When I attended the Bronx High School of Science from 1976 to 1980, the vast majority of students were white, and no one complained about that.
Now, in what appears to be the beginnings of the Educational Chinese Exclusion Act of the 21st century, the New York City Council is considering a resolution to change the admission process for New York City’s specialized public high schools — including Bronx Science — because the current Asian student population is too high. The City Council is appealing to the state legislature and the governor to dilute the role of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and grant the Department of Education the power to substitute vague admissions criteria.
Of course, the current percentage of black and Hispanic students in New York’s specialized high schools is beyond appalling, but what do elected officials consider the “right” ratio? What does the City Council think is an acceptable quota for Asian-American students in these schools? If it is already around 70 to 80 percent, should we put a cap on it at 50 percent? Thirty percent? Only 15 percent? And of that, what would they consider the cap for Chinese-American students? Should that number be more or less for Koreans? Or are all Asian students all under the umbrella of Asian? Mixed backgrounds? How about for whites? Should it be at least 51 percent for whites?
Resolution 442 harkens back to the shameful anti-Chinese quotas of the 19th and 20th centuries that kept too many of “them” from coming to America.
For more than 60 years, Congress kept the Chinese Exclusion Act on the books. After its passage in 1882, it became more and more discriminatory, imposing severe restrictions on Chinese immigration and naturalization and denying Chinese-Americans basic freedoms because of their race. It was only out of sheer embarrassment in 1943 — during World War II, when China was an ally of the United State — that we finally stopped excluding Chinese workers and their families from our country.
It was not until just two years ago that Congress approved a resolution to officially apologize for the Exclusion Act. Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), who sponsored the resolution, made the following statement after its passage: “This is a very significant day in the Chinese-American community. It is an expression that discrimination has no place in our society and that the promise of equality is available to all.”
The high-minded egalitarian measure of the City Council in Resolution 442 is an effort to scrap the merit-based qualification test for entrance in New York’s specialized pubic high schools because, in the sponsors’ minds, the current test permits a disproportionate number of Asian students to be admitted to these select schools. Does the City Council really think too many Asians are in New York’s specialized schools?
The City Council is trying to get us to ignore the (really, really big) elephant in the room. Sponsors of Resolution 442 are using this legislation as a distraction. Instead of tinkering with the high school admissions process, why isn’t the City Council demanding the Department of Education focus on ways to improve the quality of middle and elementary school education in the Bronx so students who live here can attend the Bronx High School of Science?
For years, the Department of Education has continued to fail an overwhelming majority of black and Hispanic children by not allowing them to learn enough to even pass the SHSAT test. Shouldn’t that be the priority?
If our elected officials who are considering this proposal really want to help black and Hispanic students to excel, they cannot just focus on one exam given in the eighth grade. They have to enact a complete overhaul of the middle schools in the Bronx and throughout the city so all children will be better prepared for elite or other high schools.
As a proud graduate of Bronx Science, as the mom of two Bronx Science graduates and as someone who cares deeply about children and education, I am hopeful that all council members will maintain the current admission standards, vote against Resolution 442 and put their attention where it will make a difference.
Ann Noonan graduated from Bronx Science in 1980. She recently sent a version of this op-ed to the sponsors of Resolution 442.