Reflections on “Asian-ification” of Selective NY Public Schools

Nearly a year ago, the New York Times ran articles on the topic of Asian-American over-representation at selective high schools in New York City.  In 2012, “14,415 students enrolled in the eight specialized high schools that require a test for admissions, 8,549 were Asian”  (Spencer, 2012).  This promoted the NAACP to file a complaint last year.  It is important to note that this was supported by the Asian American Legal Deference and Education Fund, and to a certain extent rightly so.  There is no question that the essential premise of the complaint filed does have merit and no one would question that a standardized test falls short of a holistic and comprehensive evaluation of the student.  However in the face of limited resources, standardized tests will forever remain as benchmarks of student academic performance.  It is important to note that to this day, the leading predictor of a student’s student academic performance in college is still the SAT (above GPA and many other measures).  With this in mind, it is not unreasonable for NYCDOE to utilize a standardized test as the sole admissions criterion, as any other additional admissions criterion would inevitably result in a significantly greater expense to the NYCDOE – an expense that it most likely could not afford.

Coverage of this issue last year in many ways was incredibly skewed.  I am focusing on Kyle Spencer’s article published on October 26th, as it was one of the most widely distributed ones via social media:

Melissa Potter, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the groups that filed the complaint with the United States Department of Education in September, said that though some of the city’s poorest Asian immigrants had found their way into these schools, many were still being left out, for the same reason that poor blacks and Hispanics were: they do not have access to the grueling, expensive and time-consuming test preparation for the exam. The complaint argued that other factors, like school grades, teacher recommendations and personal experience should also be taken into account.


The city began offering a free test-prep program several years ago for black and Hispanic students, but after a legal challenge, other ethnic groups were granted the same access to the course. Today, 43 percent of the students in the program are Asian. (Spencer, 2012)

While Spencer acknowledges that such prepping and tutoring resources are certainly expensive, to omit the financial status of Asian Americans in NYC presents an inconclusive narrative.  In a 2008 report by the Asian American Federation concerning poverty among Asian Americans in NYC:

  • In New York City in 2000, nearly 1 in 5 Asians (19.6 percent, or 152,674 people) lived below the poverty level and 40.9 percent (318,981) lived below twice the federal poverty level (in the low-income bracket).
  • In 2000 and 2006, New York City’s Asian population had a higher percentage of near-poor people (21.3 percent in 2000 and 22 percent in 2006) than non-Hispanic whites (12 percent and 13 percent), blacks (19 percent and 19.4 percent), and the general population (18.5 percent and 19 percent).

With nearly 40% of Asian Americans in NYC living below the low-income poverty bracket as defined by the US Census, sending children to such expensive prep comes at a great sacrifice to many of these families.  With this not recognized by Spencer’s article, it could be inferred in his statements that Asian American students that are taking the free test-prep program are doing so at the expense of Black and Hispanic students.  However, with a higher percentage of Asian Americans in lower socioeconomic strata than black and Hispanic Americans, Asian American students should legitimately have access to free test-prep programs as other students.  To omit this fact from the article, perpetuates the “model minority myth” that many would read this article from.

Without a doubt, the NAACP complaint highlights an important issue that does need to be addressed.  It is wrong for Asians to ignore these issues and believe that the status quo is acceptable.  However, with admission based strictly upon standardized testing and established this way for legitimate reasons, I strongly believe that issue needs to be addressed at the other end.  Without a doubt, we as Americans need to improve schools for all students and this is a far greater issue than admission policies that strictly based upon standardized tests at elite public schools that serve just a fraction of students of NYC.  In many ways, this is a responsibility that we all should share – even more as Christians.

The New York Times Article:

Author: Richard

I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea what I'm doing.

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