Feeling that New York City’s eight specialized high schools contain too many Asian students, Mayor Bill de Blasio is changing an admissions program to limit their ability to gain admissions. However, his so-called racial balancing effort will squeeze out Asian students—nearly three-quarters of whom come from low-income families. On behalf of Yi Fang and a number of Asian-American parents, the Asian-American Coalition for Education, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, and the Christa McAuliffe Parent Teacher Organization, the plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit challenging the mayor’s unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.
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 Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to force diversity at New York City’s eight specialized high schools.
These eight world-class high schools are among the best in the city and include Stuyvesant High School, the 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, any offers turned down by accepted students at these specialized high schools can instead go to low-income students from anywhere in the city who fall just short of the test score cutoff and complete the required summer coursework.
Historically, Discovery Program seats make up less than five percent of specialized school admissions. However, starting next year, de Blasio will bump up that number to a mandatory 20 percent. On top of this, the program will now only admit 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 the primarily Asian Christa McAuliffe Middle School and its 55 percent poverty rate, no low-income students could qualify for the Discovery program.
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. 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.”
In reality, the mayor’s Discovery Program modifications violate the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee because it has both a discriminatory purpose and effect. 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 Yi Fang and a number of Asian-American parents, the Asian American Coalition for Education, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, and the Christa McAuliffe School Parent Teacher Organization,