Yi Fang Chen was born in China and, in 1996, moved to the United States with her parents as a teenager. Today, she holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University and lives in New York City, where she works as a data scientist at a tech company.
Yi Fang loves the Big Apple for its diversity. As a parent of two young boys, however, she is concerned about efforts to force racial diversity at New York City’s eight Specialized High Schools.
These eight world-class high schools are among the best in the nation and include Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School. Many of these schools’ graduates go on to successful careers and 14 have become Nobel laureates.
These schools admit most students based on an entrance exam known as the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). State law also allows what is known as the Discovery program. In this program, low-income students from anywhere in the city who fall just short of the test score cutoff and complete the required summer coursework can get offers to the specialized schools.
Historically, Discovery program seats make up less than 5 percent of specialized school admissions. However, starting in 2020, former Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to bump that number to a mandatory 20 percent at each of the schools. Mayor Eric Adams has continued that same policy. On top of this, the program now admits only students from schools with a 60 percent or higher poverty rate—that is, schools with mostly black and Hispanic students.
Even though nearly three-quarters of all Asian students in New York City are from low-income families, most of these students do not attend schools that meet the 60 percent poverty rate. For example, at one primarily Asian middle school with a 55 percent poverty rate, no students can qualify for the Discovery program, even if they are low-income.
This is not coincidental. The mayor and other government officials are on record regarding their desire to boost black and Hispanic enrollment at specialized schools by lowering the number of Asian American students at these schools. Former New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, for one, said in a television interview, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.”
The mayor’s Discovery program modifications violate the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee because it was adopted with a discriminatory purpose—to limit the number of Asian American students at the Specialized High Schools. The government cannot simply change education policies to favor certain races at the expense of others, especially considering that many of New York’s Asian students come from immigrant families who are also poor.
On behalf of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit challenging the mayor’s unconstitutional, race-based Discovery program expansion. Litigation is ongoing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.