poor families have achieved – I don’t understand why you don’t have the same faith.

Finally, I doubt the compelling need for the NAACP’s campaign. Stuy has added more seats since moving to Tribeca from the original old cramped building on the LES – 2000 seats when I attended; 3300 now. I don’t know whether the other specialized schools have expanded since I was in HS. As is, Stuy’s resources are spread thin. There are no magic doorways to Harvard at Stuy (quite the opposite, actually) – it’s always been the quality of the students that made the school special. And, as the NAACP notes in their own complaint, Stuy and indeed the whole group of NYC’s exam schools aren’t the only specialized HSs in NYC. First, several private schools (that typically don’t give Asians scholarships and Asians can’t afford) siphon off upper-tier white, black, and Latino students. Other NYCDOE specialized schools already use multi-measure (eg, Townsend Harris) or alternative (eg, Laguardia) admissions processes. That Stuy continues to be regarded as the crown jewel among NYC specialized public schools that use varied admissions processes only speaks to the real-world-tested validity of the SHSAT.

Given that everything the NAACP is demanding is already practiced somewhere else in the school system, I wonder what their complaint targeting Stuy and the other exam schools is really about?

Add: Something you said has been nagging at me and I think I finally put my finger on it …

Jose: “Standardized testing does not by any study in the last century show any fairness or demand real equity. It just distinguishes between those with the resources to prepare for such a test and those who don’t.”

You’re restating the NAACP contention that the math-and-language fundamentals-based SHSAT that has qualified Stuyvesant (and Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech) students for many decades lacks in actuality any predictive value that’s applicable to the requirements and demands placed on Stuy students. To wit, you claim the SHSAT “just distinguishes between those with the resources to prepare for such a test and those who don’t.”

The first logical inference of your contention is that the generations of Stuy students, myself included, who have passed the SHSAT have not actually been academically qualified for Stuyvesant. Which is to claim that for many decades, the SHSAT-based selection of Stuy students has been as equally predictive as a random selection of NYC 8th graders. Or alternatively, for many decades, Stuy students have been admitted based on a sole criterion (“those with the resources to prepare for such a test”) that has low-to-no correlative value with subsequent academic achievement at Stuyvesant.

The second logical inference, if the SHSAT is not a valid predictor and therefore has not actually selected qualified students for the exam schools, is we would expect to find that the histories of student achievement at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech are no better than the academic histories of typical non-specialized public high schools. But that’s simply not the case. Stuy students and students from the other exam schools have collectively accrued exceptional records of academic achievement that exceed the academic records of the non-specialized public high schools.

The third logical inference, given Stuy students consistently produce superior academic achievement despite the assumption that Stuy students are effectively randomly selected or selected based solely on a criterion (again, “those with the resources to prepare for such a test”) that is invalid as an academic predictor, is we need to look outside the unqualified Stuy students for an explanation of their long record of exceptional academic achievement.

This is where the NAACP and others have followed this logical inferential train to a myth version of Stuyvesant. They have convinced themselves that since “white or Asian American” Stuy students aren’t responsible for their own success, then Stuyvesant must be privy to a secret educational alchemy that has for many decades consistently transformed unremarkable students into exceptional students. Reality check: if you believe Stuy has some secretly hoarded academic elixir, there isn’t any. Based on my experience, especially at the old Stuy on 15th street where the majority of Stuy’s history took place, the school’s infrastructure, administration, faculty, and educational resources aren’t different in kind than any typical NYC public school. Stuyvesant isn’t Hogwarts on the Hudson. There’s no magic water coming out of the water fountains, no magic cafeteria food, no magic science labs, no magic library, no magic textbooks. No magic teachers either (at least no more magical than teachers at any other NYC school; I had a few egregiously bad teachers at Stuy). The essential difference between Stuyvesant and non-specialized schools is the SHSAT selection device.

Based on my experience, Stuy students aren’t given more or better resources than students at other public schools; Stuy students simply maximize the resources they do get. I’ve heard that the expansion from 2000 to 3300 students since I graduated has stretched Stuy’s resources and carrying capacity very thin. But the students continue to do their best with their own ability and what they’re given.

As I said, it has always been the quality of the students that made Stuy special, and that speaks to the time-honored, time-tested validity of the SHSAT as a selection device. The SHSAT works. It’s worked for a very long time. Trust it. Any black or Latino student who earns his or her seat on the SHSAT will deserve – more importantly, be qualified – to be a Stuy student. Shoehorning unqualified students of any race into Stuy at the expense of qualified students won’t help anyone.


You’re right: I do place stock in my personal experience as a Stuyvesant student. My personal experience is my schoolmates, selected exclusively by their rank order on the SHSAT, were high-ability students, regardless of their race. Are you really contending that “actual research” has disproven my experience? Or, setting aside my experience, are you really contending “actual research” proves the venerated and consistent historical record of academic achievement by SHSAT-selected students is an anomaly or a mere coincidence of impossible magnitude that somehow has been repeated annually for decades?

As a teacher, you’re closer today to high school students than I am. Does your position really tell you that that there is no significant academic difference between the thousands of Stuyvesant and other present-day SHSAT-selected students and the NYC students who fell below them on their respective SHSAT rank orders?

Obviously, I don’t dispute that research matters, but not all research is proof. When your research tells you to disbelieve both your lying eyes that apples fall from trees and generations of memories of falling apples, perhaps more doubt should be cast on the research.

The SHSAT is race neutral and so the demographics at the exam schools have changed over the years. The demographics can just as easily change again without corrupting the admissions process: there is no race-based regulating mechanism in the SHSAT that bars black, Latino or any other group of students improving and becoming, as you say, winners on the test. If there was such a regulating mechanism built into the SHSAT, Asian students would have been barred.

Unfortunately and misguidedly, the NAACP is trying to inject race-based regulating mechanisms into an admissions process that is race neutral. They’re inviting unintended consequences. The SHSAT should be protected in fact and, just as importantly, in principle as a race-neutral selection device.

The Asian success story in NYC’s specialized public high schools is a success story for all minorities. In the past, Asians have benefited from the progress made by other-minority pioneers. This time, on the SHSAT, Asians are the minority pioneers – if Asian kids can do it, so can black and Latino kids. Asian progress on the SHSAT provides a proven model that can be emulated by other minorities. What the NAACP is trying to do isn’t progress for anyone.

What academic message and life lesson do you think the high-profile NAACP campaign is projecting to impressionable young students of all races? To the young kids who work their butts off to master the academic fundamentals of the SHSAT … AND to the young kids being told that meeting the basic math/reading/logic standards of the SHSAT – again, the intrinsic neutrality of which the NAACP is not contesting – in order to merit a seat at a specialized high school is hopelessly out of reach due to the immutable fact of their skin color? As adults, we know the world is too often cynical, greedy, and selfish, but in this case, the SHSAT is a preciously rare genuine level playing field. I like to hope that we – you especially as a teacher – would try to teach our children, at least in school, that earning what they deserve is a better way of life than taking what they covet.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your arguments are very reasonable and straightforward. I appreciate the avoidance of preconceived notions. Most people really need to learn how to apply logic to social issues.
I especially love the part of your essay that applies to Asian-Americans. I've discovered that most of society views us as non-entities.

10/14/2012 4:39 PM  

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