Skip to main content

Why There Are So Few Black Kids at Stuyvesant: Private Schools and Charter Schools Pull Top Students Out of the System

New York Daily News

June 26, 2023

Once more there is hand-wringing as only a handful of Black students are in the 2023 entering Stuyvesant class; and very limited numbers at Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech: the three flagship New York City high schools. These numbers are virtually the same as the previous year.

As usual, most liberals again demand that the entrance exam — the sole criterion for admissions — be eliminated so that these schools could become more diverse but offer little explanations for the appallingly low Black numbers. For years, the claim was that it reflected differential test preparation never explaining why poorer Chinese parents are able to surmount this barrier. Moreover, as the New York Times last year reported, “Despite over $750,000 spent on test prep over the last two years, most of which was funneled to existing nonprofit programs across the city, their plan has not made a dent in the numbers.”

The problem that critics refuse to consider is that there is a dearth of Black students with the necessary academic qualifications and the majority of them have been siphoned off by elite private schools, the charter school system, and Catholic schools.

One way to judge the share of sufficiently-skilled Black students is to look at eighth-grade skill evaluations in the Nation’s Report Card. In 2022, only 1% of Black students scored at the advanced level in reading. By contrast, 5% of white and 12% of Asian students scored at that level. These shares were exactly the same as in 2019; and the math disparities are even greater. Since New York’s overall scores were not significantly different than the national averages, there is no reason to believe that the city’s numbers for demographic groups would deviate significantly from the national average.

While these skill disparities explain why Black enrollment should be substantially below that of white and Asian students, it still doesn’t explain why the Stuyvesant numbers are so miniscule. An important factor has been the commitment to diversity among the private schools.

The Prep for Prep program is one conduit, annually enrolling 200 minority fifth and sixth graders to help prepare them for the demands of private high schools. This effort supplements the minority recruitment of the individual private schools seeking Black students to represent 5% of their student body. Thus high-performing Black students get hundreds of slots in the most prestigious high schools. If you add the number of high-performing Black students in charter and Catholic schools, it leaves very few able to meet the academic standards to gain admissions to the specialized public high schools.

Twenty-five years ago, the Board of Education initiated a Math Science Institute similar to Prep to Prep. Students were promising sixth graders chosen from school districts that had not been sending students to the specialized high schools, resulting in three-quarters being Black or Hispanic. Starting with one site and 300 students, its success in raising the number of Black and Hispanic students who qualified for the specialized high schools led to an expansion to four sites and more than 1,000 students.

Unfortunately, the program was terminated a few years later. One catalyst was Goldman Sachs’ decision to generously fund a dramatic expansion of the Prep to Prep program in 2001. Unlike the city program, it could directly target Black and Hispanic enrollment, it could provide entry to the private schools, and had dedicated resources to aid these students gain admissions to the most selective colleges. Indeed, Anthony Abraham Jack found that half of the Black students who attended elite U.S. universities were graduates of private day schools, boarding schools, or college-preparatory high schools.

While the Board of Education cannot reinstitute the Math Science Institute, it can provide similar enhancements in many of the middle schools: after school and summer options for students who perform at an appropriate level. However, there is no substitute for policies to improve the performance of elementary school students. This should definitely include a focus on developing appropriate study habits and better attendance.

Studies find that black students study half the time of white and one-fourth the time of Asian students. There is also consistent evidence of weak school attendance. These behavioral goals must be communicated to parents who, like in the better charter schools, should be counseled in how they can aid their children’s advancement. There is no easy or quick solution to raise the performance of struggling Black (and Hispanic) students but leveling downwards by eliminating merit-based criteria should be rejected.