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De Blasio's plan to diversify elite high schools draws sharp criticism from NYC families

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing criticism for his plan to diversify the city's elite magnet schools. Many New York City families are not happy. (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Shared Interest)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to scrap admissions tests for the city's elite magnet high schools in order to diversify their student bodies, and many New York City families are not happy.

In particular, a large number of New York City's Asian population allege that they are being discriminated against, and that they are being punished for being historically overrepresented in these schools.

What's the background?

New York City has a system of eight elite magnet high schools that can currently seat 5,000 students. Admission to these schools has historically been extremely competitive, and an admission examination has traditionally been a leading criteria for admission to the elite high school system.

According to WLNY-TV, the mayor's office claimed that only 10 percent of the 5,000 students currently enrolled at the elite high schools are either black or hispanic, while 70 percent of the city's overall student body is black or hispanic.

Meanwhile, some of the elite schools, such as Stuyvesant High School, have a student body that is over 70 percent Asian, according to WLNY.

What is de Blasio's plan?

According to WLNY, the first step in de Blasio's plan is to eliminate the admission examination altogether. Additionally, the mayor wants to reserve 45 percent of the 5,000 seats at these schools for black and hispanic students. Beginning in 2019, at least 20 percent of the seats at these schools will also be reserved for "low income" households.

In place of the tests, de Blasio would like to use middle school class rank and state test scores as admission criteria.

The elite high schools would also reserve 7 percent of their seats for private school students, who will be admitted based on a lottery system, WLNY reported.

Can de Blasio make these changes by himself?

No, he can't. Even if he had the backing of the New York City Council, he couldn't. The magnet schools housed in New York City operate on a state charter and their admission requirements (including the admission examination) are set by state law.

In order to change the criteria, de Blasio will have to convince the New York Legislature to write his plan into law.

What has the reaction been?

According to WLNY, the mayor's plan has been met with an "avalanche of criticism from parents, students and alumni, not to mention talk of a potential lawsuit."

Some alumni have predicted that the elimination of the admission exam will mean that the coveted seats at the city's schools will soon go to politically connected families instead of families whose children deserve admission.

Larry Cary, president of the alumni association at Brooklyn Tech, said, "There’s absolutely no doubt that once this door is open who your father is is going to make a difference as to which school you get in to," according to WLNY.

Additionally, a number of Asian alumni of the elite schools have claimed that the new system unfairly targets poor Asian families. Soo Kim, president of the Stuyvesant Alumni Association, told WLNY that, "This solution is going to be born on the back of poor Asian families... The Asian Exclusion Act of 2018. It sounds sort of like that, people saying this school is too Asian."

David Lee, a Chinese-American activist who also graduated from one of NYC's elite schools, has also threatened a lawsuit "if we see the number of Asian students fall."

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