Local Reps Niou, Chin Weigh In on Mayor’s Specialized High School Proposal

City Council member Margaret Chin (left) and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, with Assembly member harvey Epstein at a tent Lower East Side event.
City Council member Margaret Chin (left) and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, with Assembly member harvey Epstein at a tent Lower East Side event.
City Council member Margaret Chin (left) and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, with Assembly member Harvey Epstein at a recent Lower East Side event.

Two Lower East Side elected representatives are speaking out about Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to change how students are selected for New York City’s specialized high schools.

If approved by the State Legislature, the city would eliminate the specialized high school admissions test, which is used to determine which students claim 5,000 seats in eight elite schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, etc.)  A new admissions system would be based on grades and standardized test scores.  As it stands, Blacks and Latinos make up 70 percent of students in the city’s public schools, but fewer than 10% in the specialized high schools. The mayor wants to address this disparity.

Yesterday, the assembly’s education committee approved the legislation (although approval by the full legislature is by no means certain).

Asian parents and advocacy groups have expressed outrage about the proposed changes. More than 60% of the students in the specialized high schools are of Asian descent.

Before that vote took place yesterday, local Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou told NY1, “I actually don’t like that Asian-American students are kind of put in the middle here… They are being used to be pit against other minority groups, which I don’t think is appropriate.”

Niou, who is Asian American and represents Manhattan’s Chinatown, put out a statement earlier this week. It read, in part:

I am deeply concerned about the language used around this issue, which has been focusing on how Asian American students are overrepresented in our City’s specialized high schools. Asian Americans are also minorities; there are over 180,000 Asian American students in the New York City education system, and 58.4% of them live close to or below the poverty line. It is unfair and wrong to pit minorities against one another when the goal is to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for all New Yorkers.

Niou also stated:

Tackling the diversity issue in our education system requires us to address the causes of segregation at every level, starting in our early education programs and pre-k, to our elementary, middle schools, and high schools. We must level the playing field by ensuring that families and students have equal access to resources like funding, administration, and parental involvement. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s current approach has left much to be desired. Per reports, the Department of Education (DOE) undertook this project years ago, yet there seems to be a community engagement aspect missing. Based on feedback, I am concerned that the DOE created this plan with minimal community involvement. When it comes to our schools and our students, it is absolutely critical for families to have ample opportunities to have their voices heard. Regrettably, the City’s abrupt announcement and desire to push this bill through the state legislature is unreasonable in terms of reviewing community feedback.

District 1 City Council member Margaret Chin, the first Asian American elected to represent Chinatown, released a statement last night after the assembly committee’s vote:

I am disappointed in the vote today by the Assembly’s Education Committee on legislation that would make fundamental changes to our city’s specialized high schools without discussion or consultation with the communities that would be most affected. It is time that state and local officials, as well as the NYC Department of Education, hear the concerns expressed by parents who strive to give their children the tools to succeed – both inside and outside the classroom. That is why I am demanding that the Mayor meet with us, work with us, and together create a solution that works for all of our students.

Many hurdles remain for the legislation, including passage by the full assembly and the State Senate. Governor Cuomo has expressed little enthusiasm for tackling the issue this year.